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HomeEducation resourcesStudent guideRating ProcessIssuesHorror

Historically, the BBFC has often treated horror as a special case and in the late 1930s actually
introduced an H for 'Horror' rating to warn the public of the likely content of such works. Indeed,
'horror' films were banned from distribution in the latter years of the Second World War in case they
damaged public morale, often not being released until several years later when their initial power
to disturb had somewhat waned.
However, critical indifference or censorial intervention were the least of the genre's problems when
it was claimed that the more extreme examples - particularly those which had never been
submitted for theatrical certificates or may have required cuts - were seized by the police and often
successfully prosecuted as obscene works when released on video in the early, unregulated 1980s.
Many of these films of the horror variety were subsequently labelled 'video nasties', a catch-all term
later refined to mean works which had been successfully prosecuted under the Obscene
Publications Act 1959. Although many of these works were not legally available in the UK for many
years, some have now been classified on DVD, although the content of some of them (eg Cannibal
Holocaust and I Spit On Your Grave, both resubmitted in 2011) means that cuts are still necessary.
In the 80s and 90s, the Friday 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream series, as well as recent
21st century remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (the original having been rejected on film in
1975 before finally being rated 18 uncut on film in 1999), and Dawn Of The Dead have proved
hugely successful with newer, younger audiences, restablishing the horror genre as a top box office
draw. The successful Saw and Hostel series and other works which would now be described as
'torture porn' illustrate how horror film-makers have raised the bar with ever stronger horror and
gory images.

Horror elements in films, especially those aimed at younger audiences, are treated with great
caution. Many children enjoy the excitement of scary sequences, but where films are targeted at a
younger audience, age rating decisions will take into account such factors as the frequency, length
and detail of scary scenes as well as horror effects, including music and sound, and whether there
is a swift and reassuring outcome. In 1993, the BBFC hosted a series of test screenings for the
dinosaur movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park to which an audience of hundreds of children and their
teachers were invited. After careful analysis of their reactions, (the vast majority loved the
experience), the BBFC opted to rate the film PG with the condition that clear Consumer Advice (now
known asBBFCinsight) was displayed on all film posters the first time that this had ever happened.
Since then, some notable blockbusters aimed at younger audiences have all contained significant
horror elements. Examples include Spider-Man 2 (PG), Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The
Ring (PG) and Harry Potter: The Chamber Of Secrets (PG) (the latter film's Consumer Advice (now
known as BBFCinsight) contained a warning about a scene featuring some 'scary spiders'! More
recently, horror has been an issue in PG rated children's films ranging from Monster
House and Igor to Coraline and Paranorman.