Ban The Sadist Videos: An Introduction To Video Nasties And UK Censorship In Film
By Russell Garwood
vid•e•o nas•ty (vĭd'ē-ō' năs'tē)
1. A film released direct to the UK home video market prior to the Video Recordings Act 1984, thought to “deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it."
2. Sick shit on video.
The ‘80s; a decade of shoulder pads, bad haircuts, NWOBHM, Rubik’s Cubes and the video nasty. The latter – for many, one of the more endearing relicts of the era – was spawned by the advent of affordable home video machines. With no censorship to control this new medium, other than the loosely worded Obscene Publications Act of 1959, a number of distribution companies started releasing low budget horror and exploitation movies straight to video to make easy profit. In an attempt to distract the public from high unemployment and crime, race riots, economic recession, and the Falklands War, The Daily Mail picked up on this, and whipped up controversy (clearly, some things never change).
In response, the Video Recordings Act 1984 was rushed through parliament, making video certification a legal requirement. While such measures aimed at gratifying the moral crusaders were being concocted, the police had the power to confiscate any material they believed to be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act. Until ratings became commonplace they did just this. Police raids on video shops were common, and often the titles seized were somewhat arbitrary, with films such as Dolly Parton’s musical The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas being condemned alongside the likes of Ilsa, Shewolf Of The SS. Things were notably worse in certain areas such as Manchester, whose Chief Constable James Anderton was a devout Christian. According to reports at the time he believed himself to be an “instrument of divine judgement”; a belief not wholly compatible with the easy availability of video nasties. To help video retailers avoid imprisonment, provide consistency and placate the reactionary right, the Director of Public Prosecutions provided a list of such films to be destroyed. UltimateMetal is pleased to present a quick overview of what many metal fans were watching when Iron Maiden were first finding success, power metal was in full swing, and denim, bullet belts and bad haircuts were the order of the day. This is a brief introduction to some of the best, worst, and most infamous of the wholesome and morally pristine pieces of film-making that occupy the Director of Public Prosecutions' notorious list.
The first film to be labeled a video nasty, and arguably the most famous, was Evil Dead – director Sam Raimi even had to fly to the UK to testify when the film was banned. Released uncut in 2001, it is a supernatural gorefest which follows five students in a deserted Tennessee backwoods cabin as they are possessed, one by one, by the evil lurking in the forest. Famous in equal measures for its forest rape scene, black humour, low budget and outright banning throughout Europe and the US, it now has a cult following and is considered a classic. It’s also the only film on the list to have inspired a musical strage show.
Two Lucio Fulci films take pride of place on the list, of which The Beyond (E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà) is the better known. Based around a woman who inherits a hotel situated above one of the seven gates of hell, it proves a bleak but enjoyable outing, as the questionable effects and poor acting create an air of ‘80s authenticity.
Also of the supernatural inclination was Evilspeak, an American movie showing the fate of a military cadet who gets revenge on his tormentors using the power of black magic… Through his computer. Taking us into true video nasty territory – made on a shoestring budget, with a ridiculous premise, and occasional moments of gore amongst the absurdity – the film is reviled and loved in equal amounts.
Cannibal Holocaust – now released with 6 minutes of cuts due to animal cruelty (it’s unclear whether this or inspiring The Blair Witch Project is its biggest crime) – shows the lost footage of a crew killed by cannibals in the Amazon Rainforest. Following its Italian premiere the film was seized, director arrested on obscenity charges, and a rumour began circulating that it was in fact a snuff film. The director was taken to court, and had to produce the actors to prove this was not the case. Nevertheless it is still banned in many countries. A hypocritical message attempts to provide some pertinent social commentary, and the movie remains shocking; a feat which few of its contemporaries have matched. Other cannibal-based video nasties include The Man From Deep River/Deep River Savages (Il paese del sesso selvaggio), the movie responsible for birthing this sordid annex of the exploitation world, Cannibal Holocaust sequel Cannibal Ferox/Make Them Die Slowly, Cannibal Apocalypse (Apocalypse Domani), and - starring Ursula Andress no less - Mountain Of The Cannibal God (La montagna del dio cannibal). All have been released on DVD – albeit with cuts - since 2000. The genre owes much to the Italian mondo films – shockumentaries often featuring genuine footage of deaths, torture and more - for inspiration. One such film, Faces Of Death was also on the list.
Wes Craven’s entry into the genre, Last House On The Left (almost identical in plot to the later Late Night Trains and mind-numbingly tedious I Spit On Your Grave) is an archetypal revenge flick, much-watered down from its original script, and then further over the years by unofficial cuts. It now lacks anything more than a glimpse at what could have been a macabre and unsettling film, but still makes interesting watching.
Also on the list is Shogun Assassin, a violent jidaigeki film (Japanese period piece) which shows, in graphic detail, a father and baby’s bloody journey to exact revenge on the paranoid Shogun responsible for the death of the child’s mother. Cut together from the first two films in the six-entry Lone Cub And Wolf series, it is surprisingly coherent, treading the line between hugely entertaining and painfully bad. It is now available uncut, complete with surprising amounts of gore.
Sadly, I’ve run out of words with this meagre collection of films. Of the original blacklist, fourteen entries remain banned outright (with titles such as Gestapo's Last Orgy, Love Camp 7 and The Beast In Heat, this isn’t entirely surprising). At the turn of the millennium, however, the BBFC relaxed many of its standards in response to a public consultation and the departure of cut-happy head honcho James Ferman. This has allowed the majority of the video nasties – in addition to a great many other films from the annals of extreme / transgressive cinema – to be released with only minor cuts in recent years, typically to remove sexual violence and genuine cruelty to animals. Most are cheap and readily available on DVD, and while there is a great deal of crap on the list, a number of the entries are well worth seeing. Beyond the prerequisite gore, exploitation and perverse subject matter, all are interesting as a product of the decade in which they were made, and contain social commentary still prescient today. And serious considerations aside, nostalgia doesn’t get much better than kicking back with beer, a group of friends, and some good, old fashioned video nasties. Or maybe that’s just me…
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