DVD: Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005)

January 11, 2014 | By

Film: Excellent/ DVD Transfer: Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: Severin Films / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: October 8, 2013

Genre: Documentary / Video Nasty / Film History

Synopsis: Still provocative chronicle of the emotional fervour that led to the banning of videos in 1980s Britain during the “Video Nasty” era.

Special Features:  Bonus Featurette – “Censors Working Overtime” (10:46)




Named after a salacious Daily Mail headline and written & directed by veteran documentarian / film historian David Gregory prior to the formation of Severin Films, Ban the Sadist Videos! Was original released in two parts as bonus material in Anchor Bay UK’s Box of the Banned series –  a pair of sets featuring films formerly banned / cut by the BBFC censors in Britain. Known as Video Nasties, the list of films branded as taboo original totaled 72 but was significantly whittled down in later years.

While some of the movies in those 2005 sets were still the shorn versions released in the U.K. which inevitably weakened the impact intended by their respective filmmakers, Gregory’s doc is very raw in its assessment of how a select group of films were banned by British censors after being hounded by irate special interest groups.

The problem stems not from outright paranoia for things sexy & violent, but a series of loopholes which never existed in Canada and the U.S.: unlike their feature films, uncut movies were released en masse on VHS and Betamax in Britain to satisfy the heavy demand of the emerging home video market in rental shops. Britain reportedly had more owners of VCRs than anywhere else in the world because people liked to rent and buy – a reason that also explains the wealth of Hollywood films and TV series which remained unavailable in North America for decades.

When so-called “busybodies” (such as moral crusader Mary Whitehouse) in concerned citizens groups became aware of the graphic sex, gore, and violence circulating on tape, it seemed the chance to halt the flood of immoral imagery and save children from blood-splattered boobery had finally arrived.

In North America, there were ratings boards which ensured that at least on a classification level, movies meant for the mature and the adult were branded as such on tape. Thousands of films had already been released in Britain when the Video Recordings Act became law in 1984, and censors had the impossible mandate of watching, rating, and branding 10,000 films – roughly 15,000 hours of action, horror, and children’s films – within a 3 year period.

The repercussions of the Act and the organized busybodies are still in effect – a film not certified by the BBFC is illegal to sell / own in Britain – but the mania frothed up from conservatives, political opportunists, reactionaries, and Britain’s monstrous media which tarred & featured anything hot to sell papers was astonishing for almost hobbling the home video industry.

Gregory interviewed former ministers, past & present BBFC personnel, added archival material and plenty of clips to show the type of forbidden material which once circulated freely, and the innocent persons caught up in ludicrous seizures using ever-changing, often outdated and erroneous lists of banned articles.

By American standards, such political and conservative behaviour is outrageous, and yet there were periods in both the U.S. and Canada where censors had power, and conservative movements seemed to be achieving enough muscle to curtail the manufacturing and release of movies already rated for grown-up consumption.

The Meece Report vilified the adult film industry and seemed to make even tepid mature content in mainstream films taboo, whereas in Ontario, under the stewardship of Mary Brown and subsequent heads, art films such as The Tin Drum (1979) and R-rated slashers like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) were illegal if their naughty bits hadn’t been excised prior to exhibition and videotape distribution.

Contemporary film reviews of several horror films even cited the jarring edits and transitions which clearly showed where the Ontario Censor Board mandated the mangling, and it was often only through the importation / smuggling of foreign videotapes that full uncut editions could be seen. It wasn’t unusual to find Italian-only VHS releases of slasher, cannibal, and zombie films in certain indie rental shops with post-it notes differentiating these special rental copies from the cut editions.

The irony is that sex & violence largely don’t register high on the shock meter anymore. Severin’s DVD of Gregory’s doc also includes a bonus featurette on current films cut for U.K. certification, and yet most of these films are widely available in North America, uncut for sale & rental.

Most of the original banned films were passed after a regime change at the BBFC; former bigwig James Ferman had a specific hate for blood & breasts, hence the lengthy unavailability of House on Straw Hill / Exposé (1976); and he genuinely felt William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) was far too disturbing for children to see, resulting in that film’s non-circulation.

A key problem with the BBFC’s mandate was to protect children from any mature content, regardless if a film was made for, purchased / rented by, and viewed in the house of an adult. It was the infinitesimal chance of lethal moral corruption which made Britain’s Video Records Act in 1984 one of the most restrictive in any western country, and libertarians and industry members attempting to preserve some sanity within the home video industry had to confront claims violent videos not only influence children, but turn them into killers, such as the heavily publicized James Bulger case.

Gregory’s doc is shocking not for the excerpted film clips but the paranoia which ultimately influenced lawmakers, and gave small interest groups great power in stirring up a level of fear beyond what existed in North America.

Originally produced by Blue Underground and released in Anchor Bay’s Region 2 PAL DVDs sets, Severin’s reissue – issued as a bonus disc in the first 3000 copies of their House on Straw Hill Blu-ray / DVD combo set – presents the film in its two parts on a single layer DVD, but there are some significant technical issues. Unlike Part 2, Part 1 is a flawed PAL to NSTC down- conversion where is seems the alternating fields native to NTSC are missing or gummed up; the result is a persistent flickering from sharp to blurry frames.

The bonus interview – “Censors Working Overtime” – has a poor audio mix: the low voice of narrator David Flint is muddy and often smothered by the audio from film clips, and it’s still a checkerboarded mix in which Flint’s voice is on the left track rather than properly centered in a balanced stereo image. If an imperfect master was erroneous used, Severin might want to remaster the disc at a future time and perhaps offer buyers of the Straw Hill set a chance for a disc exchange, especially since the label is sticking with the Video Nasty subject and releasing Nucleus Films’ 3-disc Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide set in North America.

David Gergory’s best-known documentaries include Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000) and the 3-part series The Joys of Emmanuelle, Part 1-3 (2001).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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