Australian ban on horror films

Categories: 1940s, Australia, Classification event, Country, Decade, Event, Film, Media, National (of national significance) Australian ban on horror films
Date: 1948

Australia

In 1948, the Australian Film Censorship Board had J.O. Alexander as their Chief Censor. Alexander banned horror films entirely from Australian cinema screens, stating the horror genre had ‘no cultural or entertainment value and its appeal extends only to a very limited section of the community, a section whose mental outlook should not be fed with films of this nature.’ He also found the films ‘a source of potential danger to women in a delicate state of health’ (letter dated 22/04/1948).

Although the genre had its own classification category (H for horror, only for use in film advertising) that was in use by 1942, by the late 1940s, Alexander was still unsatisfied and garnered opinion on the issue from various sources, such as the Customs Minister and the Chief Secretary of Victoria. Such investigation only found criticism of the genre. There were no horror releases in 1947 and the genre was seen to be in decline, however, the ban provided a solution to complaints from Parents and Citizens’ associations and added a legal buffer to children who were not restricted from watching films unsuitable for them (the A category was only advisory). The press reported it was a move to accrue audience trust in cinema programmes.

The ban was instated under a legislative clause of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations. Reg. 14 (e) stipulated no film was to be registered if, in the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board’s opinion, it depicted matter ‘the exhibition of which is undesirable in the public interest’. The decision was approved by the Minister for Customs on 6 May 1948. In 1956 the ban was reaffirmed.

Chief censor R J Prowse stated in 1964 that the Film Censorship Board made decisions based on three main concerns:

  1. Is the film likely to impair moral standards of viewers by extenuating vice or crime or by depreciating social values?
  2. Is it likely to be offensive to a normal audience of reasonably minded citizens? A normal audience, the Board considers, would not welcome as entertainment harrowing death or torture scenes, gruesome hospital and accident scenes, unnecessary brutality, cruelty to children or animals, indecency, vulgarity, etc.
  3. What will be the film’s effect on children?

(cited in Williams, 1970, p56)

Number three was the most important concern because the Australian system, unlike New Zealand, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, did not have a restriction on children’s attendance at the cinema. Eric Williams (1970, p58) suggests one in four of all feature films received cuts between the years of 1965 to 1966, increasing to one in three in 1969. Such cuts were made without public knowledge of the decisions of the Film Censorship Board, which stopped publishing Annual Reports between 1965 and 1979.

Rachel Cole

Image from https://www.nytimes.com/watching/titles/nosferatu

Further reading:

National Archives of Australia file. NAA: A425, 1959/22905

Chapter in edited collection. Williams, E. (1970) “Cultural Despotism — Film Censorship” In G. Dutton & M. Harris (ed.s), Australia’s Censorship Crisis, (pp. 52-69). Melbourne: Sun Books.

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