Depraved, disturbed, traumatizing, reprehensible: These are some adjectives detractors often use to describe horror movies; ugly words to be certain, but nothing for genre aficionados to get worked up over. Trespassing, moral indecency, animal cruelty, murder: These, however, are legitimate crimes that can get you thrown in the clink. Conservatives have often sought to shut down horror movies based on unrealistic standards of morality, but some films have incited so much backlash they’ve landed directors, producers, and distributors in courts of law, their very freedom at stake.
Are these cases of modern Puritanism run amok and/or the result of underhanded efforts to censor more extreme artforms? Or are there truly cases of filmmakers who have crossed the line in their attempts to achieve maximum terror? Below are some examples of horror movies that actually got people arrested, punished, or officially investigated. Whether those involved deserved reprimand might depend on your personal opinion; each should be debated on a case-by-case basis.
Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section! Do you think any of these filmmakers actually deserved to be prosecuted? (Obviously, the tax-evader does, but what about the others?) Let the debates begin!
Cannibal Holocaust (1985, Directed by Ruggero Deodato)
Accusation(s): Murder of Lead Actress.
Outcome: Director Ruggero Deodato was tried and convicted in an Italian court. It was only after the actress in question appeared in court that the guilty verdict was overturned.
Legacy: Cannibal Holocaust remains loathed by activists for real depictions of animal cruelty and murder.
Official Synopsis: A professor (Francesca Ciardi) finds the remains of a film crew in the Amazon and brings the camera footage back to America.
The Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971, Directed by Lucio Fulci)
Accusation(s): Animal Cruelty, specifically the murder of dozens of dogs.
Outcome: Director Lucio Fulci had to bring fake dead dogs to court in order to avoid conviction.
Official Synopsis: A woman tormented by strange, drug-induced hallucinations finds her fantasies giving way to violent reality.
Mark Twitchell’s House of Cards
Accusation(s): Mark Twitchell wrote & filmed a horror movie which included a murder; weeks later, he carried out an actual murder, just as it had been written/filmed.
Outcome: Twitchell is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Johnny Altinger. He maintains his innocence and hopes to regain access to thousands of hours of footage seized by police.
Legacy: Twitchell has since been dubbed The Dexter Killer after the award-winning series on Showtime; the case is sometimes referenced in an attempt to prove a link between depictions of violence and actual violence.
Marla Mae (TBD, Directed by Lisa van Dam-Bates)
Accusation(s): Actor Jason Sange was seen in wrap photos & video following the completion of this indie horror flick in 2015. As he was wanted by police for armed robbery, he was quickly located and arrested.
Outcome: Sange was arrested for parole violations before being tried and convicted of robbery.
Legacy: As a wanted criminal who used his real name and sought acting gigs, Sange’s stupidity seems legendary.
Official Synopsis: When a girl goes to get an IUD implanted by a distant relative, he commits a deranged act which has deadly implications for those close to her.
Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985, Directed by Hideshi Hino)
Accusation(s): After viewing this film in 1991, Charlie Sheen initiated an FBI investigation after being thoroughly convinced he had just watched a snuff film.
Outcome: The Japanese filmmakers were forced to produce a documentary explaining how the extreme gore FX were created in order to end the investigation.
Official Synopsis: A woman walking home late at night is attacked by an unknown assailant who knocks her out with chloroform. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself tied to a bed in a blood- spattered dungeon, at the mercy of a white-faced man in a samurai helmet who wants to turn her into a “flower of blood and flesh.” He then proceeds to slowly dismember and disembowel her as the camera records it all.
Eldorado aka Highway to Hell (2012, Directed by Richard Driscoll)
Accusation(s): Tax Evasion.
Outcome: Director/Producer Roger Driscoll submitted inflated tax documents in order to retain money; he was found guilty in 2013.
Legacy: Eldorado was loathed by horror fans and critics alike.
Official Synopsis: Eldorado is a British horror-comedy film written and directed by Richard Driscoll and stars Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, and Michael Madsen. It also stars Brigitte Nielsen, Kerry Washington, Jeff Fahey, Steve Guttenberg and Bill Moseley.
The ABC’s of Death (2013, Various Directors)
Accusation(s): Ohio substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was tried for endangering the welfare of minors for showing several classes The ABC’s of Death in 2013.
Outcome: Sheila Kearns was convicted and served 90-days in jail.
Legacy: Similar stories have surfaced in the years since Kearns’ ordeal, but none have led to convictions.
Official Synopsis: An anthology of stories helmed by more than two dozen directors details 26 ways to die, each corresponding to a different letter of the alphabet.
The Carnage Collection (2016, Various Directors)
Accusation(s): A woman who accidentally downloaded the film complained it crossed all moral boundaries for including a scene where a woman is stabbed in the vagina. Filmmakers were investigated for murder and animal cruelty, meaning there was a belief that the movie was actually snuff.
Outcome: Charges were dropped; one of the producers, however, was temporarily jailed under an antiquated law pertaining to the distribution of obscene materials.
Official Synopsis: In the vein of some classic horror anthologies, The Carnage Collection features multiple short stories of violence, gore, carnage, and horror.
Related Article: Top 15 Terrifying Horror Anthology Movies
The Films of Remy Couture
Accusation(s): Moral Corruption.
Outcome: Remy Couture narrowly avoided conviction on charges of moral corruption and illegal distribution of obscene materials.
Legacy: A jury concluded Couture’s work had artistic merit, thereby nullifying obscenity charges.
Night of the Living Dead
Accusation(s): In the 1990s Peter Bayliss forced a child under his care to watch George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as punishment for bad behavior. This resulted in charges of child endangerment.
Outcome: Bayliss addressed the accusation in 2016, apologizing to his “victim” and confessing to suffering from alcoholism at the time. He was nonetheless convicted on child cruelty charges and received a suspended sentence.
Official Synopsis: A disparate group of individuals takes refuge in an abandoned house when corpses begin to leave the graveyard in search of fresh human bodies to devour. The pragmatic Ben (Duane Jones) does his best to control the situation, but when the reanimated bodies surround the house, the other survivors begin to panic. As any semblance of order within the group begins to dissipate, the zombies start to find ways inside — and one by one, the living humans become the prey of the deceased ones.