Everybody loves a good controversy! If you don’t, you’re a boring fart. Controversial movies have caused disgust, moral outrage and titillation since the very invention of cinema, all those years ago. One only has to look at the stink D W Griffiths made with his epic films Intolerance and Birth of a Nation.
It pays to have a little controversy in your film, a little rant or whine in the Daily Mail can have salacious film fans rushing to buy the condemned films in droves. It can elevate a crappy or mediocre film into culthood or it can uncover some marvellous little gems that may have gone uncovered were it not for someone kicking up a moral fuss.
The movies in my list have been praised and condemned in equal measures. Some of them on their release were so controversial they were nearly kicked into hell. However, over time, most of the controversy has died down and people say “Yeah that’s actually a good film.”
I hope that you enjoy the list and give plenty of your own contributions on what you think are decent, controversial films below!
10. Freaks (1932)
Why it’s controversial:
Tod Browning’s 1932 seminal horror film was wildly controversial in its day for its use of genuine circus performers. The story followed a bunch of sideshow performers – one of whom, a small person, marries a fully grown woman circus performer who only weds him for his money. She is having an affair with the Strong Man and poisons her husband. When the freaks find out they wreak a terrible revenge.
Viewers in 1932 were genuinely horrified to see carnival performers on their screen – there were Pinheads (microencaphelics), siamese twins, bearded ladies, a human skeleton, a human torso (he had no limbs) and Johnny Eck (who had no legs). The film was received very negatively and wrecked Browning’s career. The movie was considered so disturbing, it was subsequently banned in the UK for 30 years.
Why it’s good:
In the 1960s and 1970s, Freaks was rediscovered as a classic horror movie. It won praise for its humane treatment of the carnival performers which was way ahead of its time. The ending of the film, in which the villainess is turned into a chicken/duck type creature by the freaks, has now been widely recognised as one of the scariest and most upsetting scenes in horror cinema.
Tod Browning’s reputation has been restored to genius horror film maker level. One of a handful of oldies that still packs a punch today, if you haven’t watched it, Freaks is a curious and.. freaky little movie to watch.