A court date has been set for the start of the latest challenge to Canada's obscenity laws: This one concerns the work of one Rémy Couture, a Montreal-based special-effects artist, photographer and maker of short horror films. He has been charged under section 163 of the Criminal Code, which is the section that deals with child pornography.
You may have heard of this story because of the demonstration of "zombies" - young people in a lot of makeup - that occurred last week outside a Montreal courthouse in sympathy for Couture. The filmmaker has pleaded not guilty and plans to make his case about freedom of speech and the horror-film industry generally.
Couture's life as an alleged criminal began when someone in Germany viewed his violent and bloody video clips on the Internet - probably on his site, innerdepravity.com - and thought they depicted real acts. Couture works with latex and fake blood on horror films and can create, especially with grainy, low-light video, the most astoundingly, horrifically real-looking mutilation. The upsetting videos depict a serial killer in the standard terrifying mask (it looks as if he's played by Couture himself, who has your standard tattooed-mohawk-industrial-goth look) who is torturing young women and injecting drugs into himself. They are very graphic.
The fact that he fooled his audience is something he can use on his résumé. But he probably didn't want it to go this far. The German viewer contacted police, who contacted Interpol, who found Couture in Montreal and notified the police there. They viewed the videos and determined that they were obscene, and arrested him outside his studio. His video website was also temporarily shut down. The videos are gone from it, but you can see photos of his at various other places, including his site remyfx.com, and photo sites artirritant and deviantart.
Couture seems surprised and genuinely indignant that his freedom of expression has been infringed. In interviews, he has pointed out that his imagery is no different from that in many mainstream horror films, and that if you shut him down, you're going to have to shut down the whole industry.
He's going to have a vigorous defence, for sure - probably one that will include screening some footage from Saw and Hostel and other blockbuster gore-fests - but it's not going to be a simple case. The videos in question are difficult to watch, even, I would guess, for an objective expert. Couture has chosen a trial by jury. A jury is going to have normal human reactions to these films - that is to say, emotional rather than legal ones. It is hard to find sympathy, no matter what the legal argument, for a guy clearly so obsessed with the torture and dismemberment of women that he represents these over and over again. It's possible that a jury might think "to hell with the niceties of the law - who needs this stuff?" Or even, "And if I could ban Saw and Hostel too, I would!"
And then there's the child-porn aspect. There is certainly a sexual aspect to the assaults represented, and nudity. Couture is going to have to prove not only that all the actors he used were over the age of 18, but also that not one of them depicts anyone under that age. (It is worth noting, though, that not one of his actors has complained that she was harmed or coerced in any way.)
The prosecutors are probably going to have to talk about who was harmed by these films - and if they can't prove it was the actors, then they are going to have to argue it's the viewers, which is something notoriously difficult to prove. Also too bad for them is the genie-out-of-the-bottle problem: Sure, you can shut down a Canadian website, but the films are already viewable in several other places that they don't control. These are the problems of censorship in the digital age.
Personally, I will be sad if the censorship is successful. Rémy Couture's films' greatest offence is that they are dull: They are repetitive, predictable, clichéd, lacking in story or characterization or any subtlety or insight of any kind. They're just really dumb. A lot of art is dumb. But that's not illegal yet.