It's funny how the MPAA works. When William Friedkin made The Exorcist back in the early 70's, it went through and got the R even with its nuclear obscenities, the crucifix scene, and many other intense moments.
But now Friedkin's back with a new flick, Killer Joe, which got good advance notice from critics, and the ratings board gave it their scarlet letter, the NC-17.
Killer Joe is an adaptation of a play, where a small-time drug dealer hires "Killer Joe" (played by Matthew MacConaughey), a dirty cop who does hits on the side, to kill his mother for the insurance money. But the dealer can't pay up right away, so he offers his sister as collateral.
In early reviews, The Hollywood Reporter called it an "Enjoyably cynical, blood-spattered noir comedy," and The London Evening Standard called it, a "gusty, sexy, violent film that out Tarantino's Tarantino, and may even test the censors."
Well, apparently that's just what's happened. Remember, an NC-17 can be the kiss of death for a movie because it's as good as an X rating, and that means it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get advertising in many newspapers, and to get your movie played in most theater chains. According to Entertainment Weekly, Killer Joe got the NC-17 on March 1, it went to appeal with the ratings board, but they won't budge, which means they'll have to be cuts to get an R.
Gone are the days when George Romero didn't submit the original Dawn of the Dead to the ratings board, took a self-imposed X for violence, and it didn't hurt the film's business. In fact, when the film was cut down to an R, the fans revolted and the cut version was quickly yanked from theaters.
As many filmmakers will tell you, there's usually no rhyme or reason why certain movies are threatened with an X / NC-17, while other movies get away with murder. Usually mere frames have to be cut to win an R, Scarface had to trim about fifteen seconds, the first Friday the 13th had to cut about ten seconds, which considering how violent both movies were, is ridiculous, but like many things in Hollywood, it's all a political poker game. (At a Fangoria convention one year, I saw a horror t-shirt company selling a shirt that read: MPAA MUST PUNISH ALL ARTISTS).
Whatever cuts Killer Joe will have to make probably won't change the film's dark tone, and the fact that it had to get cut to get an R will generate great free publicity for it, again making the MPAA's crusade even more ridiculous. Still, it's good to see that Friedkin hasn't mellowed with age, and here's hoping Killer Joe will indeed be killer when it's due for release this summer.