16 April 2024

Rewinding Back To Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor

  1. Whenever a new British horror film comes along, so too do the tediously outdated words,“Best British horror in years!”.

In 2018 it happened with Matthew Holness and his film Possum. Duo Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson received the same treatment the year before that with Ghost Stories, as did David Bruckner with The Ritual. And while these are all adequately-made and entertaining films, the term “Best British horror in years” is an overstatement for all of three of these films to be brutally honest. It is one of the biggest throwaway commendations that gets plastered all over a films marketing campaign, rarely possessing the capability to back up such a bold exclamation.

Of the past decade I can think of only a very small quantity of films that are genuinely worthy of the “Best British horror film” testimony; actually wielding the capacity to be among the greatest of British-made horror films for their innovation and competence to actually scare. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin, Alice Lowe‘s Prevenge, Rose GlassSaint Maud and more recently Remi Weekes’ His House being that select batch.

In the early months of 2021 however, a brand new British horror film began to make its round around film festivals quickly grabbing the absolute and undivided attention of horror fanatics and film buffs like myself, after it had excruciatingly been given the, “Best British horror film in years” treatment among festivals such as Sundance. The film in question was Prano Bailey-Bond‘s Censor.

In the Welsh filmmaker’s feature-length debut, Bailey-Bond‘s Censor stars the rapidly ascending Irish wonder Niamh Algar as Enid, a BBFC film censor in the 1980s who spends her days meticulously watching and assessing gruesomely violent and disturbing films. Taking her work very seriously, Enid holds a strong sense of responsibility in protecting audiences from extreme content. When one troubling film lands on her desk one day, Enid finds herself acknowledging that she has subconsciously been driven to her work as a censor by guilt from childhood trauma.

Whilst on vacation in Edinburgh for a weekend in August 2021, I managed to catch Censor only a day after its UK theatrical release at one of Scotland’s oldest and most beautiful cinemas, The Cameo (Picturehouse). Here, I quickly discovered why Bailey-Bond‘s work had been given such high praise and why almost all of its UK marketing campaign droned on and on about it being “Britain’s next best horror”.

Set during the “video nasties” era of the Thatcher’s milk-snatching 80s, Censor is heavy on nostalgia. Its authenticity and aesthetic of its set pieces, costumes, historical accuracy and its outlook on the psychological impact and moral panic that the era brought forth is always at the forefront. Various iconic films and their infamous directors are namechecked. Some of the same films even make the cut into Bailey-Bond‘s film in scattered snippets during the films brilliant assembled opening credits scene which play like an ode to that time of both panic and exhilaration. With a contemporary retrospective look back on the thrills and spills that sent the UK into a frenzy, Censor is masterful in its efforts to exhibit just how important this era of home entertainment was to those who created it, who viewed and attempted to stop their release.

Where Censor really excels is within its storytelling, overall and underlying tones and themes as well as its world-class, heavy-hitting performance from its lead.

As Algar‘s character obsessively attempts to find answers between parallels of the production of a new video nasty and the disappearance of her younger sister, Censor for the majority of its runtime plays more like a menacing psychological thriller rather than a horror film with its strapping red and icy cold blue hues. The bulk of horror viscera and gore is on-screen early and taken from the snippets of actual video nasties from the 80s such as The Driller Killer and an earlier short film from Bailey-Bond titled Nasty. Too included is a very gruesome death scene involving Northern Irish sensation, Michael Smiley as the detestable video nasty film producer, Doug Smart and a over-the-top, cheesy video nasty-quality gory climax. Bailey-Bond‘s film is more reliant on its brilliantly and intricately co-wrote screenplay with Anthony Fletcher. Together Bailey-Bond and Fletcher create bone-chilling atmosphere and tension that feels like a knot winding tighter and tighter deeply embedding within your brain upon viewing while Annika Summerson‘s oppressive and muggy cinematography brings the resonance to life.

During this dread and anxiety-soaked nightmare, watching Algar is like watching a truevirtuoso at work. Enid gradually begins to unwind from the uptight, hard-faced BBFC censor to a vulnerable, terrified and confused ordinary individual who is begging for a lifeline and some sort of penitence as the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur. The final act of this film is where she truly shines bright as the feverish nightmare that frantically cuts between the films reality and Enid’s illusion is dizzying and maddening. The whole segment plays out to what I can only compare to any of the dismal and distressing British public information films from the 70s and 80s.

Personally, I firmly believe it is shameful and downright disgusting that Niamh Algar didn’t receiving multiple, multiple awards for her performance in Censor because its truly one of the best performances not only 2021 but in horror from the last five or six years. Mercifully, Bailey-Bond has seen plenty of success in the aftermath of the films release and good, because she thoroughly deserves it! I can comfortably choke on my own words and any preconceived opinions of it being another unworthy successor to the “Best British horror in years” as Censor can sit comfortably and rightful among the ranks of The Wicker Man, 28 Days Later, The Descent and Eden Lake.

Beneath all of the Thatcherite sentimentally, winding bends of psychological horror and frightening performances lay a dark, throbbing, John Carpenter-esque synthplay score from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch that plays an absolutely vital role in what help create the films looming sense of unease. If you took away the French pianist and composer’s mesmerising chimes, you wouldn’t have a film that is anywhere near as impactful. Censor also executes the best use of Blanck Mass’ monolithic track ‘Chernoybl’ since Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England.

If for whatever reason you wasn’t lucky enough to catch the genuine British horror marvel during its frankly nanoscopic theatrical release, fear not! Niche back catalogue and restoration specialists Second Sight Films are giving
Bailey-Bond’s film its debut release here in the UK and Europe. Those rapscallions over at Vinegar Syndrome in the U-S-and A have already given Censor their treatment, beating the Brits to the punch.

Nonetheless, Second Sight Films’ revision of Bailey-Bond‘s film presented with six collectors’ art cards, an 108-paged soft cover book with production photos and essays by Anna Bogutskaya (@annabdemented), Kat Ellinger (@kat_diabolique), Tim Murray (@theraygun), Alison Peirse and Hannah Strong (@thethirdhan). Finished with signature Second Sight Films’ thick rigid slipcase vessel with gorgeous artwork from the brilliant Nashville-based, James Neal of Printed in Blood.

Asides from all the hands-on goodies, the special edition Blu-ray release is jam-packed with over four hours of special feature material to deep dive into and feast upon.

In what has almost become a lost art form, Second Sight have mercifully added two extremely insightful audio commentaries of Censor with director Prano Bailey-Bond and executive producer Kim Newman and a second with Bailey-Bond and director of photography Annika Summerson, editor Mark Towns and sound designer Tim Harrison. All done to provide better clarity and a different viewpoint for its audience of the filmmakers’ thought process and vision how they achieved such a technical and thematic feat.

Also included are a variety of candid interviews with various members of the cast and crew  such as Niamh Algar and composer of the films score Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, giving even more of an insight to how Censor started from the ground up to evolve into a fully realised future British titan of horror.

Rounding the off the chockablock release are some never-seen-before deleted scenes from the film, an earlier short film from
Bailey-Bond which inspired the feature-length product, a rather ironic but profound conversation between Bailey-Bond and BBFC compliance officer, David Hyman and a two-part documentary on video nasties titled Ban the Sadist Videos.

All in all, you’re thoroughly spoilt for choice with hours upon hours of material to invest yourself within! At tremendously great value for money, Second Sight Films’ revision of Censor is a must-have for any bona fide fan of the film, any horror film aficionado and film librarian alike.

Censor Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray out to own in UK and Ireland from 31st January | buy here

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