chapter  2
13 Pages

The British censors and horror cinema

WithMark Kermode

In 1960, Britain’s then chief censor, John Trevelyan, decided that one of the most celebrated scenes of world cinema needed to be re-edited before it could be shown to the British public. His motives were twofold: first, the sequence, which depicted the hair-raising murder of a wet, naked woman had ‘shots of blood all over the place’ and was clearly ‘sadistic’ in intent; second, ‘there had been much publicity in the press on two sensational killings, one in which a girl student had been decapitated’ (Trevelyan 1973: 160). Although neither was the woman in the film a student, nor was she decapitated, Trevelyan felt that it would be best if he took a pair of scissors to the sequence ‘to lessen the sadism’ and generally take the sting out of the film’s terrifying tale. And so it was that Mr Trevelyan sat down to re-edit the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), perhaps the finest sequence from one of the most influential movies ever made, and just one of the many victims of the British censors’ undeclared war against horror films.