Video Tales III: Video Nasties – The Definitive Edition Part 2 + Grindhouse Trailer Classics

May 2, 2015 | By

Hot Docs is winding down and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is starting up, and it really hurts that I’m not in the line-ups, catching great docs & shorts for review and pure enjoyment, but there’s always next year – this year’s spring season is devoted to catching up & finishing a bevy of projects that have been in stasis for a while, ranging docs, a performance taping, and short works.

Between fine-cutting my doc and moving to completing the Main and End Credits sequences this weekend, I’ve covered more video releases, including this pair of releases covering specific aspects of home video history, with a decisively British slant.

GrindhouseTrailerClassicsInterVision (distributed via Severin) have picked up Nucleus Films’ Grindhouse Trailer Classics, the first of several jam-packed exploitation trailer collections originally released in the U.K. The DVD review was originally slated for Rue Morgue magazine publication, but has been re-assigned to, with some slight tweaks.

Also posted is a review of Jake West’s second doc on the period when horror movies on home video were treated like illegal drugs – Video Nasties: Draconian Days.

VideoNasties_Severin3DVD_V2_sIt is admittedly easy – with hindsight, quaint news footage, and archival interviews – to take swipes at the movements instigated by special interest groups and conservative politicians, but it is terrifying to think of how many films – serious dramas as well as exploitive crap – that could’ve been branded as contraband because logic failed to dominate proposed and passed legislation, but there’s a Medieval tenor to the excerpted current affairs shows in West’s doc where filmmakers and journalists were lured by producers, baited by conservative VRA supporters, ridiculed with finger-pointing and audience chatter, and essentially shushed in front of live audiences to further drum up the hysteria that horror movies = inevitable psychotic snaps, and plant the seeds of depraved behaviour in children.

There’s also a contextual element to the frictions between distributors, censors, and aghast consumers that needs to be considered: such a level of graphic material had never been available before in the U.K. and North America to so many with relative ease, especially when films in the latter region were often edited for broadcast and syndication.

It wasn’t unusual to see network versions with re-dubbed naughty words and snipped risque material airing on syndicated stations, let alone prime time. I still remember watching the 1970s Three Musketeers diptych on CTV at 4pm, fully sanitized; and only City TV would air the Bond films uncut. (What was cut out by the networks was simply moronic.)

When old 16mm prints of exploitation films were aired after hours, sometimes ‘classic’ cursory words like “damn” had been scratched out or blotted over by tape or Liquid Paper (look it up) in the soundtrack. The process was kind of akin to pasties, obfuscating a tiny spec of an obviously blatant visual / aural element.

I doubt the VRA supporters could’ve guessed that 20 years later, with few exceptions, no one makes a fuss about extreme content because it’s available everywhere.

Fear-mongering tends to flare up because there’s other factors at play. It isn’t always a rash of bloody boobies and crushed craniums that have concerned citizens rallying alongside the media. It’s a sense of helplessness when social and economic states aren’t steady; when social change drifts into new waters; and when governments need something to distract voters from their poor stewardship of a country’s economy or poorly managed war.

Graphic movies just happened to be the perfect scapegoat during the video nasties era. Filmmakers and distributors were caught off-guard largely because such ‘anti-them’ fervour had never been experienced, and yet it seemed inevitable that things would come to a head when the naughtiness of the seventies, often from forgotten or imported films, rapidly materialized on tape, alongside cash-in exploitation films that built their reputations on going farther than earlier works.

It’s ironic that sex, gore, and bad screen behaviour are less of a bother to consumers today than cultural slights, assaults, and religious bias. The market’s massively international, making it easy to be offended by something small or something more direct, like the worth of a belief system.  Moreover, the reaction isn’t to legislate against such affronts because shaming in broadcast and social outlets is easier.

Shaming requires no budget, it’s picked up in all media streams, and during its lifespan creates an impression that a problem was spotlighted, addressed, discussed, picked up by appropriate levels of government, and is being dealt with.  Outrages that linger tend to have more substance, but even they are subject to the whims of moods, media oversaturation, and the passage of time.

Should an anti-nasties sequel materialize again in Britain (or elsewhere), I wonder if it’s process would have legs, or just fade away like a bad, uninspired sequel.

Coming next: Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty appear in Mike Nichols’ very odd, long unavailable comedy The Fortune (1975), newly released by Twilight Time.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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