A 3-year legal fight over film violence; trial delay for special-effects artist
MONTREAL - In his basement workshop scattered with fake severed limbs, bloody heads and internal organs, Remy Couture sets about creating and crafting the macabre.
The 34-year-old special-effects artist has been plying his trade for several years on a freelance basis, getting work on some Hollywood movies and smaller contracts. As with any artist, Couture says he's always trying to push the limits of his craft.
That drive to disgust audiences has landed him in trouble with law enforcement in more than three years' worth of trouble.
Couture is charged with several counts of corrupting morals through the possession, production and distribution of material deemed obscene. That material includes a pair of short films and some photos depicting an imaginary psychopathic masked killer of Couture's making.
His attempt to make that character come to life has placed him at the centre of what is believed to be a first for a Canadian horror filmmaker.
Three years later, his case has not gone to trial.
The case was delayed again on Monday, until Dec. 10, stretching his legal ordeal further. Couture appeared in court on Monday wearing a T-shirt that read "ART IS NOT A CRIME" a theme central to his own legal defence and one of the central reasons for his battle.
"It's very stressful," Couture said of his legal ordeal, "but I can't turn back now."
Couture was arrested in a scene that could have been out of a movie itself. In October 2009, Montreal police swooped in on him in an elaborate sting with detectives posing as a couple trying to set up a horror-themed photo shoot.
As far as Couture can tell, the original complaint came via Interpol from Germany. Someone stumbled upon "Inner Depravity," Couture's website, and contacted police.
Couture says he doesn't blame the user in Europe but he doesn't know why police didn't investigate further to see what he did for a living.
Couture has wide support from the local arts community and even some big hitters in the U.S., such as Tom Savini, a retired special-effects mastermind behind "Friday the 13th" and "Dawn of the Dead."
His case has captured the interest of both the legal and arts communities over questions of freedom of expression.
Pleading guilty or settling would set a dangerous precedent, Couture said.
He has claimed his innocence on all three charges of moral corruption and distributing obscene material. A jury trial was scheduled Monday for December.
The case revolves around a series of short films Couture produced and posted on "Inner Depravity."
While the site has been taken down, the film can still be found online. In it, Couture uses fake blood, latex and silicone the tools of his trade to weave a disturbing tale of a serial killer who tortures, sexually assaults and murders his victims.
The sex scenes are all simulated. The realism was part of the challenge of making the film, Couture said.
"The state is deciding what is art but it seems to me the artistic value in my work is easy enough to see," Couture said in a recent interview.
The prosecution hasn't agreed to interviews until the trial. But in the past police and the Crown have alluded to the sexual nature of the films when deciding to lay charges.
But Couture's lawyer says that the charge, very often used in cases of pornography, doesn't apply to her client. Veronique Robert says plenty of film-makers out there produce far more graphic material than Couture.
"The films of Remy Couture are not pornography and don't fit with the charge," Robert said. "It's not obscenity because there isn't a criminal intention to it.
"He's making art, whether we like it or not."
Robert notes the case is important because if Couture is found guilty, it could create problems for others who dabble in things like gore or controversial literature.
Couture says it's clear to him that, "in the Crown's eyes, my intent was criminal and the reason for posting this material was to promote rape and murder."
The soft-spoken Couture calls that assertion preposterous.
"They have taken away all artistic value from my work and part of our defence will be to show that there is merit," Couture said.
"My workshop isn't a torture chamber; it's an workshop that's very specialized and there were clearly artistic elements to my work."
The local arts community has rallied around Couture, who is trying to raise money for his legal defence, expected to cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000. The trial will include experts testifying on both sides, including psychiatrists and criminologists.
The films are grotesque at first glance, Couture concedes. He knows he'll never see his work on network television, but he believes there's still a place for it.
"There are some people who appreciate these extremes. There's a clientele for everything and people who want to watch," Couture says.
Couture's two-week long jury trial starts on Dec. 10.
In the meantime, while he prepares to defend his legal right to portray make-believe horrors, Couture will be especially preoccupied in the coming months with a real-life fears.
He will be looking after his girlfriend, who has a cancer-related operation scheduled for June and months of therapy ahead.
As for his court case, "it takes on a secondary role," Couture said.
"What I'm going through is stressful, but she's battling for her life."