Sunday, January 1, 2012

Video Nasties The Definitive Guide

Three DVD set exploring the Video Nasty panic in the UK that resulted when movies were available on video tape. 72 films were determined to be too dangerous to be viewed by the public at large. Amazingly some people were actually prosecuted for releasing these films to the public.

The set contains roughly 12 hours of material, trailers of all of the banned films with commentary and image galleries. However at it's heart is the documentary Video Nasties:Moral Panic Censorship and Videotape, which is what I'm going to talk about.

The film begins with the reminder that the whole panic arose in a different time, a time when you either had to hope that a film played on TV or in a nearby cinema. There was no such thing as video on demand, and when it started you had to save a long time to get a machine that is roughly the size of a good size computer tower or say three or four Xboxes mashed together. It continues by saying that because the picture could be "bad" (especially compared with today's HD pictures) and because the image could be degraded you often could infer that things were worse than they really were (one guy talks about making a degraded copy of Cannibal Holocaust and passing it off as a snuff film)

From there the film is off and running talking to critics, filmmakers and assorted other people about what exactly happened in the UK that caused everyone to talk about so called video nasties.

The nasties were the graphic horror films that were flooding the home video market in the early days. These were usually low budget horror and exploitation films from the US and Italy (mostly) that graphically showed death and destruction. With titles like Cannibal Holocaust, Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and the like these were stomach churning films that made some laugh, some throw up and freaked out the "right minded" folk who tried to regulate everything. In England the right minded folk started with the infamous Mary Whitehouse, a prim and proper woman who professed to know what was best for the youth or England.

This is a great documentary that carefully lays out what happened and why. For example the filmmakers explain that it wasn't always the films that got a movie into trouble but it's box, which was often lurid and eye catching since that was the only way to get a sale. They then go on to explain how the boxes could be seen by anyone and this bothered many parents. IAdd into the mix you have a few crusading journalists looking to sell papers and using terms that matched the comic book scare of the 1950's and you are heading for an explosion. That's even before you have the Thatcher government taking power just as crime was rocketing up and needing a scapegoat for all of the worlds ills.

As you can see this is the sort of documentary where you actually learn something in between all the clips of blood and gore. It's one of the films, like Machete Maidens Unleashed, where you have a film that is just as exploitative as the films it's documenting and all the better for it.

Watching the film I found that not only was I filled for nostalgia for many of the films caught up in the controversy (the vast majority of which I have seen), but I also understood the hows and whys of the censorship wars that played out not only in England but also here in the US since there was similar battles going on as far back as I can remember.

To me one of the most intriguing stories is how a video company sent the infamous Mary Whitehouse a copy of Cannibal Holocaust to provoke a reaction and get some publicity, only to have the whole matter blow up in their face when her reaction got the government involved and the film on the banned list. Talk about unintended fallout.

This is a great film and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know about film history and censorship...or anyone who likes the sort of exploitation horror films that were covered under the bans. However just be prepared for copious amounts of blood and gore since this film has lots of clips.

The limited edition set I have also has tons of goodies. There's material from every film on the Nasties list both as trailers and as art. Its a solid 12 hours of material and is actually too much of a good thing. I've only watched the documentary and some of the trailers because frankly it's overwhelming.

Definitely worth tracking down if you can find it. Though be warned the set I have was a limited edition and is PAL encoded. Check places like Diabolik video for a copy.

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