“Don’t turn away! These are men like you!”
I've just spent the last few days watching through this very entertaining set tackling the subject of the 'video nasty' moral panic of the 1980s in Britain. The set contains three discs with a documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape
on disc one, with two further discs of trailers and introductions for the various films which were caught up in the act - one for the 39 banned films and another for the 33 which were initially caught up in the panic but subsequently removed from the DPP list.
Every trailer features its own introduction but the trailers can also be played on their own. It makes a nice companion set to those 42nd Street Forever trailer compilations that Synapse have been putting out in Region 1 (though I slightly prefer the running commentary approach of the 42nd Street Forever compilations to the filmed introductions of the Video Nasties set, since playing the trailers together with their introductions almost doubles the running time to around four hours for each disc!)
Along with this the documentary disc has a whole slew of trailers for other releases (including the Bettie Page featuring 1950s strip tease film Teaserama
, The Ugliest Woman In The World
, Between Your Legs
(with Javier Bardem!), and so on), and a whole hour of the various idents for the VHS companies of the era - some of these idents are pretty spectacular (the one for Kace Entertainment is a perfect rendition of a noir style private detective's office complete with Venetian blinds, typewriter, ringing telephone and desklamp with green shade! However I really have no idea why that would be appropriate as a company logo!); some of them are hilariously crappy; and some are wonderfully, pretentiously overblown in ambition on the budget they must have been made with! In the midst of all the ZX Spectrum-inspired eye burning logos or wobbly, jerkily zooming in title cards, the unwary viewer then gets shocked back into alertness by a couple of surprisingly unexpected and explicit company logos/promotional trailers for a couple of naughtier labels!
All three discs feature galleries of video covers from the era - the one on the documentary disc features covers from films that were not banned but skated close to the edge (e.g. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
which was never placed on the DPP list, even though a number of Tobe Hooper's later films were), and the two trailer discs have galleries of covers for the films discussed.
Cult television presenter Emily Booth, with this set and her introductions of films on the Zone Horror digital channel, seems to be fast becoming the new millennium's version of Redemption Video's Eileen Daly (and I also thought she gave a very entertaining performance in that Evil Aliens
film directed by Jake West, who was the director of this documentary as well so perhaps it was inevitable that Booth would make an appearance here!) Of course I fully endorse her quest to become the new face of horror! She certainly manages to make one of the most entertaining DVD menu screens that I've seen this year as she, presumably corrupted by the video nasties, takes her vengeance out on the videotape cases with a variety of appropriate implements (an axe for Axe
; a drill for Driller Killer
The documentary itself is a very interesting run through the whole saga and brings the subject up to date with a coda about how, after all of the prosecutions and witchhunts that resulted from the whipped up panic pushing through government legislation, there was the whole fiasco about the Video Recordings Act turning out not to have been officially enacted!
A slight issue that I have with the set is that many of the introductions are entertaining but a little vague in terms of content. Occasionally there is also some confusion about what was "the censors" doing, when really much of the Video Nasties involved the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) list circulated to the police about which films were prosecutable, rather than anything to do with the BBFC. Although perhaps "the censor" is just being used as a general term.
Also while Kim Newman and Alan Jones have some great dismissive lines about some of the poorer films (Kim Newman: "about the only thing I can say about Frozen Scream
is that it is certainly the Frozen Scream
-iest film on the list"; Alan Jones: "[The Beast In Heat
] tied in with all those Nazi concentration camp movies of the time, and it is pure concentrated camp"), and all of the contributors have their moments to shine (Brad Stevens, the author of a book on Abel Ferrara introduces, naturally, The Driller Killer
, and Stephen Thrower gives a very nice appreciation/attempt at rehabillitation of Axe
), these introductions are just that - a brief skim over the main points of each film with some omissions (for example I'm surprised that nobody talks about Tisa Farrow, Mia Farrow's sister, who went from parts in Manhattan
, Winter Kills
to leading roles in Antropophagous
and Zombie Flesh-Eaters
! Which of course ended her career! Although that might just be too much of an obvious anecdote by now to need to mention. However Alan Jones does
point out Veronica Lario, soon to become the wife of Silvio Berlusconi, painting the walls red with blood in Tenebrae
, so perhaps Tisa Farrow was just overlooked!)
I would still recommend anyone with a curiosity about this era to pick up the David Kerekes and David Slater book See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy
for extremely in depth dissections of all of the films, along with very compelling arguments about why each was likely placed on the video nasties list. The authors of that book get namechecked in the credits for the documentary, and I would agree that it makes an essential complimentary companion piece to this set.
See No Evil also gets more into specifics of how various police forces around the country implemented the act, covers more of the media coverage and reports on a number of cases of people being prosecuted. The book also gets far more into the background of the video recorder in British homes in the early 80s - the way that the 'nasties' seemed far more extreme because they were filling a gap in the market. Demand for films on tape was growing yet the major Hollywood companies were reticent about releasing their films on videotape due to concerns about piracy - so a film like The Evil Dead
, or a low budget Italian horror could look much more extreme in that environment where, simply due to the lack of blockbuster titles, they would receive much more mainstream attention.
It also probably didn't help that the covers for many of the films were incredibly graphic, often making claims that the films contained within couldn't back up! Likely a lot of the films were placed on the list due to their confrontational covers, and indeed the VPRC (Video Packaging Review Committee) was created later on in the VHS era to vet cover art for video cassettes.
A number of the commentators on the discs (particularly Stephen Thrower when he discusses Jess Franco's Devil Hunter
) talk about the low budget, and sometimes the general ineptitude, of many of the films being the aspect that might have made them seem a lot more extreme to an audience not really used to such products. As Thrower mentions regarding Jess Franco, his films don't really fit at all into a notion of what a film 'should be' like, and how it should be structured, and it could be this that added to the idea of the films being so dangerous (after all if you felt in the mood to watch an Indiana Jones-style adventure film, and rented out Ursula Andress in Prisoner of the Cannibal God
, you might not expect the real animal violence).
I would bring up the example of Night of the Demon
(the 1980 film, not the Jacques Tourner classic!), as my own personal experience of being thrown off balance by a film's semi-amateurishness. I remember finding the way that many of the murders in the film were dwelt upon in incredibly long and slow takes amazingly disturbing simply because I was used to more mainstream films cutting away after a brief flash of gore, not focusing on the blood and guts literally for minutes at a time (It looks incredibly slow when compared with the hyper-edited scenes of many horror films now). Simply the way that the entire final massacre section of that film clicks into extremely slow motion as it begins was more than enough to add the 'uh-oh' frisson and creep me out! That could be an example of a film where really the slow motion is likely just being used to pad out the running time, and any extra scares were likely unintentional! And the over use of slow motion could just as much be seen as hilarious as frightening! But that film, simply by the technique being so unexpected to me, managed to create quite an impact. I remember Absurd
creating the same frissons as well.
(The big massacre scene in The Burning
is shocking in almost exactly the opposite manner – a literal raft of teenagers gets bumped off in the space of about a minute, if that, with very little warning, and certainly none of the Friday The 13th
style long drawn out stalking scenes to pad out the time - at least in that one sequence!)
A couple of things that struck me while watching the trailers – Absurd/Horrible
has a brilliant creepily bizarre score.
I’m starting to think that Night Train Murders
is a better film than Last House On The Left
– perhaps it is even more reprehensible and too glossy (love the Demis Roussos title ballad!), but its themes are a lot more complex, interesting and cynically developed than those of the Craven film.
Holly Hunter always
gets mentioned for her extremely brief appearance in The Burning
, but we should spare a thought for this being Jason Alexander’s (George in Seinfeld) debut as well!
Riz Ortolani is probably responsible for some of the most lyrical scores in all cinema. Yet because they are for some of the most disturbing films, they remain relatively hidden gems.
There is a trailer for Don’t Go In The Park
that apparently was not included on the US DVD of that film, and there is a nice trailer for Flesh For Frankenstein
that does not seem to be on either the UK or US discs (certainly it was not on the original Criterion DVD at least!). And of course the trailer for the utterly ludicrous Snuff
is nice to finally see, since the Region 1 disc from Blue Underground only contained the film running on a continuous loop with no extras (not even any menus!), presumably to create a feel of it being an ‘underground’ disc.