Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide - incorporating
Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape
2010 UK Directed by Jake West Nucleus Films Region 0
Warning: If you find any of my views about the ridiculous practices of organised censorship and bully boy harassment to get opinionated bills passed as law through government a bit too much like a common sense reaction to the way we live our lives... rather than a silly knee jerk reaction often used to kick start and push individual agendas through under the name of large corporations or governments, then keep telling yourself... it’s only a blog post... only a blog post... only a blog post... only a blog post...
Ok... I just came off watching a limited edition three disc set of a brilliant documentary by Jake West on the thoroughly despicable Video Nasties phenomenon which hit Great Britain in the early eighties. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for Jake West, ever since I saw his brilliant, over the top vampire movie Razor Blade Smile with Eileen Daly cast in the lead role of Lilith Silver (more Lilith Silver movies please... or maybe some comics?) but if I were to tell the truth, it isn’t Mr. West’s name on the credits as director of this that made me want to grab this one while it was still on the shelves... and thanks to my mate Big Jake (not the same Jake) for getting me this little gem for Christmas... the real reason I wanted this was very simple - this DVD has trailers for all 72 movies which made the Director of Public Prosecutions Video Nasties list on it and, since I knew next to nothing about the phenomenon which was playing out when I was at school in my mid teens (when kids in the playground where either swapping these very same films or some kind of bestiality porn on a daily basis) I thought I’d better educate myself on this little and, as it turns out quite shameful, period of uniquely British movie history.
As I said, I was unaware of most of the films on these lists at the time (I was more of a Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who person when I was going to school) but as I watched the documentary I realised that I have a few of these titles in uncut form on my own shelves and a couple of them are films I admire quite a bit (Dario Argento’s two minor masterpieces Tenebrae and Inferno, for example). As one of the people interviewed for the extras on these discs said... a film like Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, which made the list, is now available totally uncut in the UK and on the shelves of your local HMV as a BBFC rated 15 certificate film... and it’s really quite laughable, when you go through the list, that many of these films were ever picked up at all.
The fact is though... they were and people in video stores renting this product, even in cut form and even though some of them were already passed as X-rated theatrical cuts by the BBFC, were being fined, prosecuted and in some cases thrown in prison for renting out what were probably quite lucrative titles (and therefore just plain good business sense to stock). Peoples lives were being changed in terrible and negatively impacting ways just because, it seems from the documentary... one or two people took offence and had an agenda.
The documentary itself is brilliant and, although it’s mostly a bunch of talking heads with minor luminaries and frightphiles such as Alan Jones (Argento’s biographer and general Italian exploitation expert) and Kim Newman (film critic and novelist whose work includes the awesome Anno Dracula series), Jake West uses a necessarily limited but effective tool kit of visual tricks to hold your attention on the subject matter... such as cutting to a closer shot of someone in between movie clips to bring your attention in... or degrading the quality of his shots as the quality of the original first, second and third generation video cassettes is referenced in the main text... stuff like that, but very effective and you will find yourself never getting bored in this director’s skilled hands.
Not that there’s really anything to get bored about on this one... the absolute injustice of these unfair and alarming prosecutions represent my pet soapbox, “crimes against filmanity”, in a big way. The person responsible for running the bill must have been told that this documentary was in some way going to gloss over the actual facts of the matter and somehow come out on the side of the government on this one because, frankly, he’s looking pleased as punch and incriminating himself with every word he says, it seems here. A real schoolboy, “oh it was a bit of a larf” kind of mentality if you ask me. Really scary!
The real eye opener for me, though, was just how underhanded and blatantly criminal the people in question were in order to get their own agenda passed through as law as the infamous Video Recordings Act of 1984. The minister (or whatever he was) who organised the research team at Cambridge in order to prove the point that the videos which they (seemingly randomly it seems on the strength of this documentary and the DVD extras) picked out were actually harmful to people and being seen by very young children acted, it would seem, in the most despicable way possible. When the research was turning out to not only not hold water with what was wanted but, indeed, even seemed to point in the opposite direction than was required, he broke in to the Cambridge offices and stole the research, then fired all the researchers and then constructed his own “massaged” figures from the statistic available which basically lied about the whole thing and helped get the bill passed. These were not nice people, it would seem... well that’s “governments” for you I guess?
All this along with some, mostly, sound opinions from the talking heads about the fakeness of the gore effects, which were the most pounced on element by the police (who really had no clear idea of what they were necessarily looking for at the time... well, how could they?), gives a really clear condemnation on the people who conducted these VHS and BETAMAX witch hunts throughout these shores and makes you realise how unjust the whole thing was. I repeat... peoples lives were being changed by this! This is not how human beings are supposed to treat their fellow man!
One thing you must do if you watch this, sadly now out of print already, limited edition is make sure that when you look at the 72 trailers on discs 2 and 3, you watch these with the individual introductions for each film on (even though the whole package runs for over 13 hours). Various experts like the aforementioned and a couple of British genre directors like Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and Christopher Smith (Triangle, Black Death) give some absolutely brilliant insight into the films in question and in the cases of some people (and from some of the clips shown) you can actually get a window into how “the nasties” informed and influenced their own work. The only real weakness to these intros is that half of the trailer in question tends to get played out as mini visual bites to illustrate the interviewee’s point... and then you see the trailer... again. Still, this is a minor quibble and in no way detracts from the quality of the product in this case.
Another brilliant thing about this particular documentary and DVD is that it also features genre actress and presenter Emily Booth who is always interesting to watch and listen to (does she write her own material for this stuff I wonder) and if you let the disc menus play out you’ll see her unleash total carnage on a whole bunch of video cassettes with various power tools and implements of destruction... if that’s your idea of a good time (and I have to say that since she’s such a good looking and genuinely witty person to watch and listen to... it probably is my idea of a good time actually).
You know I could write a very long and very relevant article about just why anything other than self-censorship for adults is an absolute waste of time and sometimes causes more problems than it pretends to cure... but this is already a long enough article without me going into one about it here. But be warned... that article will be coming.
So why am I standing on my soapbox now about something which has mostly (some of these films are still banned uncut over here guys and gals) become a scandalous footnote in the history of British film and government? Well, as a trusted and cherished lady friend of mine said to me very recently, this is the kind of thing that governments are getting away with all the time... and you know what, she’s 100% right. There are some laws which were passed less than two years ago, for example, which are also going to ruin a lot of peoples lives just for a personal preference and the laws in question appear to be even more totally outrageous than the Video Nasties phenomenon documented on this DVD. I won’t say which laws are problematic (I’m sure there are many) because I don’t want to make myself a target but I would advise that if any readers here with any kind of interest in how people’s freedom of expression and worse are being taken away on a daily basis in all different countries around the globe... then you could do a lot worse than to make http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk one of your “virtual” stops in your world wide webbery on a daily basis.
You Have Been Reading... NUTS4R2: Sense and Censorbility.