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Mark Kermode | 10:40 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009

A recent tragic murder in an English woodland was accompanied by a brief yet fervid surge of tabloid outrage that pointed the finger of blame at British horror farce Severance. But as it's ages since the original Evil Dead video nasty saga and more than a decade and a half since the furore surrounding the Child's Play movies, is it not time we moved on?

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  • Comment number 1.

    I hate to be the one to disagree with you Dr Kermode but I think the lack of hysteria is more to do with the papers having something else to complain about.

    These kind of stories get picked up to fill column inches but they are already full of MPs expenses, these kind of stories will come around again but it is a matter of timing more than anything else.

    To me, these stories rely on ignorance and fear of the new. These kind of stories really only work now on video games or the internet. Many people over 40 (who are the ones still reading the analogue press) are on the whole (but not uniformly, just a generality) quite detached from these new media so it is easy to spin them to be corrupter's of youth. Everyone has a DVD player or VCR and we have all seen horror movies but relatively few play Grand Theft Auto.

    It is easier for the Sun to blame something new and unknown which they don't understand than it is to tell them the remake or spoof of a movie they saw 20 years ago is the cause.

    I find it truly unfortunate that the papers cannot tell the truth; these kind of horrific crimes are my fault, and Dr K's and everyone reading this blog and everyone else in the country. We as a society failed these people, both killer and victim. Our social services and protections for mentally ill and troubled individuals were not good enough to recognise the warning signs of a dangerous individual and step in before it was too late. Unfortunately, this truth is ignored because it places blame on us all (and the killer, lets not try and pretend they are some imaginary vessels just waiting to be corrupted; you don't watch a movie and go from happy well adjusted to psycho in 120mins) rather than laying it at the feet of someone else and allowing all our conscience to be absolved.

    In short, facebook or Call of Duty are much easier targets for the mob than My Bloody Valentine 3D but neither will be even considered for a widespread public outrage (drummed up by the press) when the papers have another outrage to spin instead. It is just a shame that while all this blame is being dished out, no-one actually does anything constructive to stop it, they just go to blockbuster and tirade at a DVD case.

  • Comment number 2.

    I would really hope for the media - the british tabloids in particular to have 'grown up', but I sincerely doubt it.

    I agree with BCBobUK that the media still is looking for the cheap shots and accusing horror-films and videogames for something we, as a society, are either not willing or not capable to deal with; that is, ourselves and the relations we are having with each other.

    The complexity of the problems in our society are blanked out from the fast paced short attention span media by it's genuine structure.

    Horror movies - besides the innovative artistic barriers they brake, are important beyond just entertainment.

    I could write a book on the importance of having them as a artistic forefront and also an important sociological 'tool' for understanding the complexities of human psychology etc.etc...

    If a society cannot value the freedom of speech and arts, if we can not bear the unbearable human nature in artistic forms and look at ourselves on the screen suffering and reflecting upon it, we are truly doomed to live as puppets, clueless and blind with smiley faces.

    The news-selling media needs to find their news somewhere else, in the very heart of real people - not DVD's in their homes.

    Alex Covic

  • Comment number 3.

    Is it not time we tried to get a grip on basic probabilities? There's millions of people out there, the chances that somebody somewhere is going to be killed in a way that resembles a movie or videogame is almost 100%

    Just like there's going to be plenty of Christine Brown's out there who didn't enjoy Drag Me To Hell.

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice t-shirt Mark.

    I'm very interested in this type of thing, because I work in the games industry, and often games are collectively bundled into the list of possible causes for real life crime, murder and depravity.

    Unfortunately for those creatives who enjoy exploiting the macabre and violent for the sake of their artistic endeavours, people will always view things the wrong way. As you recently mentioned about the Sam Raimi stuff, its done in a way that is most commonly viewed as an enjoyable and harmless feature, much like the violence of slapstick comedy and cartoons. But regardless of how many times these things are reiterated, some people will naturally view this stuff the 'wrong' way. Whilst interpretation is one the best parts of artistic expression, it can cause all sorts of problems too, and I don't think its ever possible for us to control the way people view things. To you and I it may be just another splash of claret on an intricate canvas of lovingly created cinema, but to the conservatives among us it may be morally reprehensible dribble.

    I would suggest, however, that if there must be a question of 'blame' for a case like this (if the person perpetrating the crime isn't to blame enough themselves), then the people deciding who to pin that blame on should look at the (often hilarious...Judas Priest backwards records...) mistakes of the past before opening their mouths.

  • Comment number 5.

    Doesn't the BBFC base much of it's ratings system on 'imitatable behaviour' anyway, with the sensible assumption that over 15s are grown up enough not to mindlessly copy what they see on screen.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Dr Mark,

    If anything, in my opinion, it's film that is reflecting the real world in cases like this.

    The kind of people that commit these crimes do not need encouragement from films that contain scenes of violence. To me these flims are showing us that in our soceity it is possible that there are actually people capable of of real life horror.

    Perhaps it is this hard fact that certain parts of the media in the past found difficult to come to terms with, but now realise that violence portayed in film is not what moulds peoples minds or character. They just serve to remind us that the ture horror may not be on the screen, but within ourselves.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have to agree with the first comment posted here.
    I think the reason this hasn't been taken further is because there are other things around at the moment which, if complained about, will gain more publicity and cause more of a fuss.
    It is as simple as that.
    I DO NOT think we have grown up, i just think we have found even better ways to make the most of this inner lust certain people have to mercilessly moan and blame and point the finger and generally cause an unnecessary hassle.
    Teenagers vandalize, concerned parents fuel their concern with whatever they can find. Maybe they have just discovered that society is at risk now, and that is a more effective way to vomit their complaints and blames upon everyone.

  • Comment number 8.

    There is also the fact of how horror films of any extremity are not as taboo anymore, i mean Severance is a GREAT example, as it is technically a comedy really, containing the foundations of a slasher and involving some grisly murders. The fact that films that are obviously tongue-in-cheek are being produced with such levels of gore in them (at an increasing rate at the moment too) just shows how accustom we are becoming to such violence in cinema.

    And love them or hate them Mark, films like Saw and all the horrible remakes and rip-offs that contain silly amounts of blood for the sake of it ('torture porn'?), they make a hell of alot of money, more so than they ever have before, and on that note, i need not say more...

  • Comment number 9.

    I actually can't remember the last time a film met with tabloid-fuelled ire. When I were a lad, Crash made headlines with politicians (and several critics) calling for a ban, but since then we've had the likes of Hostel and 9 Songs, films I couldn't imagine being released in the mid-90's. But while this is currently good news for film viewers, let's not forget that moral panic always finds a new rock to hide under!

    Sometimes it's films (Crash, Child's Play 3), sometimes it's pop music (the 'investigation' into the lyrics of Louie Louie) and quite often nowadays, it's games. Remember the sheer, blinkered stupidity of the Manhunt 'case' just a few years ago, the details of which rival any other instance of moral panic for severity.

    Appealing to a reader's fear of the unknown, to our fondness for quick-fixes and easy answers is both lucrative and inevitable. Surely horror afficianados should know, just when you think the beast is dead... it rises for one more scare.

  • Comment number 10.

    Blaming horror movies (or videogames) is typical lazy 'knee-jerk' journalism. In these individual cases it is nearly always a unstable home life that's really to blame.

    However I do personally believe that movies have directly inspired one notable murderous act.....the 9/11 attacks.
    I am CONVINCED that the 'spark' for that tragedy was created by some fundamentalist somewhere watching Die Hard, Towering Inferno, Independence Day....and then thinking 'hmmmm I wonder if...'

  • Comment number 11.

    If this "growing up" is genuine then its fantastic...but I can't help but wonder if, being of a younger generation (sorry Mark), something is lost in the way cult phenomena operates today in cinemas.
    There is something special, and personal, about seeing a film that you've been told you shouldn't. Horror films and comic book movies are now mainstream, leaving me to wonder if I missed out, whether seeing Evil Dead would have been better during the video nasty scare, and whether superheroes were more super and exeptional when they weren't so commonplace in the cinema. If Star Trek and Watchmen is now huge...can there still be the special embrace of cult audiences?
    Or am I being silly, believing everyone when they are being nostalgic?

  • Comment number 12.

    [Bear in mind with this comment I know very little about the case]

    I wrote a project for school about this issue a few years ago.

    In this instance, it intrigued me that Severance was brought up in court as 'reference' for the crime and not Eden Lake, the most disturbing sequence of which involves the lead characters tied to a tree and a young boy doused with petrol and set alight.

    It may have been that the defendant(s) had copies of Severance at home - as was the case with a 2005 murder being blamed on the PS2 game Manhunt - but then if not, I wondered why Eden Lake would not have been discussed.

    Is it that the press is vilifying the defendants by insinuating their taking seriously what is clearly a post-Shaun Of The Dead pastiche? Or is it that Eden Lake touches on issues of moral responsibility with crimes such as this; pointing blame not only at the children, but the parents for their treatment of the kids? Would these issues being raised threaten the tabloids' lowest-common-denominator tactic of a BAN THIS SICK VIDEO campaign?

    Discuss at length.

  • Comment number 13.

    Perhaps the truth is that the tabloids have simply given up.

    Importing uncut films from the USA (or elsewhere) is so much easier than in the Child's Play 3/Bulger era, and we have the additional download/You Tube avenues.

    Trying to ban Child's Play 3, or other films at that time, was pretty easy, and made it difficult for people to obtain this type of material.

    Banning or cutting Severance today would be a completely futile gesture.

    And just a thought, might Mr Murdoch's TV platform have shown Severance (and worse) already? Doesn't SKY have a dedicated Horror/Sci-Fi channel? How would The Sun and The Times deal with that?

    Steve W

  • Comment number 14.

    With you on this one. Plus, surely it would be more disconcerting if criminals spent their free time watching Bambi?

  • Comment number 15.

    Two points.

    By 'We finally may have grown up,' who is the 'we'? There was no moral panic last time, there was the media wanting a story which they wouldn't put down until they had blood.

    And I have to agree with earlier commentators, that the story isn't being whipped up this time because the media already has a big story. They can only manage to lie about one at a time.
    If this news had come out in August they'd have jumped on it, just as they'll jump on, and drag out, whatever minor story does happen in August.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good doctor i'm waiting for terminator salvation review!

  • Comment number 17.

    One of the best blogs for quite some time.

    My A-Level coursework revolved around the effect of the mass media on crime (hey I'm old and it was cutting edge then honest) and my own conclusions were that *anything* can provide a stimulus to an unhinged individual.

    It could be a smudge on a fork at dinner, or an otherwise inconspicuous moment in a film, but anything can trigger someone to commit a heinous act such as this.

    So yes, films can incite murder....but then so can any other factor. The trigger is everything, and all psychotic individuals have their own individual triggers.

  • Comment number 18.

    The media will always try and stir the public in to a frenzy, but unfortunatly we the nation have been desensitised by the media, with coverage of on going wars around the world, murder after murder in our country and elsewhere.

    We have riots, school shootings, knife crimes, gun crimes, children kidnapped, murdered, abused, beamed constantly in to our television 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and everyday in the newspapers is horror, after horror, mixed in with MP scandals, smug columnists with their opinions, and Z list reality star celebs.

    The public are no longer shocked, we just sit there and think, oh dear, and turn the channel over to watch another bland reality show, and quickly forget about the horror that has just happened.

    We have simply switched off and no longer care.

    Maybe we the nation need a moral panic like we used to have back in the 80s, or another punk revolution, just something to shake us up again, and make us go out in to the world and start caring again, and not hunched over the internet twittering, or being obsessed with the latest celebs in magazines such as Heat.

    Or would that be to much of an effort?

  • Comment number 19.

    I hate to disappoint you but video games are the new pariah of society.
    I don't know if it makes you feel relieved that movies are now ignored as a cause of moral collapse in society or (like me) it just makes you feel just a little bit old and not 'with the kids!

  • Comment number 20.

    Nahh, no one ever grows up, it's just that right now you Brits are still in such a whirl, or dither or whatever, over the MP scandal. Once people pipe down about who is getting more stuff on the people's tab, they, the people, will go back to jabbering about what "torture porn" is supposedly doing to society. In the last couple weeks, when listening to the BBC, I've only heard about all those knife-weilding, alcohol-swilling teenagers you have prowling your streets once. Usually it comes up just about every day.

    By the way, thanks for red-penning my grammar. I'm always trying to pole vault the proprieties of prose to get down to the business of what I mean, whence, alas, I collapse in a puddle of mauve colored confusion.

  • Comment number 21.

    I agree with a lot of the comments here that actual crimes are not usually linked to horror movies anymore, but more so to video games nowadays. It's not that the threat of this "panic" is now gone as you say; it's still there, but now through a new host.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ive always felt that when something horrific happens the press and indeed in some respects the public have always felt the need to blame something whether its video games or horror films because the alternative is even more worrying which is that some people do horrific things to other people not because they watched a film but because they can.

  • Comment number 23.

    Very interesting topic Doc.

    I undertook a Film Violence module at university, strongly focusing on these issues. I've always been in two minds about this debate on the connection between the representation of violent acts on celluloid and actual horrific cases of violence in everyday life. Although I believe that it is complete, irrefutable common sense that an individual(s) of a certain mentality can try to copy, perhaps emulate, a violent act portrayed in any form of entertainment media, I think it is utterly preposterous to ban or cut said media because of isolated incidents. Especially if there is no proof of a connection, or grounds for one. This brings us to the news media. The reputed 'Severance' link sounds like a prime example of ignorant, naive, lazy and arbitrary journalism. A man is burned alive in the opening frames of American Gangster - why not blame that, or countless other examples in motion picture history? When the horrendous murders of the two French students in London occurred, one tabloid reported that the crime scene was like something from a Tarantino film and even started referring to it as 'the Tarantino murders.' Okay, the paper wasn't directly blaming Tarantino and his work for the awful crime, but to associate it with his films is absolutely idiotic. I also agree with previous comments pertaining to news journalists fighting a losing battle with the sheer volume of films and other media texts available to the public these days, in conjunction with numerous ways to access them. Back in the 80s and early 90s, this was not the case. I remember a little bit of hoopla instigated by the release of Hostel. Martyrs, on the other hand, seemed to come and go without news journalists getting in a flap about it. I firmly believe in establishments like the BBFC and the MPAA-we MUST have a rating system, yet other censorship of the snipping and banning ilk is emphatically nonsensical.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think you might be being a little bit optimistic but there's definitely something in what you say. We can safely assume that if this tragedy had occured during the summer when Parliament was in recess it would have received a lot more exposure. BBC Radio 5 Live may well have had a phone-in on it because it's an easy debate to run. The two sides are well established and unlikely to agree, perfect for the media.

    I do think things have changed though. Part of it is a generational thing. The people running the world 15-20 years ago were still of an age where they'd been raised before the sixties (Thatcher was born in 1925!) and voters from that generation were still a powerful political voice. Maybe they weren't quite so comfortable because they hadn't grown up with the kind of cinema today's baby boomers have. It's also fair to say that New Labour haven't played on this kind of thing as much as they might have, although even the most right-wing American government in modern history didn't throw up any media moral panics that I can recall. A wardrobe malfunction by Janet Jackson was about it.

    Obviously this is a bit of a pet issue with you because I've heard you talk about it before. The problem for me is that sometimes defending 'free sight', so to speak, can sometimes gloss over the fact that media can have a detrimental effect on the viewer and wider society. In Gomorrah, for example, Saviano talks about how mafiosi try to emulate the gangsters they see on screen. That's not to say that movies are the cause of crimes (films don't kill people, people kill people) but they may occasionally be a factor in them. There are studies out there that claim there is an impact on behavior, although clearly the groundwork for these kinds of horrors is predominately laid outside of a person's viewing habits. I think I know that you know all this because you've talked about proper classification before and that's where I stand. You just have to trust people to make judgements about these things and if there's disagreement there should be space for debate.

  • Comment number 25.

    As others have said I think the press have moved onto video games. It's the newest form of media which they don't fully understand.

    It's ironic that in the 19th century, with the hugh influx of local and national newspapers, the press and newspapers themselves were blamed for the horrors of the day. They felt that the daily coverage of the latest gruesome murders incited and influence others. Obviously over the years newer forms of media got the blame instead.

    Recently Charlie Brooker's Newswipe did a brilliant editorial on the way school massacres were covered in the news and the possible effects that has.

    Conveniently television news and newspapers never cover that.

  • Comment number 26.

    It's true that not one single movie is responsible for singular crimes, just as Marilyn Manson is not responsible for school shootings. It seems, however, that people who are more likely to murder are those who would enjoy horror films. Just as those who would perpetrate school shootings are more likely to enjoy Marilyn Manson. The ban-happy section of society seems to be making the mistake of getting this the wrong way around.

    However, whilst I am against censorship 100%, I struggle with the sense that violent movies in general do actually have the effect of numbing society as a whole and causing, if not greater direct levels of violence, then a general acceptance of more violent acts as something to go unpunished. I also feel that media-induced-fear and movie-induced-tolerance towards violence are a contributing factor behind the breakdown of a sense of community (especially in urban areas), which also further goes toward supporting the pillars of a capitalist, hegemonic, bourgeois societal structure by inducing alienation and lack of co-operation between communities, so long as they can be entertained.

  • Comment number 27.

    Of course the media haven't grown-up, no more than the social policy makers or the moral advisers which are summarily foisted upon us every time a particular crime is sensationalised. If anything, there's ever more hysteria with the evolution of rolling news & multi-media platforms. Perhaps it's true that most serious commentators, regardless of their conservatism, recognise that vilifying any form of art or entertainment - with designs on getting it banned - is indeed retrograde. However unpalatable & morally subversive the media might deem something, chances are one can easily gain access to it online, making the social bleating of those on high simply empty rhetoric. But there will always be a hardcore puritan faction which will forever warn of a society in degeneration & the propagation of subversive & provocative art. It's curious that I can sit here &, should I choose, gain access to & watch a series of amateur film footage showing past hostages of Islamic fundamentalists being ritualistically beheaded. Yet if that act were carried out by a group of teenage Islamists in their living room across the street from me, I doubt very much that the media's focus would be on where the idea of execution originated rather than WHY they felt compelled to commit such an act in the first place. As of course should all crime be analysed. For future reference, I don't doubt there'll be a certain level of hysteria over Von Trier's Antichrist & clamour from some areas to ban it. As has been suggested in previous entries, much will depend on the current perceived 'state-of-the-nation' as to whether or not any potential outrage is prioritised. But if you truly are looking for optimism, then just be grateful this isn't the US where the religious right still hold sway over much of the nation's moral & ethical conscience, largely at the expense of wholesale artistic liberty.

  • Comment number 28.

    Forgive me but somebody calling themself "crushedegg" doesn't sound like someone truly looking for optimism. It doesn't sound like a glass-half-full kind of moniker.

    It would be nice to have some examples of how you think the religious right has successfully stifled artistic freedom in the US. While some films have been banned in some localities, as a whole, I believe less films have been banned nationally in the US than in the UK. Films like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Straw Dogs", "The Exorcist" etc. were not banned or significantly cut in the US.

    It is interesting that Kubrick requested Warner Brothers withdraw "Clockwork Orange" in the UK because either, he and his family were receiving death threats, or because he really believed the film was responsible for actual violence occuring.

    As far as Lars von Trier's latest oeuvre is concerned, I don't fault others for going to see it but watching a woman cut off her genitalia with rusty scissors, even though it might be very artfully done and "in the best possible taste", doesn't sound like my cup of tea.

  • Comment number 29.

    Sorry Grandad, its them new-fangled video games nowadays that are causing the moral panic today - Video Nastys are sooo-1982!

  • Comment number 30.

    hey dr. k

    would love to agree with you on this one. the link between film violence and real violence is one that has always intrigued me and i also angered me when the press are so quick to find blame with movies.

    i do think on this one who ever tried to start this one just didnt make a big enough wave for others to catch, aswell as there being to much elsewhere for them to report on. right time right place and it would have been away. it would be nice to think that people could stop blaming movies but we live in a blame society, its to gard to find true reason when we can just blame something else.

    i have seen countless horror films, i have even made nasty horror films and i have never been violent to another human being. some people just have it in them, regardless of the films they watch/music they listen too/games they play.


  • Comment number 31.

    I do agree that it's encouraging to see a lack of moral finger-pointing panic this time, but I remain unconvinced that it'll happen again. There seem to have been enough calls for further censorship without connections to criminal cases (Crash, Lolita) and I don't doubt for a second that the trusty Mail will lead the charge against Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (which I gather is going to be released in July).

    However, I wish to take issue with RumDiary's post (#26), that "people who are more likely to murder are those who would enjoy horror films". As one who has spent a fair amount of time standing outside cinemas during horror festivals, I can tell you that you will be hard pressed to find a more decent, civilised and well-behaved gathering of intelligent, witty and interesting people, even after a really terrible film. There is absolutely no link here, there never has been, and it's frankly insulting to continue the suggestion that there is.

  • Comment number 32.

    I am seeing it next Thursday.

    I LOVED Transfomers and thought it was a very good film with a decent enough story for a cartoon based robot warfare film.

    For T2 I am expecting more of the same. I am expecting superb action scenes, jaw dropping speical effects which raise the bar as alhthough it is derided special effects and cgi is still an art even though it it populist to slag it off.

    What I am not expecting is a Shakespearean type story or an actor winning worthy and deep acting performance from Shia.

    What I take offecne to with MArk's review is the assumption anyone who likes this type of film is a retarded knucklehead which is the assumption he makes.

    I like all sorts of films. For the record I believe the greatest work of cinema of al time to be Schindler's List.

  • Comment number 33.

    I am seeing it next Thursday.

    I LOVED Transfomers and thought it was a very good film with a decent enough story for a cartoon based robot warfare film.

    For T2 I am expecting more of the same. I am expecting superb action scenes, jaw dropping speical effects which raise the bar as alhthough it is derided special effects and cgi is still an art even though it it populist to slag it off.

    What I am not expecting is a Shakespearean type story or an Oscar winning worthy and deep acting performance from Shia.

    What I take offecne to with Mark's review is the assumption anyone who likes this type of film is a retarded knucklehead which is the assumption he makes.

    I like all sorts of films. For the record I believe the greatest work of cinema of al time to be Schindler's List.


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