Where are my NC-17 Horror Films?


Depending on who you are, the NC-17 rating is one of three things.  It could be the kiss of death at the box office (Hollywood Fat Cats), it could be an easy target for politicians to point out the declination in our society (Joe Lieberman D. Conn), or it could be a forewarning into a land of extreme violence jam packed with boob and ball filled bliss.  To the average adult who is looking for an adult themed film, this seems completely logical.  No one under 17 is admitted because the following feature deals with some pretty nutty stuff that maybe an 8 year old wouldn't be able to understand or even appropriate between fact and fiction.  I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that for most of us here, there are a ton of horror movies that aren't appropriate for children (example – anything by a contemporary French horror director, seriously those guys are messed up).  So it makes perfect sense that an adult looking for adult entertainment will be looking for the NC-17 rating on their favorite website or in their weekly newspaper for the next cutting edge piece of cinema.  But oh wait, there are barely any NC-17 films put out now a days in the multiplex, or even on DVD.  Most media outlets won't even run an advertisement for a film that is rated NC-17 because of previous stigmas that came with the rating.

Abridged history lesson:  The NC-17 rating has only been around since 1990.  Before that, films with adult themes and actions with deemed with the X rating by the MPAA when the content was seen as something more than an R.  Movies such as Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange received an X rating (and both got Oscar attention), but at the same time pornography hit the mainstream pop culture with Deep Throat.  From there on out, the X rating began its association with pornography.  Now in 1990, in order to differentiate between narrative driven feature films and pornographic films, the NC-17 rating was born.  Also it's important to note that the X rating was never trademarked by the MPAA (like say PG and PG-13 are, hence why TV has a different rating system) and in most cases was self appointed for marketing reasons.  So if anyone had the power to slap an X on their film, it could be an MPAA approved adult content film or just plain hard core porn.  The problem here though is that distributors and media outlets still see NC-17 as its old incantation (X) and therefore inappropriate for most audiences. 

What does this have to do with Horror movies you ask?  Well it's no secret that horror movies are rampant with some nasty gore and taboo subject matters.  Dawn of the Dead (78) was released as unrated rather than face an X rating, as was Day of the Dead (85) and Re-Animator (85).  Rather than chance an X, they chose to just go unrated, which most likely did hurt their box office take, but not nearly as bad as an X rating would have.  Movies today are not willing to go this route any more for purely monetary reasons (anyone who says it's for any other reason is lying).  Most distributors, newspapers, and media outlets will not permit advertising for an NC- 17 film, so therefore we get into this completely different illogical situation that seems to affect horror films more than anything else.  You know what's coming.  It's the unrated/uncut/uncensored special 10th anniversary director's edition of the DVD.

Now, I'm not saying this is a horrible idea; it may give the director a chance to put their film out in the way that they originally envisioned it without any studio interference and without having to submit the film to the MPAA again (Blade Runner, Dark City).  However, this is rarely the case.  The terms unrated and uncut are used as a marketing ploy rather than anything else.  The studios want you to walk into the DVD store and see let's say, the unrated version of 1408.  You say to yourself "I saw this in the theater and it was intense!  What else could they have added? There must be boobies everywhere!  I need this DVD right now!" (If I am in punching distance when you exclaim this at the video store, you better cover your stomach).  Ok, so it makes sense why the marketing department would try to trick you into buying their product, but the big question here is why is this ok for a DVD release but completely socially unacceptable for a theatrical release?

If a movie gets released by a distributor as unrated, the MPAA's "voluntary" code shouldn't have precedent.  But it always does, theater chains will mostly likely snub a film that is unrated, and since the only widely distributed NC-17 film "Showgirls" tanked at the box office, we won't be seeing any NC-17 major studio pictures any time soon.  In most cases, the more extreme horror films or movies with too many boobies are given an NC-17 rating, but get re edited to get an R rating for the theater.  So why are films treated like this?  I really don't see the logic in this insanity at all.  A movie will probably not get picked by any theater chain because it is NC-17, but 6 months later it's on the shelf at Wal-Mart as an unrated DVD?  Really?  So in a large public forum where a number of people can legally (by proof of age) view a major motion picture on a big screen is unacceptable for distribution, but anyone can buy the unrated DVD and watch it at home in front of their kids or younger siblings (some stores do enforce an ID policy, but kids always find a way).  I actually expect a DVD to be released unrated now, if it's not I feel like I'm missing something (is the marketing working? You be the judge).  So why in the theater is it banned and the pillar of public controversy, but yet when that unrated cut hits DVD, no one cares at all.  How about some consistency here people!  The fact that this happens amazes and shocks me.

So I think we should get together and just ban the NC-17 rating and just go with unrated from here on out.  It's a broad enough term where people can go to the theater and take in an adult film with the level of shock they are used to on their home theaters (or possibly even less adult material).  Maybe in some of the lesser horror films, this could be used to their advantage as a marketing gimmick, thus taking advantage of an MPAA rating loophole.  And since no one under 17 is allowed in the theater, there will be no bitching parents (who really do ruin everything don't they).  Am I on to something here?  Do you agree with me that things should be consistent on video and in the theater?  Do I look silly because I don't understand this concept?  Do you think I'm good looking?  Is this forced censorship?  Is the MPAA in direct violation of the freedom of speech like the FCC is?  Either way post your opinions on the MPAA and censorship out there because I want to hear them!  But keep it clean.

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