SYDNEY — New Zealand banned a horror film starring Elijah Wood as a scalp-collecting serial killer from general release after the government deemed it too graphic and disturbing for the public.
The Office of Film and Literature Classification's action means "Maniac" — a remake of the 1980 slasher film about a killer who scalps his victims — cannot be screened anywhere other than film festivals or as part of academic study. DVDs of the film will not be allowed for sale.
The government censor said in its classification that Maniac, which is shot entirely from the killer's point of view, contains graphic violence and "content that may disturb," and said a wide release of the film "is likely to be injurious to the public good."
"The murders are depicted in first-person perspective, inviting a viewer's vicarious participation," the agency wrote in a summary of its reasons behind the restriction. "While the feature does not actively promote or support this material, the tacit invitation to enjoy cruel and violent behavior through its first-person portrayal and packaging as entertainment is likely to lead to an erosion of empathy for some viewers."
The ban was condemned on Thursday by the film's regional distributor and organizers of the New Zealand International Film Festival, which will be screening the movie on Saturday.
Monster Pictures, distributor of the film for Australia and New Zealand, said suggestions that Maniac minimizes the impact of violence are ridiculous, and called the ban an insult to the intelligence of New Zealanders.
The film is hardly the first time a horror film has featured the villain's point of view, said Monster Pictures manager Neil Foley, citing the 1960 thriller "Peeping Tom," in which a serial killer films his victims' deaths.
"It's nothing new," Foley said. "To be honest, we think it's kind of a gross overreaction."
Ant Timpson, a programmer for the New Zealand film festival, said the idea that the film's first-person perspective could be harmful was a "big leap."
"It's saying that the (point of view) nature of the film mixed with the psychopathic behavior of actor Elijah Wood is more than disturbing, that it's potentially dangerous in the hands of the wrong person (that is, a non-festival goer)," Timpson said in a statement. "It's only my opinion but I simply don't agree with this decision."
Maniac premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has received mixed reviews. The Hollywood Reporter dubbed it "essentially a sadistic art-house bloodbath," while Variety said: "This merciless work of anti-entertainment is arguably admirable for being as disturbingly disgusting as it wants to be."
Elijah Wood is well known throughout New Zealand, the filming location for "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, in which the actor played a decidedly less sinister character — hobbit Frodo Baggins.
The last film in New Zealand to be banned from general release was "The Bridge," a 2006 documentary about suicides at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.