Saturday, 13 November 2010


Back in the 80's when the Nasties furore was at its height, I was a regular borrower of videos from one of those corner shop video libraries. However, what I wasn't, still believing myself to overly squeamish, was a fan of gory horror movies. I remember fellow SF fan Harry Bell describing lurid details from Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Ian Penman insisting that I'd enjoy Evil Dead 2. Oh yeah, sure, like hell. I'd seen enough to clips and trailer of them and similar films for me to realise that I'd run a mile rather than see them. Of course I've now seen DotD several times and The Evil Dead (which I've just bought on Blu-ray) and ED2 are two of my favourite horror movies.

The point I'm leading up to is that at the time while being aware of the moves to ban the Video Nasties, my actual memory of the events surrounding them are vague in the extreme. I have, however, become more familiar with the details through reading various books about horror movies. And now along comes this DVD on the subject.

The focus of the DVD is Jake West's 60 minute documentary about the subject which features original contemporary footage and specially shot current interviews with a variety of horror experts and people who had been involved with the Nasties at the time. One is a smug ex-MP (Tory, unsurprisingly) who hasn't changed his views and another is Martin Barker the writer, then one of the few dissenting voices of reason opposing the witch hunt. West reveals an uncontrollable hysteria in which certain horror movies were put under the blanket Video Nasty label and anyone involved with them could find htemselves prosecuted and imprisoned. The VN's became the source of all the ills and evils in society and banning them was the cure. Barker accurately points out that this resembles the 50's persecution of horror comics, a persecution that was just as pointless and ill-informed. The media (in particular my old friend The Daily Mail -see many previous posts- always the bastion of ignorance and middle-class hysteria) seemed to wage war on these Nasties, prominently publishing the results of spurious surveys one of which claimed 40% of under 7's had watched one. An academic named Cumberbatch (any relation to the actor?) did his own survey which proved that kids would say anything that they thought adults would want to hear and happily claimed to have seen films whihc didn't exist. But watch the DVD for yourself, it's a fascinating revelation of how censorship can creep in through the back door before it even has the legitimacy of legality and is founded on sheer ignorance.

On disc 2 is a compilation of all the trailers to the 39 nasties which were successefully prosecuted and on disc 3, the 33 which were later acquitted. Each trailer has introduction (sometimes extensive, sometimes brief, all interesting) by a variety of writers and academics who can legitimately claim some expertise in the field. There's the usual suspects -Kim Newman, Alan Jones, and Allen Bryce- plus the lesser known but excellent Stephen Thrower. Director West has his mate Emily Booth do a few and she reads lasciviously from a cue card in the same manner she introduces horror movies on the Horror Channel (or Zone Horror or whatever it's called today). There are also a few academics and directors, most notably Dr Patricia McCormack, an Aussie Goth lecturing at a British university. She's very good but her appearance, particularly the nose ring, is a bit of a distraction from what she's saying. It's all good stuff and the sort of thing to be dipped into rather than watched all the way through.

Ironically, over 20 years later, most of these films have been released uncut on DVD and very few remain banned outright and those mostly for scenes of animal cruelty which is something I find hard to argue about. One of them- Contamination, which I've seen- is now, uncut, rated only 15. What we are presented with is an enormously diverse range of films from cheap trash to something approach Art, from exploitation to moral explorations. This set of 3 discs is packed with food for thought and debate -would I Spit On Your Grave have caused the same controversy if released under its original title Day of the Woman? I honestly can't make up my mind if it's sexist or feminist polemic or what.

No comments: