MPs press for ban on SS camp ‘video nasty’
By Marie Woolk, Whitehall Editor
(UK) The Sunday Times
January 27, 2007
FILMS with graphic violence, including one simulating the rape, torture and incineration of concentration camp victims, are being freely sold on the high street, prompting demands by MPs for a reform of the censorship laws.
SS Experiment Camp is one of a clutch of violent films banned 20 years ago by the director of public prosecutions that have been approved for general release by Britain’s film censors and are on sale in shops.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said there was no evidence that the film causes harm to viewers, adding that “there is nothing in this film that anybody should have any concerns about”. The board claims that sensibilities toward on-screen violence have changed since the film was banned.
However, MPs have questioned the censors’ judgment and their greater tolerance of films and video games containing graphic violence. They want Gordon Brown to give the public more power to appeal against the board’s decisions. The prime minister is set to meet a cross-party coalition of MPs to discuss toughening the laws on “video nasties”.
MPs are concerned that films previously considered so shocking that they were banned have been approved for general sale and are desensitising the public to extreme violence.
They are particularly worried by the decision of censors to grant a general release certificate to SS Experiment Camp, a 1970s low-budget movie that is sold alongside family films at high-street shops and online.
Jewish groups fear such films trivialise the suffering of Holocaust victims, who in the film are forced to have sex with Nazi commandants and are boiled alive if they refuse to “collaborate”. The blonde camp commandant forces a Jewish doctor to perform sadistic experiments on women prisoners, including live ovary transplants.
Women dressed in striped prison uniforms are forced to become prostitutes, tortured, hung upside down and electrocuted. They are injected and incinerated after refusing to declare allegiance “to the supreme Führer”.
The film’s cover prominently displays the Nazi SS emblem and the words “Previously banned! Legally available for the first time”. Because it has an 18 certificate, it can be sold on the same shelves as U and PG certificate films.
SS Experiment Camp was approved for release by David Cooke, director of the BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, the president, and two vice-presidents, Janet Lewis-Jones and Lord Taylor of Warwick. Thomas is a former senior civil servant; Lewis-Jones and Taylor are lawyers. Though it went on sale in October 2006, it has only just come to the attention of MPs, who are shocked by its contents.
A spokeswoman for the BBFC said SS Experiment Camp had been given a certificate with no cuts because “we have no concerns about it”. Although she accepted it contained sexual violence, she said the board did not believe it was harmful to viewers. “It is tasteless – but then I find most Mel Gibson films tasteless,” she said. “We do not believe that anyone watching this title is going to become antisemitic as a result. It is not going to create an attitude towards Jewish women that is harmful.”
A private member’s bill to be introduced by Julian Brazier, the Conservative MP for Canterbury, with support from senior MPs of all parties, would make it easier to challenge the release of “video nasties”.
Brazier strongly disputed the board’s claims and said the release of SS Experiment Camp was a clear case of the BBFC failing to protect the public.
“We live in a country where half of all males think forced sex is justified under some circumstances and it’s this kind of film that glamorises the torture of women,” Brazier said. “This film may have an 18 certificate but in practice, whatever its classification, it will rapidly find its way into the hands of under18s.”
A motion by 50 MPs asking for a film’s release to be reconsidered would trigger an instant appeal, under the plans to be debated by parliament next month. Other video nasties previously banned but recently released include Snuff, based on the Manson murders, and The Driller Killer, which was the Hollywood director Abel Ferrara’s first movie.
The move is backed by Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister, who heads the powerful Commons home affairs committee.
Commemorations around the country today will mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Yesterday the Holocaust Educational Trust called on the film censors to think again about their decision to release SS Experiment Camp, which was made in Italy by Sergio Garrone in 1976.