Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide
When the home cinema market first began in the early 1980s with VHS and Betamax vying for the position of top dog, the big distributors were a little bit wary to plump for one format in case it was the loser so the sort of films that were the quickest to try their hand at home video were pornography and low budget horror. There were myriad distributors that could appear one week and disappear the next and, of course, no official body to regulate what was on these videos so all manner of weird and wonderful films appeared. This was before the police caught on and, using the powers of the Obscene Publications Act, clamped down on the porn industry with cute on the sex shops in Soho.
After several years of some of the more obscure horror films an Europe and America being loaned from just about every shop, garage and premises that felt like setting itself up as an independent video rental store, Mary Whitehouse and The National Viewers' & Listeners' Association expanded from TV and radio to video in some weird witchhunt that were similar to the crackdown on comic books in the 1950s. (It didn't seem to matter that Mary Whitehouse actually told Nick Owen on TV-AM: "I have never seen a video nasty … I actually don't need to see visually what I know is in that film.")
As part of their campaign to move to Britain's streets of the 'filth', she targeted various members of Parliament, particularly Graham Bright, who agreed that, if elected in 1983, would table a Private Member's Bill which would amend the Obscene Publications Act to make it incorporates films, make regulating videos the responsibility of the British Board of Film Censors and, after a furious media campaign against the 'video nasties' (including some extremely fallacious coverage) and even showing some of the videos in the Houses of Parliament, the Video Recordings Bill became law in 1984 and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) drew up a list of 72 'video nasties' which was then legally classified as obscene and could be confiscated and burnt.
Of course, this wasn't the end of the matter as some of the distributors chose to appeal against the classification of their films as 'obscene' and even bought over the directors to talk about the films in the hope of getting the ruling overturned, the films removed from the list and back into the shops. In the case of 33 of these films, the appeals worked for the DPP just realised that a mistake had been made and they were dropped from the list. (There are terrific tales of titles like Apocalypse Now and The Best Little Whorehouse in the West being removed from shelves, such was the confusion of which titles were actually on the list and the police's zest to be seen to act with vigour.)
The 39 Banned Video Nasties:
01. Absurd (Aristide Massaccesi, Italy, 1981)
02. Anthropophagous the Beast (Aristide Massaccesi, Italy, 1980)
03. Axe (Frederick R. Friedel, 1977)
04. Beast in Heat, The (Luigi Batzella, Italy, 1976)
05. Blood Bath (Mario Bava, Italy, 1971)
06. Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, USA, 1963)
07. Blood Rites (Andy Milligan, USA, 1967)
08. Bloody Moon (Jess Franco, West Germany, 1981)
09. Burning, The (Tony Maylam, USA, 1980)
10. Cannibal Apocalypse (Antonio Margheriti, Italy/Spain, 1979)
11. Cannibal Ferox (Umberto Lenzi, Italy, 1981)
12. Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, Italy, 1979)
13. Cannibal Man, The (Eloy De La Iglesia, Spain, 1971)
14. Devil Hunter, The (Jess Franco, Spain/West Germany/France, 1980)
15. Don't Go in the Woods... Alone! (James Bryan, USA, 1980)
16. Driller Killer, The (Abel Ferrara, USA, 1979)
17. Evilspeak (Eric Weston, USA, 1981)
18. Exposé (James Kenelm Clarke, Great Britain, 1975)
19. Faces of Death (Conan Le Cilaire, USA, 1979)
20. Fight for Your Life (Robert A. Endelson, USA, 1977)
21. Forest of Fear (Charles McCrann, USA, 1979)
22. Frankenstein (Andy Warhol's) (Paul Morrissey, Italy/France, 1973)
23. Gestapo's Last Orgy, The (Cesare Canevari, Italy, 1976)
24. House by the Cemetery, The (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1981)
25. House on the Edge of the Park (Ruggero Deodato, Italy, 1980)
26. I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, USA, 1978)
27. Island of Death (Nico Mastorakis, Greece, 1976)
28. Last House on the Left, The (Wes Craven, USA, 1972)
29. Love Camp 7 (Robert Lee Frost, USA, 1968)
30. Madhouse (Ovidio G. Assonitis, USA/Italy, 1981)
31. Mardi Gras Massacre (Jack Weis, USA, 1978)
32. Night of the Bloody Apes (René Cardona, Mexico, 1968)
33. Night of the Demon (James C. Wasson, USA, 1980)
34. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (Romano Scavolini, USA, 1981)
35. Snuff (Michael Findlay, USA/Argentrina, 1976)
36. SS Experiment Camp (Sergio Garrone, Italy, 1976)
37. Tenebrae (Dario Argento, Italy, 1982)
38. Werewolf and the Yeti, The (Miguel I. Bonns, Spain, 1975)
39. Zombie Flesh-Eaters (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1979)
The films dropped (not deemed to be obscene):
01. Beyond, The (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1981)
02. Bogey Man, The (Ulli Lommel, USA, 1980)
03. Cannibal Terror (Allan W. Steeve, France/Spain, 1981)
04. Contamination (Luigi Cozzi, Italy/West Germany, 1980)
05. Dead & Buried (Gary A. Sherman, USA, 1981)
06. Death Trap (Tobe Hooper, USA, 1976)
07. Deep River Savages (Umberto Lenzi, Italy/Thailand, 1972)
08. Delirium (Peter Maris, USA, 1980)
09. Don't Go in the House (Joseph Ellison, USA, 1979)
10. Don't Go Near the Park (Lawrence D. Foldes, USA, 1979)
11. Don't Look in the Basement (S. F. Brownrigg, USA, 1973)
12. Evil Dead, The (Sam Raimi, USA, 1982)
13. Frozen Scream (Frank Roach, USA, 1981)
14. Funhouse, The (Tobe Hooper, USA, 1981)
15. Human Experiments (Gregory Goodell, USA, 1979)
16. I Miss You, Hugs & Kisses (Murray Markowitz, Canada, 1978)
17. Inferno (Dario Argento, Italy, 1980)
18. Killer Nun (Giulio Berruti, Italy, 1978)
19. Late Night Trains (Aldo Lado, Italy, 1974)
20. Living Dead, The (Jorge Grau, Spain/Italy, 1974)
21. Nightmare Maker (William Asher, USA, 1981)
22. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, France/West Germany, 1981)
23. Pranks (Jeffrey Obrow & Stephen Carpenter, USA, 1981)
24. Prisoner of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, Italy, 1978)
25. Revenge of the Bogey Man (Bruce Starr & Ulli Lommel, USA, 1982)
26. Slayer, The (J. S. Cardonem USA, 1981)
27. Terror Eyes (Kenneth Hughes, USA, 1980)
28. Toolbox Murders, The (Dennis Donnelly, USA, 1978)
29. Unhinged (Don Gronquist, USA, 1982)
30. Visiting Hours (Jean Claude Lord, Canada, 1981)
31. Witch Who Came from the Sea, The (Matt Cimber, USA, 1976)
32. Women Behind Bars (Jess Franco, France/Belgium, 1975)
33. Zombie Creeping Flesh (Bruno Mattei, Italy/Spain, 1981)
This three disc set takes you through the 72 titles on the initial list, from Absurd to Zombie Flesh Eaters with the 39 films that were initially successfully classified as 'Obscene' unsuccessfully prosecuted on disc one and the 33 that were on the list but were dropped or successfully appealed in the months and years after the list was drawn up. The third disc contains a documentary by Jake West which follows the whole 'video nasty' saga from beginning to end with interviews from those on both sides of the fence.
You can choose to watch these first two discs with interviews alone, just the trailers or with interviews and trailers. I chose the latter option as you have contributions from the likes of Kim Newman, Alan Jones, Stephen Thrower, Xavier Mendik, Prof Julian Petley and Dr. Patricia McCormack. They all talk extremely well (without notes) about the particular film whilst holding the original VHS cassette (occasionally an extremely collectable one), providing a brief history, synopsis and possible reason why it was banned. The whole thing is presented by Emily Booth, who talks about a few titles and appears on the menu screen with a VHS machine that spews blood or fires out videotape at her, depending on which disc you put in. She is clearly the least knowledgeable of all of the contributors are she doesn't talk to camera that looks after the side where it appears that she is reading from some cue cards! Anyway, this is forgettable as anything with Emily booth is worth watching as she seems to know exactly what to wear.
As for the trailers, I'm amazed at some of them still exist but they really have scouted the world so you have them in various languages and in varying degrees of quality with those for the better-known titles and for the films that were dropped (or campaigned successfully to be released) from the list in 1984 (or just after) in much better quality than some of the more obscure titles that are still banned outright in Britain.
As someone who loves horror films and has seen (and owns) quite a lot of these titles, I found the whole programme to be extremely interesting and now have a sizeable shopping list of those 'video nasties' that I don't own but now want to thanks to the trailers and descriptions provided on the first two discs.
The third disc contains the documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape by Jake West which is extremely well written, edited and researched with contributions from the likes of critics Kim Newman, Marc Morris, Alan Jones, directors Christopher Smith, Neil Marshall, Andy Nyman, journalist Martin Barker, Graham Bright (now Sir Graham Bright), Peter Kruger (the then head of Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications Squad) and Geoffrey Robertson QC (who defended some of the titles and distributors). They give a wide variety of opinions on the subject with Martin Barker, who campaigned against the whole 'video nasties' scandal, exploiting mistruths and being the lone voice who was amazed at just how rude his opponents were! I found this to be a fascinating watch that just shows how bad the journalist was and how they came up with the magic statistic of 40% of all six-year-olds have seen a 'video nasty' is quite disgraceful.
Now, there must have been times when Jake West must have wanted to interject when Graham Bright speaking (this is a man who said "I believe there is research taking place and it will show that these films not only affect young people but I believe they affect dogs as well." Read that a few times and think about it) but it's probably better just to let him carry on talking as he really does his cause absolutely no favours at all!
Also on the disc is a slideshow of all of the distributors involved in the controversy with all the various labels that will be familiar to those of you who were avid horror fans in the recent days and, as it runs at just over 50 minutes, it just shows how many different companies were involved.
The other two discs also contain slideshows of the VHS artwork from the films featured on that disc and some of it is just marvellously over the top and it does make you wonder if that title was simply banned because of the cover, without anyone actually watching the film.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen and shot very well, this documentary looks very good and is nicely edited, cutting from a speaker to some footage from the film about which they're talking and back again before going onto the trailer which has clearly been at so it fits into the 16:9 frame.
There are only appears to be three of four different filming locations with all of the speakers shot in front of variety of videos, DVDs, CDs and books and you can spot different things on the shelves such as the Hellraiser Lament Configuration Box and the sphere from the Phantasm movies. In order to make these look a bit different, sometimes they are shot in daylight and at other times in the semi dark with blue Christmas tree lights along the shelves.
The whole thing is very nicely put together with a 'tracking' bar appearing at the bottom every so often and even, in the case of Jake West's documentary, breaking up with snow and other detritus on the screen to illustrate a point. The captions which identify the speaker appear often enough to remind you who is who in but not too often that you get tired of seeing them.
There is nothing particularly special about the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack but, then again, it doesn't really need to be the most outstanding soundtrack you've ever heard as what it needs to do is present the dialogue clearly and do a decent job with the trailers. This is exactly what you get and there is absolutely no problem making out what the contributors have to say and they all speak very clearly anyway, just to help matters.
This will be absolutely fascinating to anyone with an interest in horror movies and the whole 1984 Video Recordings Act controversy. The information contained in these three discs makes you realise just how shoddy the Parliamentary work was and that the VRA was basically passed because the MPs didn't realise that every single gore scene in horror films is actually fabricated and that the footage they saw wasn't of people really be killed, monkeys really having their heads cut open and brains eaten and that, when it looks like a fake arm with some red dye at the end, that's exactly what it is!
The distributors really set themselves up for a fall by describing this as the 'definitive guide' but, with more than eight hours of material across the three discs, the only person who will want more information is someone who is writing a dissertation on the subject, it is that comprehensive and definitive.