Thursday, January 17, 2013


Equal parts cautionary tale and gorehound primer, this "must-have" three-disc release from Severin (originally released in the UK by Nucleus Films) delivers a one-stop shop for everything relating to the UK’s shameful period of censorship in the early 1980s, where 72 horror and exploitation film titles were deemed capable of debauching the free-thinking minds of anyone who might encounter them. These were the “Video Nasties.”

Disc 1 contains Jake West’s extraordinary 2010 documentary, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Videotape, which highlights the feverish political climate in England which resulted in the criminalization of owning or distributing the Nasties. In 1982, under the Obscene Publication Acts, 1959, the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) seized 22,000 cassettes in the London metropolitan area alone, with Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer and Tobe Hooper’s Death Trap (aka Eaten Alive) the first to be apprehended.

West (a capable feature director with such credits as Evil Aliens and Doghouse) collects a marvelous array of talking heads to weigh in on the matter, including filmmakers Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), Christopher Smith (Triangle, Black Death), and Andy Nyman (Derren Brown, Dead Set); noted genre journalists Kim Newman, Stephen Thrower, Alan Jones, Brad Stevens, Allan Bryce, Derek Macolm, and Marc Morris, who served as the documentary’s researcher and producer; film scholars Xavier Mendik, Patricia MacCormack, Beth Johnson, and Julian Petley; attorney Geoffrey Robertson, and Video Business magazine editor John Hayward, most of whom understandably boggle at the absurdity of a democratic political body that would agree to such measures.

Yet, there are also a few who, to this day, staunchly believe that they acted for the good of their fellow man. These include Peter Kruger, who served as the Head of the Obscene Publications Squad, James Ferman, director of the BBFC (1975-1999), and (Sir) Graham Bright, who introduced the Video Recordings Act 1984 into Parliament, requiring all video recordings to appear before the BBFC for certification (to the tune of up to 500 pounds sterling per title).

Noted moral crusader Mary Whitehouse appears in archival footage, offering such incendiary sound bites as “I actually don’t need to see, visually, what I know is in that film.” In promoting his bill, Bright offers one of the more hilarious assertions in that, “Research is taking place and it will show that these films not only affect young people, but I believe they affect dogs as well.” (Wait, did he just say that his not-yet-completed research will prove that these films are harmful to canines? Yes, yes, he did. And they knighted him for it.)

But the true hero of the piece, and of the times themselves, was and is Martin Barker (later the editor of Video Nasties: Freedom & Censorship in the Media). One of the brave few who stood up to an overwhelmingly negative public and press and stated that no, these films probably weren’t “capable of depraving and corrupting those that watched it,” as the opposition claimed, Barker also points out that the campaign was an easy way to distract the public from real issues, such as the riots that plagued London or the armed conflict in the Faulkland Islands.

West does a terrific job of setting the scene under which this mass of hysteria occurred where, as Barker states, the Nasties became “a general purpose explanation of moral decline,” covering everything from murder to political unrest. The press, specifically The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror, is also taken to task for fanning the flames, associating violence with videotapes via banner shock headlines designed to sell more copies. (Alan Jones points out, when the lists were finally made public in June, 1983, it actually provided casual horror fans with a list of “must-see titles.”)

As absurd as it all seems in hindsight, especially considering that most of the banned titles are now widely available in uncut format, it was no laughing matter for individuals who were fined and/or jailed for the mere possession of these titles. From Stephen Taylor, the first video dealer actually prosecuted, to David Hamilton Grant, the last person sent to jail, these people were subjected to  penalties more severe than that of the possession of illegal drugs...for the crime of owning and renting videotapes.

Sadly, for the most part, the public stood by and watched it happen, even when researchers like Guy Cumberbatch showed the widely publicized claims that “up to 40% of Britain’s six-year-olds had seen one or more Video Nasties” to be fraudulent. Even more infuriating is that the main thrust of the conservative argument posed these films would pollute the minds of those that watched them, and yet, those who stood in judgment were presumably untouched by their encounter with the vile property. Class, can you spell “social elitism?”

As part of its supplemental galleries, Disc 1 also contains a list of 82 additional titles that “were not liable for prosecution under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act, 1959. However, they could still be seized by the police.” I mean, Whuh. Thuh. Fuh.

Disc 2 contains a full roster of trailers for the 39 films successfully prosecuted as Video Nasties, each preceded by short commentary (3-5 minutes) from the same array of informed genre enthusiasts that appear in West’s documentary. Though things get a little spoiler-y at times, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable four-hour (!) romp that critiques the titles in question while attempting to explain the factors that may have attracted the DPP’s attention. (In some cases, however, the authority in question simply throws up his or her hands and says, “I have no idea how this got on the list.”)

Disc 3, clocking in at just over three hours, gives the same treatment to the remaining 33 movies that landed on the Nasties list, but were either removed or failed to be prosecuted as such. (Both discs can also be played as a nonstop trailer show.)

Of these experts, Thrower, Newman, and MacCormack offer the most enthusiastic and lengthy insights, while Jones tends to give shorter shrift, as though it’s all too silly to even bother discussing. My one negative mark goes to West’s inclusion of “genre personality” Emily Booth, who is clearly reading cue cards (presumably written by her director) placed just off camera. Amidst the extemporaneous remarks from such a talented roster of informed journalists and educators, Booth’s practiced regurgitations stick out like the proverbial severed thumb.

“I think the most interesting thing to me is just how little historical memory we have. The next time there’s a panic, we won’t remember just how stupid the last one was, and how people get away with things. And that, to me, is the most important lesson about this campaign. The evangelical got away with murder. They got away with fraud. They got away with deceiving people. They now laugh it off, and the fact that almost all of these films are now available uncut in the public domain? They don’t care, because they move on. Because what they want to do is to dominate the present and they don’t care about history. Critical voices have to care about history. We have to care about how things got controlled in the past because that’s when the damage gets done. And if we don’t keep that historical memory, we will allow them to do it again next time.” – Martin Barker

Pound for pound the most important U.S. genre video release of 2014 (yes, you can quote me on that), Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is available now from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

Below is the list of the 39 officially prosecuted Video Nasties (Disc 2)

Absurd (aka Horrible; The Monster Hunter; Anthropophagus 2) (1981)
Antropophagus (aka The Anthropophagus Beast; The Grim Reaper) (1980)
Axe (aka Lisa, Lisa) (1977)
The Beast in Heat (1977)
Blood Bath (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve; Blood Bath) (1971)
Blood Feast (1963)
Blood Rites (aka The Ghastly Ones) (1968)
Bloody Moon (1981)
The Burning (1981)
Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)
Cannibal Ferox (aka Make Them Die Slowly) (1981)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
The Cannibal Man (1972)
The Devil Hunter (1980)
Don’t Go in the Woods (1981)
The Driller Killer (1979)
Evilspeak (1981)
Expose (aka House on Straw Hill) (1976)
Faces of Death (1978)
Fight for Your Life (1977)
Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) (1973)
Forest of Fear (aka Toxic Zombies; Bloodeaters) (1980)
Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1976)
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
House on the Edge of the Park (1980)
I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) (1978)
Island of Death (1977)
The Last House on the Left (1972)
Love Camp 7 (1968)
Madhouse (1981)
Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)
Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)
Night of the Demon (1980)
Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (aka Nightmare) (1981)
Snuff (1976)
SS Experiment Love Camp (aka SS Experiment Camp) (1976)
Tenebrae (aka Unsane) (1982)
The Werewolf and the Yeti (aka Night of the Howling Beast) (1975)
Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2; Zombie) (1979)

Here are the 33 titles seized, but never brought to trial or unsuccessfully prosecuted (Disc 3):

The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death) (1981)
The Bogey Man (1980)
Cannibal Terror (1981)
Contamination (aka Alien Contamination) (1980)
Dead and Buried (1981)
Death Trap (aka Eaten Alive) (1980)
Deep River Savages (aka The Man from Deep River) (1972)
Delirium (aka Psycho Puppet) (1979)
Don’t Go in the House (1980)
Don’t Go Near the Park (1981)
Don’t Look in the Basement (aka The Forgotten) (1973)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Frozen Scream (1975)
Funhouse (1981)
Human Experiments (1980)
I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (1978)
Inferno (1980)
Killer Nun (1978)
Late Night Trains (aka Night Train Murders) (1975)
The Living Dead (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie; Don’t Open the Window) (1974)
Night Warning (aka Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) (1982)
Possession (1981)
Pranks (aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood; Death Dorm) (1982)
Prisoner of the Cannibal God (aka Mountain Of The Cannibal God; Slave of the Cannibal God) (1978)
Revenge of the Bogey Man (aka Boogeyman II) (1982)
The Slayer (1981)
Terror Eyes (aka Night School) (1981)
The Toolbox Murders (1978)
Unhinged (1982)
Visiting Hours (1982)
The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)
Women Behind Bars (1975)
Zombie Creeping Flesh (aka Hell of the Living Dead) (1980)

1 comment:

  1. Isn't that a fantastic docu? There are several others, but that one is really well done. The fact that they actually get many officials who were directly involved in getting the law written, passed and enforced is amazing as are some of the things that they say in their defense.