Passersby could be forgiven for mistaking the zombie bride, the cadaver in a nun's habit, and the butcher with a severed hand tucked in his bloody smock as part of a pre-Halloween stunt.
But in fact, this macabre cast stood in front of the Montreal courthouse along with a dozen others for a reason far more serious. Though little known outside the city, a criminal case is starting to take shape that touches directly and deeply on
the idea of art and freedom of expression.
Last year, Montreal horror film makeup artist Rémy Couture was picked up by police, his house and computer searched, after Interpol levelled a complaint based on a couple of short films he made that can be classified, at the very least, as
Entitled Inner Depravity Vol 1 & 2 , they attempt to show the mind of a heinous, drug-taking serial killer. Art to some. Graphic obscenity to the Crown Prosecutors.
Couture made his first appearance in court Wednesday to face charges of producing and disseminating obscene material. Couture on Wednesday pled not guilty and chose to have his trial in front of a jury.
In an interview, he expressed disbelief that he was being pursued by the law, given all the real crimes going on. It's absurd, said Couture: So many people spending so much time on my file and not on real violent crimes.
As he spoke, his zombie supporters milled about behind him, carrying placards such as: Real charges for fake blood! and To be a victim of his talent is completely ridiculous! Karine Fournier, a textile artist dressed as a zombie
bride, felt compelled to support Couture. To lose our freedom of expression, she reasoned, is death.
Couture intends to argue that there are many other gory films in circulation that haven't been targeted as obscenity, and he wants to know why.
Couture's lawyer Dominic Bouchard said the case could have repercussions on horror films generally. We will expose other movies worse than this, he promised. Bouchard said it's the first time obscenity charges have been laid in Canada
related to works from the horror genre.
Though the Montreal police said members of the public complained that the movies showed a child being molested and killed, Bouchard said they are in error; the films only depict an adolescent being killed, not sexually violated.
The 10-minute films were available on Couture's website until his arrest. They are still online on other sites.
What had been a fantasy world for Rémy Couture came crashing into reality last October when an undercover police officer posing as a potential client handcuffed him and placed him under arrest on suspicion of corrupting morals. Police say
they acted on a tip that came through Interpol after someone in Germany became concerned that the films on Couture's web site depicted actual violence.
Police turned his apartment upside down – they were likely intrigued by the full-size coffin that serves as living-room furniture -- but they found no evidence he had caused anyone physical harm. Instead the Crown will try to prove that his work,
with its blend of sex and sadistic violence, is so disturbing that it could provoke anti-social behaviour among people who view it.
Police also appear to have been alarmed by the fact that one film contains photos of a brutally murdered child while the other features a child as an apprentice to the killer. Couture stressed that the child, portrayed in both cases by the
10-year-old son of one of his friends, is fully clothed and never present during scenes with sexual content. He had a lot of fun making these photos, Couture said. He never saw nudity and didn't see the final result. We're not crazy.
Richard Jochelson, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg and co-author of a forthcoming book on Canadian obscenity law, said the Couture case will be an important legal test. In a 2005 ruling declaring swingers'
clubs legal, the Supreme Court of Canada essentially changed the definition of obscenity. The major change was that the Crown now has to demonstrate evidence that there was some sort of harm as result of the speech, Jochelson said. There has not really been a high-level case that has looked at this requirement for the Crown to demonstrate a harmful effect.
Since the participants in Couture's films were not hurt, the prosecutor will try to show the material can lead viewers to imitate what they see. It is hard for the Crown to somehow prove that viewing this material makes it more likely that
you're going to hold anti-social attitudes and then act on them. That's basically the standard, Jochelson said. But he noted that Canadian courts tend to be hardest on material combining sex and violence. In Canada, we have a history of
really being worried about the risk of these sorts of images, he said.
A Canadian jury has cleared Remy Couture of obscenity charges relating to his film making.
He was charged with three counts of corrupting morals by distributing, possessing and producing obscene material. The material in question depicts gruesome murders, torture, sexual abuse, assaults and necrophilia --- all with young female
Remy Couture received the verdict after two days of jury deliberation at a Montreal courthouse. He told reporters:
It's like a 400-pound weight has been lifted. It's been the most stressful thing I've ever had to go through in my life.
Couture said the ruling means he can continue to create his art, without infringement on his right to free expression.
During the trial, Couture argued his gory works, roughly a thousand images and two short videos that appeared on Couture's website, Inner Depravity , should be considered art. The website was part of a personal project by Couture designed
to raise the bar of his make-up and special effects work. Couture, who is self-taught, sought to bring a psychopathic killer character of his own making to life. Couture described it as a sort of fake diary of a serial killer, complete
with his own universe inspired by horror movies and literature.
All of the works were staged with willing actresses and a combination of fake blood, latex and silicone to create life-like, horrific images. Couture testified the reason behind the work was to highlight his skills and abilities as a master of
special effects horror and that the goal is to make his work look believable.
Defence experts testified that Couture's work was in line with other similar work in the genre. A university cinema professor testified that what was acceptable in the genre had changed greatly over the span seven decades.
The artist told reporters that he was approached by a police detective about a pleading out and getting an absolute discharge in the case, but Couture has said that he went ahead out of principle. He said that pleading guilty or settling could
set a dangerous precedent and raise questions about other kinds of work done by artists.