China’s Ban on Ghosts in Movies Deals Another Blow to Crimson Peak

By  · Published on October 21st, 2015

Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic haunted house flick Crimson Peak needs all the viewers it can get after a hugely underwhelming box office debut (Here are the numbers…it’s ugly). Del Toro will look to China now in hopes of lightning striking twice- his 2013 big-budget monsters versus machines Pacific Rim under-performed here in the States but was an overseas success, raking in over $100m from China alone. But America’s big, red, part-time friend, part-time foe might stop Crimson Peak from ever being shown there because of those no good, evil, bastard ghosts.

You read that correctly. The supernatural elements that are featured in Crimson Peak could cause the film to get banned in China or subjected to heavy editing, according to the country’s strict censorship laws. Prohibiting the supernatural was added to China’s robust censorship regulations shortly before the 2008 Summer Olympics, just weeks after the capital city of Beijing levied a 2-year filmmaking ban against the production team of the provocative Lost in Beijing.

According to THR, who’ve nicknamed the policy the ‘no-ghost protocol’, state that it aims to ban films that “promote cults or superstition” and that it stems from the “secular ideology” of the CPC (Communist Party of China). Interesting to note is that China does allow films with supernatural elements but only if its based on Chinese mythology. Anything outside of that is grounds for prohibition or subjection to whatever editing the country deems necessary in order to show it. According to the Chinese administration, supernatural elements subjected to censorship include “wronged spirits and violent ghosts, monsters, demons, and other inhuman portrayals, [and] strange and supernatural storytelling for the sole purpose of seeking terror and horror.”

This is where Crimson Peak is directly threatened. For one, the movie isn’t based at all on Chinese mythology. The entire plot involves a haunted house inhabited by spirits with bad intentions. Even with del Toro insisting that Crimson Peak is more of dark “love story” than a horror film, what happens on screen is undeniably supernatural and I think we can all agree China is a fairly competent nation, people.

So strict China is with their censorship laws that 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was banned because it included skeletons and zombie pirates. Yes, that was a Disney movie. But even the lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek tone of the film couldn’t aid in sneaking the supernatural past the country’s censors, who aim to “control and cleanse the negative effect these items have on society, and to prevent horror, violent, cruel publications from entering the market through official channels and to protect adolescents’ psychological health.”

Chinese horror directors have been getting clever however, using cheap plot devices like dreams or hypnosis to get around being banned or edited. For instance, in Raymond Yip’s The House That Never Dies, the first two acts of the film are chock-full of scary ghosts but that’s okay! Because in the third act it’s revealed [Spoiler Alert] the female protagonist had been hallucinating on LSD the entire time.

Unfortunately it’s too late for re-writes and re-shoots for del Toro’s Crimson Peak, which seems like the perfect film to be next on the chopping block. The movie hasn’t secured a release date in China yet, so it’s possible the studio is debating whether or not to submit the film to China’s censors, which could spell trouble for del Toro and mean a huge loss of potential money. Nonetheless, the movie’s loss brings to light a lesser-known but very interesting policy.