Sunday, 14 November 2010

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... UK DVD label Nucleus Films' latest release is their long awaited retrospective of that curious British phenomenon, the "Video Nasties". Spread over 3 discs, the set contains 72 trailers for films which at one point or another made the legendary Director of Public Prosecutions' list of contentious titles, plus the feature length documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape as well as some worthwhile extras to round off the set. But before I dive into the contents of the set, let's have a quick history lesson and rewind the cassette back to the early '80's (please forgive the tracking noise on the tape, its entirely unavoidable).

Fear & Loathing at the local videoshop... The year is 1982 and the shelves of video libraries across the UK are teeming with a bewildering range of horror and exploitation films which, for small independent video labels, are cheap to acquire and cheap to put out.
Lacking, big stars and big titles, video labels like GO Video and VIPCO mount increasingly explicit advertising campaigns, not to mention lurid video sleeves to attract customers. The strategy is working. Sales in horror videos are at an all-time high. And the moral watchdogs are beginning to notice. 1983, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), alerted to the violent and perverse content of videos like Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit On Your Grave, SS Experiment Camp and The Driller Killer, has drawn up a list of titles which are likely to deprave and corrupt an unsuspecting public. In the months ahead, video shops across the UK are raided by police officers in an attempt to sweep up and destroy videos considered obscene and beyond the limits of acceptability. The terror has begun, the "Video Nasty" era has arrived...

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide

Disc 1 - Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape

Kicking off Nucleus' superb 3-disc set is the excellent and engrossing documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape. Directed by Jake West, and produced by Nucleus chief (and VHS tape collector extraordinaire) Marc Morris, this documentary gathers together all of the surviving participants on both sides of the Video Nasty argument - the politicians and law enforcement officers who led the prosecutions, and the brave voices who opposed the campaign and the erosion of their civil liberties; plus contributions from film makers (Neil Marshall among others), film professors and those involved in the video business at the time.

"Mutilations to the body, gangrape, cannibalism....that is what a video nasty is..." - MP Graham Bright speaking in 1983. Bright spearheaded the campaign to remove violent and depraved videos from circulation in the UK
Interspersed among the interviews are historical interviews, news footage and press clippings, superbly illustrating the peculiar climate of that era. The video industry was at that time something of an unregulated twilight zone - the BBFC were still some years away from controlling the content of videos, while the seizures and banning of controversial titles was haphazard at best, the DPP list in a constant state of flux, as titles disappeared from shelves only to reappear back in video shops a few months later. The documentary is extremely fair minded, and represents well the views, however ridiculous it seems, of those who believed (and evidently still do) that the greater public were in harms way from a tide of violent and sexually depraved videos.

Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape is expertly put together, with some gorgeous poster artwork illustrating the advertising of the films in question, and there are some very amusing visual references to the VCR age (and what we had to suffer through before the arrival of laserdisc and DVD!). Absolutely essential viewing for Horror fans.

Disc 2 & 3 - The Trailers

Of the 72 trailers, 39 of these are for films which were successfully prosecuted in the UK. These are contained on Disc 2. Disc 3 collects the remaining 33 trailers, which did at one point appear on the DPP list but were subsequently removed (most famously The Evil Dead)

Many of them have already been made available on previous trailer comps. and individual DVDs, but having them gathered together in one program, is an absolute perfect cystalization of the Nasties list. Simply put, if you're new to the Nasties phenomenon, this is ground zero. The trailers themselves are in very good, if not excellent condition and content-wise, are mostly wonderful and surprisingly explicit - the clip from The Beast In Heat shows the pubic hair eating scene (surely the most ludicrous scene in European Trash Cinema!); the trailer for SF Brownrigg's Don't Look In the Basement factors in some explicit gore shots from Last House on the Left; there's Night of the Demon, with its penis-ripping shot; and the very kinky trailer for the Greek oddity Island of Death (under the German title Die Teuflischen von Mykonos, or the Devils of Mykonosthe). Some rarities too - the trailer for Delirium which opens with the music for BBC quiz show Mastermind!; the trailer for the ultra obscure and ultra weird Frozen Scream; a widescreen trailer for Madhouse, the trailer for Don't Go Near the Woods (not on the Code Red Special Edition) and an Italian trailer for Gestapo's Last Orgy (here as L'ultima orgia del III Reich, or The Last Orgy of the 3rd Reich)

Whatever you do - DON'T ! The Video Nasties list included no less than 4 films that carried a deadly warning
In addition, each trailer is introduced by a film critic and author who offer a short critique of the film with a little trivia thrown in good measure, as well as some amusing personal anecdotes - for the trailer of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Alan Jones remembers meeting with Fulci only for the director to vomit all over him; Kim Newman wonders how Slaughter, the original incarnation of Snuff, is meant to end; Stephen Thrower admits the considerable feat of seeing Franco's Bloody Moon "about 30 times"; Allan Bryce points out some bad acting from a playful dog in Love Camp 7; Brad Steven's identifies some footage in the Driller Killer trailer which didn't make the final cut; film critics Julian Petley and Xavier Mendik strongly argue the merits of Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit on Your Grave; and Dr. Patricia MacCormack (dressed in amazing goth chic) gives a startling reading of The Revenge of the Boogyman, and shows us her wonderful tattoo tribute to The Beyond ! All 72 trailers can be viewed with or without the introductions.

If all that wasn't enough, the 3 discs are rounded off with image galleries of original VHS artwork, and for video nostalgists there are 50mins (!) of video company logos from the pre-certificate days of British home video.

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide comes as as a Region free set and is packaged in a lovely alpha case housing the 3 discs, with the first 5000 copies containing an extra goodie - gorgeous postcard replicas of some of the most notorious of the nasties in their original VHS artwork. On the whole, the set is simply magnificent and quite obviously the best DVD release of 2010.


  1. GOT to get this, looks amazing...

  2. Nearly finished this set now- a bloody marvellous package - nice review Wes.

  3. Wow - Fangoria and some other magazines reported on the Video Nasties craziness at least a little - so we were aware of it over here - and really did thank our lucky stars nothing like this managed to happen - though there were attempts to try...

    I'd love to have this in the video vault - just added it to my Amazon Wish List - maybe I'll get it for Christmas!

  4. Yep, it is indeed a fine documentary, about a particularly dark time for UK film fans. A decade later in the 1990's the police were still raiding homes seizing videos like they were homemade explosives in some terrorist plot. Really incredible stuff !