Video Nasties - the Definitive Guide (2010)

A documentary by Jake West (released by Nucleus Films).
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Video Nasties - the Definitive Guide (2010) - A documentary by Jake West (released by Nucleus Films)

Disc 1: Documentary - Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape
Disc 2: The Final 39
Disc 3: The Dropped 33 [introductions for all the films which at some point featured on the DPP list, plus trailers]

"To avoid moral panic keep repeating, they were only movies..."

In many respects, it's hard to believe the impact which VHS horror and the subsequent "video nasties" panic had on the UK during the 1980s. We’re rather spoiled by comparison these days: gruesome horror can make it to mainstream cinema and then onto high-profile DVD release, whilst much of the material we see now is shocking stuff indeed compared to even the worst excesses of the nasties era. We don't see DVDs being incinerated, or stockists jailed. However, the spectre of moral panic has never completely gone away. Nor will it - as horror always bears the brunt of strong-arm tactics whenever someone comes along who wants to protect (read: control) social order. What this documentary does fantastically well is to map the development of a horror-specific moral panic whilst taking great pleasure in stopping off at destinations along the way. Ultimately, viewers might come out of this better-informed and better-equipped to see how easily these things spiral out of control. They'll also be hugely entertained by the affection and nostalgia provided by the horror enthusiasts interviewed here, as well as by a wealth of clips from news features, print media, advertisements and trailer reels.

Serious though its points indisputably are, this film has an energetic, quick-paced style. There's a real sense of fun from the very beginning, kicking off with The Damned's Video Nasty and a beautifully-edited montage of clips: this is channelled via a retrospective on the birth of home video, and all of the failings of the medium which seems charming now though they were infuriating then... ah, for the days of endlessly adjusting the tracking, and for "popular" scenes in rental films being obscured by snow! All this leads to a good point though: a lot of the nasties actually benefitted by being seen on bad copies. They retained a lot more of their mystique when their shortcomings were masked by the cassette's flaws rather than their own. Yet, for all its faults, video was big business in the early 1980s and it presented an attractive proposition for entrepreneurs who (at the time) could rent out whatever they liked to whoever they wanted. The authorities were getting very uncomfortable, especially with the lurid horror cover-art of some of the more popular rental choices...

Luckily, the British tabloid press were on hand to engender a fair, temperate approach to this new medium, so that initial murmurings about the need for some restriction were turned into a clamour for an outright ban on what became known as "video nasties". Under pressure from the shrillest voices - and people who had their own agendas for getting involved - the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) started to draw up a certain list...

This film really does feel like the final word on the video nasties debacle so entitling this package "The Definitive Guide" is completely justified. It's exhaustively researched, with contributions from key players of the time as well as horror directors, writers and lecturers; this includes interviews with former MP Sir Graham Bright and Peter Kruger, formerly of the Obscene Publications Squad, both of whom were instrumental in pushing for an outright ban. A special mention must go to journalist Martin Baker for his involvement here: he was a lone voice of reason then, and his comments act as a lynch-pin for the point of the entire film now. If perhaps your foreknowledge of the work of the documentary's director and your feel for the tone of the documentary prevents you from seeing it as completely unbiased, I think you'll still agree that a certain balance has been sought here. It feels like a fun, interactive history lesson with plenty of homage to the wacky, gruesome films themselves.

If you're a fan of the films (and if you aren't, man, did you end up in the wrong website!) then the remaining discs will give you an introduction, appraisal and trailer for every one of the films which did time on the banned list. Disc 2 focuses on the final 39 (those which stayed put) whilst Disc 3 takes a look at those dropped from the list because successful prosecutions were never brought against them. Look forward to rare TV spots, original trailers, press footage and some interesting titbits from horror aficionados as they introduce their own favourites or films which relate to them in some way. If you thought the general video nasties panic was hysterical, then these other discs will confirm that for you - so many of the films on this list were definitely swept up unfairly. Alongside intros to the usual suspects like Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Creeping Flesh and The Burning we also get I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses, The Witch Who Came from the Sea and Killer Nun amongst a wealth of other lesser-known nasties, so it's easy to see that sleaze and even tangential art-house also bore the brunt of the DPP's paranoia.

Across all of the discs you can look forward to insider information from (amongst others) Stephen Thrower - whose books you need in your life - Kim Newman, Neil Marshall, Alan Jones, Christopher Smith, Allan Bryce and Dr Patricia McCormack. Actually, although by and large the interviewees here are insightful and keen, if I have one criticism of this package, it relates to the inclusion of actress and model Emily Booth. Ms Booth works with director West a hell of a lot and so it was sort-of a given that she'd figure in here; however, on this occasion, she seems out of her depth (rather nervously reading from an autocue and overcompensating with her gestures) - and as for the clip where she's attacked by videotape? Perhaps West thought that some eye candy was needed to provide a metaphorical break from all the talking heads; I didn't think so personally, as the use of clips and trailers alone made the film visual enough. (I was also surprised that Nigel Wingrove didn't feature here as he's a one-man anti-censorship campaign - but these are minor criticisms of a generally excellent selection of interviewees.)

My final verdict? - Get this package as soon as it's available and enjoy it. It has real warmth and verve, while making some genuinely important points about the nature of censorship which we'd all do well to remember.
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Categories: Video Nasties

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