Anyone? No? No sudden canine savagery? No impulsive howling at the moon? No gratuitous tearing of flesh? No violent rending of bone? Not even any unwelcome soiling of carpets?
I only ask this question as, in regards to the Video Nasties furore of the mid-Eighties, Conservative MP Graham Bright once (in)famously appeared on television and categorically stated that “I believe there is research taking place and it will show that these films not only affect young people … but I believe they affect dogs as well.”
But regardless of whether such research will mean poor Fido sadly misses out on his one opportunity to catch “The Beast In Heat” what is clear from all this is that movie censorship has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. In an age when the horror movie lexicon contains such choice phrases as “torture porn” and “gorno” and directors like Eli Roth, Alexandre Aja and Rob Zombie regularly paint Hollywood an eye catching shade of blood red it’s both amusingly quaint and quite baffling to look back at an age when release schedules were full of such colourful new releases as “Toxic Zombies”, “Zombie Creeping Flesh”, “Killer Nun”, ”The Anthropophagous Beast”, “The Dorm That Dripped Blood” and “Gestapo’s Last Orgy” and you could safely mention the word toploader without an impromptu karaoke rendition of “Dancing in the Moonlight”.
It’s this very age that Nucleus Films’ truly wonderful “Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide” celebrates so triumphantly, and whilst not everyone will necessarily look back upon the time with such fondness, it was, nonetheless, a vitally important part in any self-respecting horror buff’s fondest memories. For it was at this very juncture in the cinematic history of the world that the combined actions of a number of filmmakers, video distributors, film critics, movie lovers, Mary Whitehouse, the Daily Mail, the BBFC, the DPP and, most importantly, 72 soon to be legendary titles resulted in a violent explosion of outrage, vitriol, gross accusations, prosecutions, condemnations and, lest we forget, lashings and lashings of blood and guts!
The centrepiece of this boxset resides on Disc 1 in the form of Jake “Doghouse” West’s fascinating 72 minute documentary “Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape”. Featuring interview with British horror directors Neil “The Descent” Marshall and Chris “Severance” Smith, actor and star of both “Dead Set” and “Severance” Andy Nyman and a wealth of genre experts including Kim Newman, Allan Bryce, Alan Jones, Stephen Thrower, Marc Morris, Xavier Mendik, Guardian film critic Derek Malcolm and ex-director of MediaWatch UK John Beyer the documentary both celebrates and dissects what is, in many a horror fanatic’s eyes, one of the most defining eras in the history of horror filmmaking.
We begin with a sensory overload in the form of a gory montage of clips from all 72 titles accompanied by the raucous energy of the 1984 single “Nasty” by British punk-goth band The Damned before taking time to revel in the sheer nostalgic joy and warm memories of the VHS era. At this point you’ll surely rejoice to the glorious god of high definition as West employs authentic visual effects to degrade the picture, add interference and generally evoke surprisingly fond memories of watching said films via low grade, cheap and affordable, sub-standard, third generation copies round your best mate’s house after school.
But with such fond memories duly remembered it’s onto the main course as the subject turns to that of censorship and, in turn, the decision of the DPP to personally handle the seizure of hundreds of video cassettes. It’s quite clear from the offset that it was a decision that was far beyond the understanding of those involved as copies of Dolly Parton’s “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” were duly pounced upon in fear of unexpurgated hardcore pornography and, most memorable of all, Samuel Fuller’s 1980 war epic “The Big Red One” on the assumption that the title alluded to something not only big and red but, quite possibly, phallic! It also leaves the viewer wondering just who exactly it was that was left to patrol our streets if the police were tasked with not only seizing hundreds of videotapes but sitting down and watching the bloody things to see if they really were as bad as they initially thought!
What makes the documentary so compelling though is West’s decision not to take sides but to give each and every party involved a chance to say their piece. And whilst the aforementioned Mr. Bright may yet live to regret such wild accusations of canine corruption West never resorts to childish mockery allowing those both for and against the prosecution the time to voice their opinions and the audience to thus reach their own conclusion. Having said that the documentary does end on a deliciously ironic note as we learn that, due to a gross error in legislation back in 1984, the Act itself was wholly unenforceable and had, in fact, been technically invalid since 31 March 1984. Now that IS nasty!
But enough about the main course, what about the dessert? Well, if Disc 1 wasn’t already enough a legion of gorehounds are sure to go positively gaga for Discs 2 and 3 which serve up a bloodthirsty treat in the form of trailers for all 72 of the films featured on the DPP list. Disc 2 holds trailers for the 39 films that were successfully prosecuted and banned under the Obscene Publications Act whilst Disc 3 contains the remaining 33 films that, whilst featured on the list, were ultimately not prosecuted. But what truly lifts the boxset into the hallowed realms of the definitive is the fact that all 72 trailers come accompanied by newly filmed intros from the likes of Newman, Bryce, Morris, Mendik and Jones.
Running for a combined total (with trailers) of over seven hours the intros are packed to bursting with fascinating trivia, witty anecdotes and behind the scenes info that is sure to astound, amaze, delight and disturb. For instance, did you know that Charles McCrann, the writer, director and star of “Forest of Fear” (1980) was one of the many victims of the 9/11 atrocities? Or that David Grant, the distributor of Romano Scavolini’s “Nightmares in a Damaged Brain” (1981) was put in prison for releasing a version of the film longer than the BBFC certified X rated cut? And how many amongst you were well aware that Murray Markowitz’s “I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses” featured the first score to be written by future “Lord of the Rings” composer Howard Shore?
The trailers themselves are a decidedly mixed bunch full of the typical genre staples such as overly luminescent blood geysers, acres and acres of naked female flesh, woefully incongruous Eighties synth soundtracks, gravel voiced narrators informing us all of the film’s title every few minutes and, in the majority of cases, all the best bloodthirsty bits from the film condensed into a few minutes to save us all from the insufferable agony of having to watch the whole damn movie! But that’s not to say they’re any the less enjoyable for it and anyone who thought the fake trailers were the best bit of “Grindhouse” are sure to be in “Prevue” Heaven for every single gore-drenched minute during which time you’ll be able to ponder some of life’s many unsolved enigmas.
Why, for example does Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust”, a film so derided, so controversial, so damaging and so reprehensible, have such a hauntingly beautiful score? Why does the trailer for Mario Bava’s gloriously monickered “Twitch Of The Death Nerve” suggest something akin to a sophisticated, French New Wave arthouse curio with a Tales Of The Unexpected vibe? Will Clint Howard ever be able to look Gentle Ben in the eyes again after briefly transforming into a satanic pig in “Evilspeak”? Would Tobe Hooper’s “Funhouse” have been infinitely more terrifying if it really had starred Pat Sharp? And is it just me, or does Vicente Parra, star of Eloy de la Iglesia’s “The Cannibal Man” look an awful lot like Duncan James from Blue?
The high level of presentation even carries over to the DVD Menus which feature the Mighty Bouff herself Ms. Emily Booth, star of the now sadly defunct Channel 4 videogame show “BITS” as well as such cinematic classics as “Pervirella”, “Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft” and “Cradle of Fear”, who wields a variety of sharp instruments and sexy expressions as the menus play out. And provided viewers can tear themselves away from the first few minutes in which Booth, clad in a pair of figure hugging hotpants, leans over to insert a videotape and provides us all with a high definition close up of her divine buttocks, the fun even extends as far as the scene select menu which is creatively designed to look like a video shelf and has each trailer selection highlighted by the appropriate videocassette spine.
Granted a great many of the targeted films were, in all honesty, painfully amateur, unwatchable garbage and for every enduring classic like “The Evil Dead”, “The Last House on the Left”, “Dead and Buried”, “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, “Inferno” and “Bay of Blood” we’re treated to such cinematic turkeys as “Forest of Fear”, “Mardi Gras Massacre”, “Night of the Demon” and “Snuff”. It’s entirely probable, in fact, that many of the titles listed would have slipped into VHS obscurity were it not for the over zealous actions of the DPP which have, in retrospect, had the polar opposite effect insofar as they’ve actually led to more people rushing out and watching said films in the wake of such controversy.
Ultimately, it seems strange to think that in the last few years alone many of the 72 films have been subsequently released uncut onto DVD whilst the likes of “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Last House on the Left” have received slick Hollywood remakes. Nevertheless, these films still continue to hold a place in many a film lovers heart and VHS copies now sell for upwards of several hundred pounds each! But I digress … regardless of whether you choose to seek out any of the titles on the list this is a boxset that every self-respecting horror fanatic needs to purchase immediately. Lovingly compiled. superbly presented, utterly fascinating, stupendously gory and highly informative it’s guaranteed to provide you with hours of sleazy, trashy entertainment and sits high on the list of best DVD releases of 2010.
Oh, and with a total running time of just under 13 and a half hours it’s a “definitive” DVD release that is fully deserving of such a grand adjective!