To celebrate the home entertainment release of the anthology horror film V/H/S we are taking a look back at a strange time for the film industry, when a new technology changed the way we enjoyed films, and a time which would forever skew the discussion about the effect of film on its audience.
In the early 1980s the introduction of the home video system brought with it portents of doom for the cinema industry. It also marked a sea change for the way films could be enjoyed and distributed and enterprising video labels saw the opportunity to flood the eager new market with explicit sex and violence. The lack of a regulated system of classification allowed the mad, bad and dangerous to watch into any home wealthy enough to have one of these new players.
Moral panic ensued. Fuelled by the ever-present tabloid scare stories the unbreakable link between video violence and its real-life counterpart was established and something, it was determined, must be done.
Won’t somebody think of the children…
In truth the children were running around the playgrounds of Britain swapping stories of sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch a (usually pirated) VHS copy of Piranha or Rambo with lurid details of bloody death and destruction filling the expectant air. It was a strange time and those stories, apocryphal or otherwise were currency for naive kids who saw the video player as a doorway into a strange world.
When the ‘Video Nasty’ scare erupted in 1982 and the subsequent Video Recordings Act passed in 1984 much of damage was done; the allure for the films officially banned was a badge of honour, and gave them a reputation they would never shake.
A recent PR event was held in London for the release of V/H/S and for once it was an event everyone wanted to talk about. A video store was recreated in East London and the wonderful atmosphere held all those old enough to remember the Friday night sojourn to the local Video Shop spellbound. A video report of the event is below and an excellent write-up by one the definitive source on VHS culture Viva VHS is here.
And here’s a trailer for the film they were there to see – V/H/S:
Our Top Ten Notorious Video Nasties!
This top ten list is by no means a definitive guide to the films given the Video Nasty label, nor do I adhere strictly to the official list as published. I have collected the ten films I consider to be an intrinsic part of the craze, and ones you should seek out, as well as a couple to avoid like the plague.
Ready? Let’s press play…
10) Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven’s 1972 film is one of the bleakest films I’ve ever seen. It is a rape and revenge tale whose complicated production and eventual impact cemented its place in the annals of American cinema. It is one of the better known films on the official video nasty list, perhaps because of Craven’s hand in the film but also because it earns its place on that list.
Ignore the 2009 remake, in fact I’d recommend you ignore this one too. I could barely stomach this film when I saw it for the first time a few years ago and I’m relatively hardened to onscreen antics but there was something utterly bleak, narrow and disturbingly lascivious about the sexual assault and brutal vengeance. It was an incredible tough watch, without any redeeming features and disturbing enough to justify its reputation though not its censorship.