A History Of Violence: Great Britain's Video Nasties
One of America's most well known liberties is the citizenry's freedom to say or express whatever sick thing pops into their head. In fact, it's so oft-referenced that it's easy to take for granted that such freedoms aren't available everywhere in the first world. Because of the mid-1980s hub-ub, British Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act 1984, which gave the government authorization to regulate, censor and deny video release to films that did not satisfy the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). If the movies were deemed unacceptable by the BBFC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) could bring both the filmmakers and the retailers selling the film up on legal charges.
Despite Americans' penchant for first amendment chest thumping, many of the movies on the Video Nasty aren't available in the United States either. Of course, this isn't by government mandate but rather due to a complete lack of public interest. This, in all likelihood, is probably for the best as most of the movies on the DPP's list border on criminally terrible. The majority were shot on shoestring budgets with subject matters that range from toxic waste induced hippie zombies (Forest of Fear) to a sister who murders her family to collect inheritance money and then tries to put the blame on a hunchback (The Ghastly Ones). At least four take place in Nazi rape camps and six have the word "Cannibal" in the title. One even stars William Shatner. Suffice to say, these aren't the kind of movies to watch with your grandmother (Note: it's difficult to explain the merit of watching a Nazi werewolf cannibalize a virgin to someone that survived the Depression).
Despite this, some of these movies do actually come off as charming in a sick, horrible sort of way. One movie that remains both banned in the UK and unavailable in the US is The Werewolf and the Yeti, a Spanish exploitation film that tells the story of a man who gets turned into a werewolf by vampire witches, and then fights a yeti.
Most of the movies on the Video Nasty list earned their place for their sensational gory content, or a perverse mix of violence and sexuality. The BBFC felt that films that dealt as heavily and carelessly into these matters had the potential to corrupt Britain's youth. The UK press joined in the fray by placing the blame for a rise in violent crime amongst youths on the Video Nasties.
Movies on the Video Nasty list weren't the only films to feel the sting of the BBFC. Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs wasn't cleared for an uncensored video release until 2002, and the board even refused to authorize the video release of The Exorcist until 1999. In 1998, the BBFC website explained their reasoning: "Newspaper reports and letters in our files indicate the very real and serious disturbance that can result [from viewing The Exorcist] and we feel uneasy about being a party to this sort of psychological damage."
Amongst the grindhouse drivel on the Video Nasty list, there are a few movies that actual warrant consideration in their own right. Some actually had budgets higher than a hill of pennies and were handled by directors who knew which end of the camera to film through--some even used real actors. Don't get too eager though, you probably shouldn't brag about watching any of these.
The Evil Dead, Banned 1984-1990, Released uncut 2001
Everybody has to start somewhere, and this $120,000 sludge fest leaves an impressive legacy. Its then nineteen-year-old director went on to become Hollywood super director and Spider-Man auteur Sam Raimi; and its star, Bruce Campbell, established himself as a horror movie icon. The Evil Dead just goes to show that talent can transcend any limitation and gives hope to aspiring filmmakers everywhere.
Contains: Pencil to the ankle, a burning face, gouged eyes, melting zombies and a woman gets raped by trees.
Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein, Banned 1984-1996, Released uncut 2006
This different take on the Frankenstein story asks the question "What if Baron Frankenstein was a horny German deviant?" While the situations in this movie go way overboard, its cornball acting and ridiculous dialogue saves the viewer from feeling too icky. It's best summed up in this quote from the Baron himself: "To know death... you have to fuck life in the gall bladder." Just to labor the point, he really likes his lady creature.
Contains: Baron Frankenstein massaging blood into his creation's breasts, intercourse with an open chest cavity (funnier than it sounds, promise), and several successive, violent murders
Last House on the Left, Banned 1984-2002, Released uncut 2008
Director Wes Craven's first feature film shows the torture and murder of two girls, and their parents' equally brutal revenge on the attackers. Despite its seedy and unsettling presentation, Last House on the Left actually has its roots in the art house as it's a perverse remake of the 1960 Ingmar Bergman film The Virgin Spring. Controversial to this day, the film is highly regarded in many critical circles. Renowned Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praises it as "a tough, bitter little sleeper that's about four times as good as you'd expect."
Contains: Scenes of realistic murder and rape, torture, disembowelments and gunshot wounds.
Zombi 2, Banned 1984-1992, Released uncut 2005
Violent, sexualized and corny, this zombie classic (released as Zombie Flesh Eaters) has the single greatest scene ever put to film: a topless woman caught in an underwater fight between a shark and a zombie. Couple this scene with one where a woman's eye meets with the business end of a pointy stick and you have a recipe of a legitimately fun horror movie.
Contains: Realistic decomposition, cannibalism, gunshot wounds, and this:
The Funhouse, Banned 1984-1987, Released Uncut 1987
Directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre creator Tobe Hooper, this fairly innocuous Slasher film reportedly ended up on the DDP list by accident. Rumor has it that the board mistook the film for Last House on Dead End Street, a film that cost a reported $800 to produce (the film's director admitted to squandering most of the budget on amphetamines). The reason for this mix-up being that one of the alternate titles for Dead End Street was The Fun House. Despite the obvious mistake, Hooper's The Funhouse stayed banned for three years while the other roamed free.
Contains: Axe wound to the head, a man in a scary mask.
As time has passed the Video Nasties have become a testiment to a more conservative past. Today, hyper-violent torture porn like Hostel and Saw pass through both America and UK audiences without anyone batting an eye. All but twelve films on the Video Nasty list eventually saw release in the United Kingdom even though some have been substantially censored. Most are available uncensored in America, and if you're feeling up to it, you can find the complete list of Video Nasties here. Keep in mind though; not very many of these titles are actually worth your time. Just don't say we didn't warn you.
Story by Kris King
Starpulse contributing writer
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