DVD: Video Nasties – The Definitive Guide, Part 2 (2015)

May 2, 2015 | By


VideoNasties_Severin3DVD_V2_sFilm:  Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Excellent

Label: Severin

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  February 10, 2015

Genre:  Documentary / Video Nasties / Home Video

Synopsis: Potent and edifying follow-up documentary to “Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape” covering the draconian rule of the BBFC, its tsar, and ultra conservatives who protracted a war against horror films.

Special Features:  

Disc 1:  Fanzine Flashback – UK Fanzines, 1985-1995 (6:15 + 6:40 + 5:15) / Video Cover Art for the DPP 72 (8:05) + the DPP 82 (7:55)
Disc 2:  Section 3 Trailers A-L with optional Intros
Disc 3:  Section 3 Trailers M-Z with optional Intros






Jake West’s follow-up to Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010) is another superb chapter in the history of Britain’s Video Nasties era, in which the lack of any ratings system by a government agency was in large part responsible for a glut of unrated films in rental shops that, surprise, surprise, soon drew the ire of conservative minds appalled that sex, gore, and exotic weirdness were easily obtainable from local shops.

West’s first documentary detailed the insane factions involved in an unnecessary war on crass commercial art that was never made nor aimed at children, yet it was subjected to media hysteria from tabloid papers, special interest groups, and certain politicians sensing they could ride to some success and infamy if they took on the cause of saving the minds of current future children from things they shouldn’t be watching in the first place.

Calling his second doc Video Nasties: Draconian Days (2014) isn’t hyperbole but an accurate description of how hysteria begat over-regulation and fed the power of unlikely folk heroes and heroines. West avoids repetition in his second film by fixating on the tempest drummed up by conservatives, and the proposed amendments made to the Video Recordinsg Act (VRA) that would’ve made both Italian cannibal films and Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) illegal.

Manchester’s top cop was called “God’s Cop” by acquiescent citizens (and himself), partaking in the raiding and seizing of anything resembling a video nasty, due to lurid cover art, a title scribbled on a label, or whatever overzealous whim was in play.

The BBFC’s James Ferman went from being a middling former filmmaker-turned top censor to a power-hungry video tsar, imposing his dislike for films with vulgar sexual content, martial arts films and their paraphernalia, and a particular loathing for The Exorcist (1973), a film he was determined would ‘never be shown’ in Britain on home video.

Video sleeves had to be pre-approved to ensure nothing lurid was in the art, and filmmakers were best advised to rebrand their films with something visually and verbally banal. Worse, there were accusations of Ferman re-cutting films to earn a certification, and in some cases urging filmmakers and distributors of genre product to ‘forget about’ submitting their films because they’d be heavily shorn anyways.

Director and Redemption Films founder Nigel Wingrove recalls having his own short film Visions of Ecstasy (1989) being banned on the grounds of blasphemy, while Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) managed to flow into cinemas untouched – an example of the snobbery that favoured lurid concepts shielded in an art house containers from major U.S. studios instead of a cruder and more exploitive indie work.

There was a particular fear among VRA supporters that fueled their most insane justification for cutting and banning movies, especially horror: the mere possession of a genre film made by adults for an adult audience was simply too risky, lest a child somehow discovers and plays an obscene tape. This presumption went beyond curtailing parents who might recklessly leave nasties in the VCR: if taken to its basic paranoid stance, the VRA was meant to prevent a child from repeatedly playing a nasty it had discovered in the family room of the home it had mistakenly wandered / broken into while adults slept quietly in their bedrooms.

When the James Bulger murder made headlines in 1993, it was alleged the boy’s killers, themselves children, had seen Child’s Play 3 (1991) prior to murdering the 2 year old Bulger. The furor made any horror film as deadly as loaded heroine syringe – directors appearing on current events shows for a discussion on youth and adult-orient genre films were often ambushed by hosts, audiences, and selfish politicians skilled in the fine art of one-sided debating – but amazingly, to the rescue came the BBFC’s Ferman, who in a rare state of sensible thinking, tried to arrest the madness to ban more horror films by declaring a) there was no evidence the boys had ever seen the film that was rented by a parent; and b) there’s nothing in the film that’s obscene nor likely to sway otherwise sane kids to commit murder, hence it being certified and legally accessible viewing material.

What ultimately halted amendments to the VRA and ended Ferman’s tenure at the BBFC is more baffling than surprising, and while the years following Ferman’s departure resulted in previously banned films re-entering home video distribution, Britain’s 120 mph veering towards enacting the most restrictive rules for home entertainment in Europe was scary.

Some members of the generation who grew up under this insanity became filmmakers, historians, and sociologists, and their participation in West’s pungent essay adds some sobering thought and humour to the doc. Most amusing are the fanzine publishers, who rented certain videos and re-recorded uncut versions to enable connoisseurs to enjoy forbidden fruit; and their natural reaction to seek out taboo material via swap meets, trading among collectors, mail order sales, and sneaking uncut films from a recent visit across the pond.

This generation – learned, skilled, and rebellious – also sought to expose the hypocrisy and class structure inherent to the VRA rules which reasoned those with intellectual noggins could better handle risqué material in the cinemas, but the average blue collar worker wanting a teasing videotape rental was too impressionable, and a natural ticking time bomb due to lower a intellect and paycheque.

Getting raided is a recurring motif among several interview subjects, and the stories of seizures range from creepy to comical, such as archival news footage of a young man being more concerned about being late for work than the police about to seize his video collection and VCRs.

Like West’s prior doc, the interviews are many – former and current BBFC members paint a unique portrait of Ferman as a bigwig who wanted to act as a mediator between art, commerce, and civic responsibility, but became ‘drunk’ on power – as are the rare clips from talk shows, news reports, stills, film clips, and more.

The thoroughness of West’s work as a documentarian is enlarged with even more bonus features than the prior DVD set: Discs 2 and 3 feature 82 trailers of films classified as ‘kind of obscene but not really.’ Branded as Section 3 titles, many were seized and destroyed – in the doc, West shows some rare footage of tapes set ablaze by a video shop owner, and others tossed into an incinerator by police – but most didn’t deserve to be treated like virulent plague seeds. The optional intros for each trailer by filmmakers, historians, sociologists, and authors are more detailed in this round, and there’s a greater sense of compassion for even the most ineptly made films.

Like the prior set produced by Nucleus Films and released in North America by Severin, you’ll want to start hunting down this new list of gems good and bad, and it’s to the credit of the selected presenters that each film is contextualized with arcane facts and ephemera. These 82 titles may only exist on videotape, and it’s perhaps ironic that their restricted access continues not from legal obstacles, but being trapped on obsolete home video formats and systems like VHS / Beta and PAL / NTSC, respectively.

Rounding out the set’s 13 hours of extras are cover art galleries for the original banned nasties, and the 82 Section 3 titles.

Although the PAL-to-NTSC conversion of West’s doc isn’t seamless – every 4-5 seconds there’s a frame loss from the 25 to 30 frames upgrade – the overall transfer is sharp, with appropriately strong colours and detail in both new and archival interview & news materials.

Alongside West’s Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010) and David Gregory’s Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005), this new release fills out what could branded as the supreme trilogy of docs on video nasties.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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