To celebrate the home entertainment release of Draconian Days that continues a comprehensive discussion of a compelling chapter in British film spectatorship and censorship, HeyUGuys turned the tables on West and Morris as they shared their thoughts on censorship past, present and future, the advantages of notoriety and the positive side to the Draconian Days amongst other points of discussion.
What was the genesis of Video Nasties: Draconian Days? Was it your original intention to do a follow-up?
Jake West: To begin with I had no plans to do a second one. It was only following the positive response that we started to seriously look at the possibilities, although it was inevitably a case of thinking the story would pick up where the last one left off with the passing of the Video Recordings Act.
So we started to look at the years 1985 to 1999, which in a sense were the James Ferman years at the BBFC. Once we began researching we saw that there was an interesting continuation in the direction that censorship went at that time along with the ongoing moral panic that was key to the James Bulger murder, the Alton amendment and the Michael Ryan Hungerford Massacre, and which also saw the rise of the underground horror scene of tape trading and so on. The film began to take focus as we were researching, and so that’s the reason why it took us two years. It required so much research that it wasn’t something that could be done quickly.
Marc Morris: It basically arose because FrightFest enjoyed the first one so much they asked us, “Are you going to do another one?” We said, “Well we don’t really think it’s as interesting a story as the first one.” But then the more we looked at the footage we had, and the more research we did, we began to realise that there was in fact an even more interesting story to be told. So we spent a couple of years looking through archive footage and interviewing additional people. Eventually Jake put together around a four hour cut which we then whittled down. But it is certainly more recent; it is still in recent memory, and so it seems to have worked out well.
Is the story of the Video Nasties lost on those who grew up outside of that time, and could Video Nasties: Draconian Days be a means to recount and introduce audiences to one of the key chapters in British film spectatorship?
Marc Morris: It may possibly make people realise that this did happen, although because it was a part of my life, and I remember it all so vividly, to imagine that people didn’t live through that is quite bizarre. But it’s good to see the reaction of people who didn’t live through it, because they just can’t believe it, and especially when we show it abroad at other festivals where audiences don’t know anything about it. They’ll say, “Wow, if I didn’t know that really happened I would have thought it would have been a mockumentary.” [Laughs] Now people are studying censorship as part of college courses, and students are using it as a subject for dissertations which is great.
Do you believe a responsible form of censorship is possible that both protects and offers freedom to adults?
Jake West: I am personally against censorship. I’m quite happy with the idea of the age classification system as it informs you of the nature of the content of the material, which is useful for understanding who it might be suitable for. But where I feel that it goes wrong is that if you have an age classification for adults such as an 18 rating, then surely the films rated 18 should not be cut or censored at all. If something is strictly for adults then you should be able to see that material as an adult assuming that it falls within the law, and it doesn’t involve child pornography, real violence, or murder on camera, which is illegal anyway. So for anything fictional for adults there should be a category that allows you to see it uncut – that would be my view.
Marc Morris: I don’t agree with censorship either. The age restriction may seem like a good idea, but then you’ve still got teenagers wanting to watch 18 rated films. Even if you have these guidelines people are going to want to break the rules. You get kids going into a sweet shop and they see cigarettes and booze behind the counter and they want it, because kids always want to do what they shouldn’t – they want to push the boundaries. It is a must I suppose, and there’s nothing you can do about it, because there needs to be something in place with guidelines. But then you need responsible parenting to make sure kids don’t get hold of these films. In the end it’s a tough one.
Surely film is a product and not a cause of society’s ills, and so why does it find itself being used as a scapegoat?
Marc Morris: Films show what’s currently in the news or media, and it has always been that way. You go back through time and theatre was blamed for violence, and then it was books and comics. There will always be someone blaming something – the government not wanting to take responsibility for the social problems themselves. That’s what it all boils down to – blame something else. Even the way these stories are or were covered in the press there is the tendency to blame the most popular forms of entertainment.
The hidden story behind the moral panic is the impact on those filmmakers who were brushed aside, whose films never received a release.
Marc Morris: The fact that these films were banned only made people want to see them all the more, and so I don’t think it did them any harm in the long run. The Evil Dead being banned was a positive for Sam Raimi because it was even more popular in this country than anywhere else. In the end more people wanted to see it because of the controversy, and so I don’t think it did them any harm. In the short term maybe it did, but not in the long term because they just carried on making the films they wanted to make. One of the reasons why we made Draconian Days was to remind people that it happened, because in the long term the majority of the public forget about it, and it’s only the hard-core horror community that remember.
Has the notoriety allowed some of these films to endure as they have?
Jake West: Oh of course. It is hilarious that the Section 2 and 3 List created a must watch list that saw everyone seeking out these films. There are some films on that list which are obviously classics such as The Evil Dead which was on the original list, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which was on the Section 3 list. But there are other films which are pretty crap: Frozen Scream and I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses. To be honest if they were not on that list they would have no notoriety at all, and no one would even be watching them any longer. It is a double-edged sword because as soon as someone makes a list with the intention of banning stuff, it only serves to recreate these things as something you must watch.
Marc Morris: A lot of them wouldn’t be known or even talked about today if they hadn’t been banned. But even today there are those people who are still buying them on VHS I order to complete their so called “Banned List” collection. They’ll want to buy them on VHS, and then they’ll want to buy them on DVD and then again on Blu-Ray. There will always be that notoriety surrounding them even though they are not particularly good films, because there will always be people who want to watch everything that was banned if only because they now can.
Following the newly proposed tightening of “exemption” guidelines, how do you compare then to now?
Jake West: Since the late nineties and over recent years censorship in this country has improved as things have become more liberal and less controlled. Films which were traditionally banned have become available, and so I believe things have improved since the dark days of the eighties and nineties when things were truly Draconian, and films were being cut to ribbons.
The worry on this recent development is that they have been trying to tighten up on video extras. Previously we were allowed to put certain things through without them being classified or receive an exempt rating if it was for supporting work. So from the point of view of DVD extras, it means that anything which is potentially over a PG would now have to be submitted to the BBFC, otherwise they’ll say it might go out on something that is not suitable. From my perspective it just feels that it is a way for them to make extra money, and to be seen to be doing something. I don’t think it will be changing what would be considered the levels of censorship, but rather clamping down on a certain area which again comes under the idea of child protection viewing in the home. But it is still the same old song the BBFC have always sung.
I still think the BBFC make some strange decisions. A recent example would be Axelle Carolyn’s gothic love story Soulmate, which is aimed at a 12A audience or 15 maximum. It was cut by the BBFC because it had a suicide scene in it which they claim is an “imitable technique.” In a film such as Soulmate it seems ludicrous for that to be cut. But the BBFC still have these policies that have been evolving over the years, and which I personally don’t agree with because I’m always worried about censors, and what they might want to cut. By the same token this year they passed Necromantic and Bloodsucking Freaks uncut on video in the UK, and who would have ever thought that would have happened. So some of the things they want to cut offset by how liberal they are in other areas doesn’t make sense.
Despite the Draconian nature of these years, were they wholly negative or did they also feature a positive side?
Jake West: Oh absolutely. The positive side of it for me and the documentary was the fact that you had all of these restrictions where everything was being cut, and it gave birth to the underground horror scene – the tape trading, film fairs and festivals. It created a genuine social grouping where there was a network of people who met up and became friends and from there moved onto other ventures. I myself became a filmmaker whilst Marc wrote and then went on to work for video companies. So many of the people that we know were forged in the fires of that era, and whose careers are based on their love of that time. It is something that made a real difference in their lives and that was definitely a positive aspect of it.
Marc Morris: We would all probably not be doing what we are doing now if it wasn’t for that period – I’m sure I wouldn’t be. Through the horror and the Video Nasties I developed a real interest in videos, the companies that made and distributed them. Through this interest I managed to get a job with Redemption and that’s how I met Jake when he sent in a short film. A lot of the people we know got into writing about horror films back then, and we all still hang around together now. So in that respect it did lead to something positive.
What does it mean to have had the support of FrightFest?
Jake West: FrightFest getting involved was funny because they were the guys who were begging us to do a second part after the original documentary’s FrightFest screening went down incredibly well. At that point we didn’t realise it was going to find an audience, and for about a year afterwards it was those guys who were saying “You’ve got to do a follow-up.”
FrightFest has been wonderfully helpful with the whole promotion, and we are eternally grateful to them as well as the fans that are a part of FrightFest, because they are the core audience for this kind of stuff. It has been a huge help, and we have been delighted as always to be involved and helped by them in such a way.
Marc Morris: When we did the first documentary we only made it as a DVD extra, but then Paul McEvoy watched it and he said that they’d like to show it. We eventually showed the second one to them earlier this year, and they showed it in Glasgow as a premiere, which went well and resulted in lots of good press. We then had a Nottingham screening and following that we did the London screening/premiere, which was actually five minutes longer than the version screened in Glasgow or Nottingham. Following feedback from the other festivals we thought we’d put a bit more back in of the stuff people seemed to enjoy, but we also took the opportunity to clarify a few more points with a longer version. But FrightFest have been great.
Video Nasties: Draconian Days is available to own on special edition 3 disc DVD from July 14 courtesy of Nucleus Films.
There will also be a limited edition release available from the official web site.
For full programme details of FrightFest 2014 go to: www.frightfest.co.uk