Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010)

I’m not really a fan of censorship but I am talking about censorship of fictional works, I’m not talking about a question of banning anything real, like a real murder on camera or something but that wouldn’t be released as fiction so there’s a clear distinction. To me, censorship of fictional content should be more classification.  It should be about whether you are old enough to see it or not, it shouldn’t be about whether you are allowed to see it as an adult.  That’s my bugbear with censorship basically, it’s telling people that one set of adults can watch something and then they decide that other people can’t watch it.  Its one thing to say ‘you can’t watch this if you’re under a certain age’ but it’s a different thing entirely to say that you can’t watch it at all as an adult.  I think you should be given that choice.

Jake West.

 The documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Video Tape (2010), is a must for serious horror fans wanting to delve into some essential horror history. Tracking the rise of moral panic in Britain during the 1980’s, and the subsequent banning of 72 ‘Video Nasties’, Jake West provides an essential insight into the political and moral agendas surrounding this era, and how it was that many films, (some of which seem tame by today’s standards) came to be illegal to distribute, copy or own at the time. The documentary follows the video marketing of horror films in Britain, from pre cert, through to prosecution under the obscene publications act. Such was public outcry at the time, fuelled by misrepresentation in the media that a bill was rushed through Parliament, resulting in the establishment of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (a law which ironically was never officially swore in correctly and therefore any arrests made under it during this period were in fact illegal themselves). It also looks at the formation of the classification board the BBFC, and the power they were given, something which remains today. Nowadays each individual film costs £1,000 to submit for classification to the board (a necessary must if it is to be distributed legally in the UK), and this is something that can be a real issue for independent filmmakers. Jake has spoken in interviews on his own problems getting this project through the board (made by his production company Nucleus Films) given that it features material previously banned, with some of the films remaining without classification today. The DVD box set comes complete with all 72 original trailers for the films which took a year to collect, and it was from these trailers that the concept was born. Having had previously released Grindhouse Trailer Classics 1 &2 the idea to produce a similar film featuring video nasties was explored. The makers believed that there was more to the story and wanted to delve into the reasons why these films had been so heavily censored. The documentary really leaves no stone unturned featuring some spectacular and rare archive footage, and past and present day interviews. While being more on the anti-censorship and pro horror, I think that is more to do with the ridiculousness of those featured who main protagonists in the banning movement, consistently failing to give any intelligent or rational arguments to support their conduct at the time, than in the way it was filmed.  One of the focuses is on Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers and Listeners Association and her war on video nasties, despite her never having actually watched one of the films concerned, simply making assumptions on their content. Despite all this she gathered strong support from central government in her crusade. It looks at politician MP Graham Bright, who got the Bill through Parliament from which the Video Recordings Act 1984 was born, and people were able to be prosecuted. In my opinion the man comes off as a complete arse! During his present day interview he is complete unrepentant and obviously proud of his achievement. This is the same politician who suggested that ‘video nasties not only affected humans, they affected dogs too!’, yes that’s right ladies and gentlemen, dogs, well I suppose society had a right to be worried (?!).  Sociology lecturer Martin Baker on the other hand, who was a key speaker against these laws, discusses at length about the notion of censorship, moral panic, and political agendas, and does so not as a fan of horror films per se, but as someone interested in fairness, justice and freedom in society. Interestingly he also talks about his experience in speaking up against these laws and the harassment he and his family suffered at the hands of the press and the wider media.

What is great about this film is it really digs into the moral and political forces which influenced the witch hunt against extreme horror. Featuring key figures from the time, discussing the decisions they made, it looks under the surface and probes the themes of censorship, class and moral panic. It also covers how real people were affected, businesses were destroyed and people were prosecuted.

Personally, having lived my misspent youth through this period, I really enjoyed watching this as it is something I could connect to and made me feel very nostalgic. The documentary features directors Neil Marshall (‘The Descent’, ‘Doomsday’), Christopher Smith (‘Severance’, ‘Black Death’), as well as critic Kim Newman and others talking about similar experiences, and how they were influenced by this in their future careers. That does not mean nevertheless that it will only appeal to people on this level. Indeed the documentary has been requested by some universities to use as reference material in film, and sociological studies, as it provides a very comprehensive view and sets the historical context well. Jake has spoken in interviews about this being a strong motivation for taking on the project, people outside of this time and place simply did not know the history surrounding these recordings and it is something that really needs to be heard.

Very thought provoking and well, well worth an hour of your time, plus if you buy the DVD you get an amazing collection of trailers with it too!

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Categories: Articles, Reviews, Slasher, Splatter and gore, Video Nasties

3 replies

  1. I really liked this doc, thought it was incredibly well made and interesting. It didnt shy away from anything either and it told the truth which documentaries sometimes tend to stray from. I love the DVD set too, really well worth picking up. Excellent review again guys, as usual. Excited about this blog and the future reviews from you.

    • Thanks Chris! Yes it really does provide a comprehensive view of the video nasties charade, interesting stuff. So many don’t realise how controlled things were back then, of course it just made us fans more intent on watching them 🙂

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