Video Tales II: Video Nasties – The Definitive Edition

June 6, 2014 | By

Service from my webhost seems to be back after nearly 10 hours of deadness, so special thanks to their tech dept. for bringing everything back online and ensuring the sites are functional. If any mail was bounced back, please resend, since the mail server’s also back online.

So let’s begin with a preamble, then links to the latest reviews in Part II of Video Tales, some thoughts on video nasties, and if you’re disinclined to read further editorial blather, just shoot to the end of this page  for some jpegs of a mid-1980s rental catalogue from a long-gone shop in my old hood.

The preamble to the ridiculous:




It’s weirdly ironic that just as I was editing this blog about a doc on banned films on home video in the U.K., news broke that Radley Metzger’s The Image (1975) was reportedly seized by German customs due to the film’s depicting “cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against humans or human-like beings in a way that a glorification or trivialization of such violence expresses or the cruel or inhumane the process in the manner violating human dignity.” (Loose translation provided by Google, since my own German is limited.)

Now, this is utter nonsense because The Image is a mature film aimed at adults based on a published book, and its narrative addresses the psychologies of an increasingly destructive masochistic relationship between three parties. It does feature a finale involving a lot of screaming, but what’s depicted isn’t gory, graphic, or dehumanizing. You just might need some earplugs.

The sense is some overzealous officer imposed his / her own conservative sensibilities on a 40 year old movie whose original taboo content – a blowjob – was the real shocker in 1974.

Here’s the stupidity of the situation: while Metzger’s other and slightly less controversial films are available on, so are A Serbian Film (2010) and Human Centipede (2009), and certainly in the case of the latter (which spawned an even more gruesome sequel in 2011), what’s more dehumanizing – Metzger’s drama showing consensual submissive relationship between three adults, or Centipede’s people who are kidnapped and surgically sewn together mouth-to-arse by a madman, forced to consume the excrement that passes from the rectum of one person to the mouth of the next?

Seems this occurrence in moral narrow-mindedness is proof of the hypocrisies that continue exist for filmmakers and distributors, and plain ridiculousness.

Let’s move on.




Back in January I reviewed Severin Films’ nice Blu-ray edition of House on Straw Hill / aka Expose (1976), of which the first 3000 copies came with a bonus DVD of David Gregory’s excellent doc Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005).

Straw Hill was part of a wave of risqué horror films which drew the ire of highly conservative, privileged, and snooty people in Britain who stirred up enough outrage and managed to get the Video Recordings Act passed in 1984 (’tis 30 years old now), after which 72 films deemed depraved were banned. That tally was eventually reduced to 39, of which most were eventually released with cuts, and later uncut on DVD and Blu.

Last fall Severin announced a deal to release Jake West’s equally excellent doc Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010) on DVD in North America, replicating the original contents of the Nucleus 3-disc set from Britain, and it’s been well worth the wait for this treasure trove of ephemera, and West’s analysis of the VRA and the way anti-nasties stretched / manufactured some facts in a supposedly scientific study to show how kids were already being poisoned by forbidden fruit.

The film production program at my university mandated squandering good money on courses very much irrelevant to the core study of Film, and among them was Man and the Environment and Intro to Psychology. Both required periodic essays, and for one course I crafted an essay which outlined the negative potential effects of kids watching violent TV programs and films.

Anyone with a modicum of imagination and creativity could have fun with existing facts and published theories, and with a little bullshit, present arguments in a convincingly verbose manner. That’s what apparently happened when certain clever conservatives stretched the truth / lied to curry the attention and influence of certain MPs.

What can also render bullshit a bit more credible is a series of scandalous events which, when filtered through the shrill prose and lurid images of tabloid news, give the impression that all hell has broken loose.

The video nasties were no different than the shockers released in the U.S. and Canada: we had the same lurid covers that were perused by kids on school lunch breaks (or after school), and many were rented by parents unaware of what lay within that magnetic videotape.

Most were bad qualitatively – the banned Don’t Go in the Woods (1981) is absolute shit; the wannabe director lost the soundtrack and made do with amateurish dubbing recorded in a sterile room – but some were genuinely shocking, if not a little wrong, and as some interview subjects recall in West’s doc, having seen a nasty was a badge of honor. You survived a brutal shocker. You actually saw the indescribable happen in the vivid colour of VHS (or Beta).

Well, sort of.

When I watched The Burning (1981) with Steve, Brandon and Sal, it was through the cracks in my fingers and maybe a pillow; and when I first saw Alien (1979) with Karolyn, the gory stuff was glimpsed from the images reflected in the glass of my Timex watch. Pure cowardice, but I could say ‘I saw Alien, and you wouldn’t be-lieve how gross it is!’

I talked about scenes I had sort-of seen (I heard the sound, so that have me 50% of the credit, right?) in Mrs. Flazer’s after school craft glass, and it’s kind of amazing she never told me to shut up – because I really went on about the chest-buster sequence and Yaphet Kotto’s intestinal trauma. It’s no different than kids renting the entire run of the Saw series, although again, the shock tends to come from the shit quality of the story and acting, and the increasingly moronic plots, and yet the ease with which the Saw films – the ultimate pioneering torture porn franchise – can be rented and watched in a post-VRA world is striking.

One last point: a buddy who used to run his own rental shop in Brampton (R.I.P. Penguin Video) had a diversity of customers, but he recalled one couple who made a point to rent the most graphic horror films for their nephew, a kid who clearly wasn’t crazy about another weekend movie night with his aunt & uncle. The kid didn’t want to see Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), but here were adults determined to have fun at the expense of a minor who theoretically couldn’t rent the film on his own.

Supporters of the VRA who believed their act would safeguard kids from disturbing images forgot the one type of person for whom the rules were clearly irrelevant: the adult that doesn’t care. In North America, film & video ratings are primarily a guide, charging adults with the responsibility to decide what kids and teens can / shouldn’t watch, but at this stage banning and censoring is almost irrelevant when anything goes on cable TV.

Besides, you can pretty much order any shocker online, unless it’s rights issues. For a while Amazon would not ship VCI’s edition of the 1950 A Christmas Carol to Canada because Cooke Media owned the Canadian rights, but Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle in America (1977) was easily available. No Dickens, but snuff was okay.

Apparently the pendulum is swinging a little farther back again in Britain due to some “well-meaning” legislation meant to upgrade the BBFC’s current classification system and apply more stringent rules to the documentary material that makes the special editions produced by Britain’s indie labels so amazing. This isn’t a happy situation. Hopefully wise minds will prevail in realizing the destruction of an important section of the home video industry does no one any good.

In the prior edition of Video Tales (plus the related blogs for International Independent Video Store Day, Parts One, Two, and Three) I included some scans of ephemera, and here in Part II I’ve uploaded another scanned rental catalogue from one my old rental shops, Video One, circa the mid-1980s.

The full catalogue will be available as a downloadable PDF file for a few weeks this month. Here are some sample pages (note the steady horror content) and original rate sheet (and yes, I’ve more vintage catalogues that’ll be uploaded in time):










Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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