"Gorno" is a subgenre of cinema that fuses gore and porn (geddit?) in a manner that's appalling, overblown, and often hilarious. Last week we ran a beginners' guide to the gorno films made in the 70s and 80s, and for the second part of the feature we spoke to the guy whose job it is to watch this stuff and decide what parts are too horrible for public consumption.
Murray Perkins is the BBFC’s senior examiner of 18 and R18 films, the man subjected to a daily avalanche of pornographic and ultra-violent content. Surprisingly, he isn’t a dribbling, zombified wreck. He possesses a Kiwi accent, a dry sense of humor, and a hard demeanor, things you desperately need if you’re going to watch people getting raped and killed all day. I chatted to him about his job, and whether he thinks horror cinema is getting more extreme, or if today's directors are just regurgitating old shit.
Vice: How long have you worked at the BBFC?
Murray Perkins: I started working as an examiner at the BBFC in 2000, and became one of the senior examiners in 2005.
Everyone must ask this, but is being forced to stare at screens full of atrocious material all day a bit like being Alex in A Clockwork Orange?
Actually, no one has ever said that before. I can assure you we've never clamped an examiner's eyes open and forced them to watch old war footage. That was just a rumour! It can, of course, be a little challenging when the job requires us to watch some horrible material. To be honest, though, the most difficult aspect of examining films and DVDs is the tedium of watching hours of low budget, straight-to-video efforts and kids' TV.
I guess the blowjob castration scene from I Spit On Your Grave must be even more jarring coming off the back of a Rastamouse marathon. Do you find yourself cutting more or less than you used to?
There has been relatively little change in the number of cuts to non-pornographic material over the last ten years. It's unusual for us to force cuts on anything aimed at the 18 category. There have been a couple of notable exceptions in recent months—specifically A Serbian Film and the remake of I Spit On Your Grave—and in both of these cases the cuts were generally for sexual violence rather than violence or horror.
Other than sexy violence, what else do you generally find yourself cutting from horror movies?
In some older horror films, cuts have been made for real animal cruelty.
Gross. I guess you can't get away with that anymore, but do you feel mainstream horror cinema has become more extreme recently, as a whole?
In some ways films made a few decades ago are still more problematic from a censorship point of view than contemporary releases. A large part of that is because of the strong sexual violence, which is less evident in contemporary horror films. What there has been over the last five years or so is an increase in torture themed horror works getting mainstream releases.
However, as I said earlier, this is a trend which is already showing some signs of decline. We're told we've seen the last of the Saw series, for example, though it's worth bearing in mind that none of the Saw films have ever been cut. We have recently cut re-releases of old horror films from the 70s and early 80s though, such as the original I Spit On Your Grave and The New York Ripper.
Trailer: A Serbian Film
Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film stirred up a lot of controversy last year. Why do you think that was, and do you think it was a significant assault on the boundaries of mainstream horror?
A Serbian Film contains scenes which, on paper, sound particularly strong.
The part where the newborn baby gets raped, and the other bit where the woman has all her teeth knocked out before being suffocated to death with a cock? That sort of stuff?
Yeah. It's difficult to avoid controversy when even a bland description makes a film seem like one of the strongest that has ever been made. However, we took the view that A Serbian Film had some serious intentions. We also took the view that it was not simply a horror film, so it would be wrong for me to suggest that it was testing the boundaries of mainstream horror when it doesn't comfortably fit that label.
Do you think that's indicative of horror losing its power to shock now that the internet is around?
Straight-up horror still has the power to shock. Especially if you show something to someone who doesn't enjoy horror or violence. So long as people have an imaginative approach, and someone else is prepared to fund them—and some people do have more money than sense—there's always some new way to depict something unpleasant.
In all your years at the BBFC, what’s the single most disturbing thing you’ve witnessed?
I've long been disturbed at the quality of some straight-to-video films and can't always believe what I'm watching. It's great that technology has made filmmaking easier and more accessible, but not everyone should be let loose with a budget, however small. I suppose more along the lines of what you are thinking, the misuse of vacuum pumps can certainly have a curious effect on parts of the human body for which the pumps were not originally designed.
Gotcha. What do you do to recover after a day of wallowing in the grimy depths of cinematic filth?
It's fortunate that most of my time is not spent wallowing in the grimy depths of cinematic filth. I'm as likely to have watched a nearly complete version of the latest blockbuster as Crabs vs. Cocks III, or whatever. But outside the office I do still enjoy watching good films of my own choosing without having to take notes. A glass of a nice New Zealand sauvignon doesn't go amiss either.
Thanks Murray. You're a man who deserves his wine.