Far be it from me to question the decisions made by the BBFC here in the UK for rating films and television shows, but their track record with Twin Peaks is a little unusual.
Consider Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, for example. Since its initial VHS release way-back-when, Fire Walk With Me has always been an 18 certificate film, and quite rightly so. There’s strong adult-themed material in there, more typical of David Lynch’s filmography than the kinda-cutesy, understandably restricted content he was allowed to air on television. It’s a tough movie with some explicit material in it.
It’s still an 18 certificate film if you can locate one of the bare-bones standalone blu-rays that was also released (though I hear some of these have a few issues concerning sound quality and synchronisation). But, if you were to buy any of the TV sets that include Fire Walk With Me (and a couple of them do), you’ll find that the film is reclassified as a 15 to match the rest of the series. This is true of the Complete Mystery boxset containing the first two seasons and the film, and the recently released Z-A boxset which also includes The Return.
That The Return itself also passed as a 15 is a small miracle to me. One get-out that a number of horror-related titles achieve is when graphic violence is caused by a fantastic or supernatural means. This is deemed a little bit better because there aren’t really such things as werewolves or vampires out there tearing people to pieces. Fantasy violence, it gets called, and its been one that the superhero franchise has tested often for its 12A releases.
So, yes, when looking at the shocking and grizzly eviscerations of Tracy and Sam back in Part 1 by whatever burst forth from the glass box, one could argue that it’s an attack by a fantastic monster, and therefore somehow less shocking than if the perpetrator of said violence was a person. But, like Fire Walk With Me, The Return has abided by a more lax set of rules, and its disturbing and graphic scenes have continued. Consider Part 2, and the cruel and protracted murder of Darya by Mr. C. It’s a little let explicit, but its frankly just as disturbing and uncomfortable. Is Mr. C a fantastic monster? A case could be made. But it’s an all-too-human act of cruelty that’s been depicted.
Since then The Return has been a little more relaxed in its depiction of graphic bloodshed, but that changes very quickly here as we enter the tail end of Part 6.
“Blunted Beatz” returns prominently to the soundtrack; a piece of music connected to a character – Mr. C’s lackey Lorraine (Tammie Baird) whom we first met at the top of Part 5. There she is, sat at a desk on the telephone. Lynch frames her as trapped in a door frame from the vantage of the hallway outside of her office. She is in a thin slice of the screen, and this sense that she is trapped – and therefore in danger – is about to quickly escalate.
As seen just a couple of scenes ago, Lorraine has been marked for death, orders sent to and acted upon by Mr Todd (Patrick Fleischer). Todd’s choice of hitman is Ike ‘The Spike’ Stadtler (Christophe Zajac-Denek), who has been given to marks; Lorraine and Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan). Through an act of chance, Ike chose Lorraine to go after first. We’re about to learn why his nickname is ‘The Spike’.
A scream off-screen announces his presence in the building. Lorraine is on the phone talking to someone unknown about three bodies (most likely the victims of the car bomb explosion at the Rancho Rosa estate).
Ike runs down the hallway and into Lorraine’s office, and Lynch’s camera follows him inside. In his fist he holds a large handled pick or spike, and his fist is already covered with blood, suggesting heavily that he’s already injured or killed whomever we heard screaming off camera as he charges this place of business. Lorraine tries feebly to dodge the small, murderous man, but to no avail. He forcefully drives his spike into her left breast, pushing her into the corner of the office as he does so.
That he chooses to puncture her breast and thus attack her femininity could be read as the character’s feelings toward women in general, and that this is some subconscious act of aggression based on gender. It could also merely be practical. Ike is a small man and Lorraine’s breast happens to be at the same height as his overarm stabbing motion.
Lorraine slumps to the floor screaming, but Ike continues to stab her in the abdomen over and over again, blood pouring from the wound and splashing up into his face. Ike grinds the spike in a circular motion at one point, causing Lorraine to cough more blood into his face. It is an exceedingly graphic scene.
Back in the 1980s, when the Conservative government in the UK demonised certain horror movies – the so-called ‘Video Nasties’ – the BBFC went to town on these titles, banning some and severely editing others. Particular attention was paid to scenes of violence which could be easily replicated in the home by easily influenced, soft-minded viewers. A scene like this one would have been prime fodder for trimming. Of course, we’ve all moved on from those days. Still, this is exactly the kind of violence that the BBFC have been notoriously sensitive about, and yet here it is – an act of extreme and very human violence – sat with a 15 certificate in an attractive boxset.
I’m not a prude to violence. I watch a lot of violent films. I’m also not an advocate of censorship – violence has a place in the arts, as does sex, though this becomes a complex issue on a case-by-case basis – but it does seem unusual to me that the terms of what constitutes a 15 and an 18 are really rather arbitrary. I’d have thought material like this scene would have argued strongly for the higher certificate.
Ike becomes aware that he has an audience; a middle-aged woman looking in through the doorway. He growls at her and chases her out of the room. They disappear out of sight around a corner and further commotion is heard, leaving the viewer to assume that Ike is continuing his killing rampage. Moments later, Ike emerges again, further bloodied, so we can assume that another woman’s life has ended at his hand.
In an uncommonly distasteful move, Lynch and Frost now play this attack for dark comic effect. Ike looks down at his murder weapon in his blood-drenched hand and notices that his aggression has gotten away from him. He’s attacked these women with such force that he has bent his precious spike.
“Oh no,” he murmurs softly, crestfallen. It is the only moment of sympathetic emotion that the character is allowed, and it is directed not toward another human being but to the killing device that he evidently holds great attachment to. The humour comes from the idea that he might only have feelings for his weapon. There’s also an innuendo of impotence about the moment, something that might further the notion that Ike relishes his anger toward women. This kind of disturbing, misogynistic mindset is part of the central investigation of all of Twin Peaks – what makes men do what they do and direct their impulses toward women.
Still, this moment in particular feels quite deliberately strange and a little obscene. One assumes that this is the intended reaction that Lynch and Frost hope an audience member to have; asking us to further ruminate on the darkness in the human soul, and even the nature of ‘gallows humour’ and what we choose to find funny.
Next time: Cleaning up