DVD: Video Nasties – Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010)

June 6, 2014 | By


VideoNasties_Severin3DVDFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: Excellent

Label: Severin Films

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  June 3, 2014

Genre:  Documentary / Video Nasties / Home Video

Synopsis: Often riveting chronicle of how Britain’s Video Recordings Act was created after conservative groups successfully lobbied government ministers to ban violent unrated horror films during the early 1980s.

Special Features: 

– Disc 1: Video Identi-a-thon Label Logo A-to-Z compendium (65.00) / 82 VHS Cover Gallery of Potential Video Nasties (9:24)
– Disc 2: The Final 39: Full Trailers with Intros (4:06:21) / 39 Video Nasties VHS Cover Gallery (5:36)
– Disc 3: The Dropped 33: Full Trailers with Intros (3:22:26) / 33 Video Nasties VHS Cover Galler (3:32)





To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Britain’s infamous Video Records Act (VRA) in which 72 horror films (dubbed ‘video nasties’ by sleazebag media outlets such as the Daily Mail) were banned by the BBFC due to ‘depraved content,’ Severin Films have picked up the North American video rights to Jake West’s superb documentary, originally produced & released by Britain’s Nucleus Films back in 2010.

Sharing most of the key info examined by David Gregory in his 2005 2-part doc Ban the Sadist Videos!, West takes a slightly different stance on the events which led to the VRA’s implementation. Starting the film with an often hysterical montage of gory clips from each of the original 72 video nasties, West’s approach relies less on integrating the history of the BBFC itself (its former czar, James Ferman, is seen fleetingly in archival interviews compared to Gregory’s doc), and more on the work of investigative journalist Martin Barker (editor of “Video Nasties: Freedom & Censorship in the Media”), who went from a curious beat reporter to a crusader against upper-class snobs seeking to impose their moral values using their influence with the establishment, and committing what Barker alleges were acts of outright fraud.

In one terrifying extract from an early 80s BBC ‘discussion panel’ on video nasties, there’s a lack of decorum among conservative panelists (including a minister) determined to silence and obfuscate Barker’s efforts to explain cleanly and rationally what was really occurring in Britain: arbitrary standards used by the police to seize legal goods from shops, charge and convict suspected peddlers of suspected grey matter, and the un-scientific and ultimately falsified studies which the VRA supporters used to show a correlation between violence on video with a rash of despicable acts hyped by the Daily Mail.

Not unlike the crusade which led to the classification of and ultimate removal of horror comics in the U.S during the fifties, haughty moralist Mary Whitehouse (former member of the ridiculously titled Nationwide Festival of Light movement) managed to find sympathetic / opportunistic figures in government – MP Sir Graham Bright, Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher – and maintained the tried and true stance of ‘you’re either with the moral right or you’re for the molesters, rapists and killers.’

Although the VRA was eventually overhauled – as Gregory’s doc recounts, by the time Ferman had left the BBFC, most of the banned videos were back in circulation after some snipping – perhaps more ironic is the fact many of the banned films are now available in England uncut, but the damage done was clear: it gave small interest groups a playbook on how to get their way if they didn’t particularly like something or someone.

The home video industry wasn’t exactly virgin pure either, though. Distributors realized their increasingly fat catalogue of name, no name, and miscellaneous import titles required no classification on tape, so movies originally edited for theatrical exhibition could and did appear uncut on video, with lurid covers designed to shock and tease renters.

The BBFC were similarly guilty in allowing such a crazy loophole to exist to the point were 10,000 videos had been released prior to the implementation of the VRA, which meant a massive re-classification mandate was in order. Had they realized what was happening and acted swiftly by setting up a council comprised of BBFC and industry members, a compromise (via a ratings system) could’ve avoided the huge kerfuffle and classic knee-jerk reactions solved by extreme regulations.

Barker also points out that the quirks of the British class system similarly allowed major / established labels such as EMI to escape the ire of the police, and most of the harassed labels were independents whose catalogue naturally consisted of the exploitive crap passed over or never considered worthy for distribution by the majors. The fees charged by the BBFC (almost $1,000) to review and rate a film for legal distribution were also prohibitive to low-level indies, many of whom eventually disappeared when it became clear carrying exploitative shockers no longer made any business sense in such a demonizing climate.

Severin’s 3-disc set (dubbed The Definitive Guide) includes the original 2010 doc in a nice sharp transfer (although there are slight PAL to NTSC conversion quirks similar to, but far less severe than their Ban the Sadist Videos! transfer involving the occasional appearance of misaligned horizontal lines).

Extras in this packed set include a 65 minute (!) reel of vintage logos from the various UK labels that existed during the country’s early home video days. The artistry of the logos range from elaborate to utterly inept (one is clearly an unedited take of a zoom-in to a printed and badly angled logo using a consumer-grade camera with a sticky lens), and the compendium is an amazing collection of graphic design sure to inspire anyone wanting to craft their own retro / tongue-in-cheek logo or credits.

The rest of the extras reflect the DVD set’s ‘definitive’ branding. Disc 1 features a VHS cover gallery of not-quite banned but grey-level titles, and Disc 2 includes the complete trailers for 39 of the original 72 banned films running a fat 4 hours with each trailer preceded by witty contextual intros from many of the interviewees in West’s doc, including journalist / horror film historian Kim Newman, Alan Jones, Stephen Thrower, Allan Bryce, Dr. Patricia MacCormack, Marc Morris (author of “Art of the Nasty” and “Shock Horror”), Prof. Julian Petley, Xavier Mendik, and actress Emily Booth (who appears in the DVD set’s VHS-tinged menu sequence where a perfectly fine vintage VCR is brutally destroyed alongside what are more than likely reproductions of the 72 video nasties. Tragic sacrifice of a classic machine).

Disc 3 presents trailers for 33 titles that were later dropped from the official video nasties list with similarly indexed intros and another separate VHS cover gallery.

Among the interview subjects is filmmaker Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) who illustrates how the VRA actually backfired in protecting innocent moppets: to brand something as forbidden and illegal pricks the curiosity of the interested; to have seen any element of a nasty (in full view or through the holes of a pillow) is like a badge of honor for having ‘survived’ a cinematic depravity; and in being influenced by such fruit, it’s only reasonable that a connoisseur of extreme horror might one day become a filmmaker with a penchant for even nastier imagery. (The uncut BBQ scene in Marshall’s Doomsday is quite brutal, and in hindsight, stands like a glaring fuck you to Whitehouse and her ilk.)

In 2014, West produced a follow-up documentary, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, which delves into the repercussions of the VRA up to the present, and is available on DVD in the U.K.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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