By Gav Ellinger.
I’d always had an affection for horror since my early teens, having seen movies such as The Exorcist and The Thing at friends parties around the age of 14, both these movies stuck in my mind and remain personal favourites. I wasn’t shocked by them, well…maybe slightly by The Exorcist (having to walk home in the dark alone after viewing it), but rather I was amazed by them and felt a feeling of awe by how good they were. I felt very excited by being a little afraid, and this in my opinion was a positive thing. A couple of years later, around 1981, I was attending my local youth club when the club organiser announced that we were going to have horror movie nights once a week, so you can imagine my delight at this prospect and i looked forward to the viewings with much excitement wondering what they would show… and boy was I in for a treat!
Finally the night of the first viewing arrived. A video projector and a big roll out screen had been set up and my friends and myself settled down to await what was on offer. The video popped into action. Suddenly I found myself staring down a barrel of a gun followed by a corpse covered in white bed linen rising from the bed and getting it’s brains blown out as the perpetrator of this act announces “the boat can leave now, tell the crew!”. Yes, I was witnessing Lucio Fulci’s 1979 classic Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) but at that point I didn’t yet know it! For the following 90 minutes I was glued to my chair, enthralled by the visceral action unfolding forth on the screen infront of my eyes. An eyeball pierced by a splinter of wood, a throat bitten out pumping blood in slow motion, a zombie buffet as they chow down on human innards (the camera never shying away) and my favourite scene of all, an underwater fight between a zombie and a shark which has to be seen to be believed. This really was unique and original stuff, not seen in the likes of Romero’s zombie trilogy, and to this day I’ve never seen anything quite like it in any other movie. This was my first Italian horror film. Fulci’s apocalyptic vision of the undead as rotten maggot-ridden corpses reanimated by voodoo rituals on a carribean island, and the films overall feeling of lurking dread works perfectly alongside Giannetto De Rossi’s spectacularly gory effects and was truely shocking (in a fun way). I discovered we had been shown the ‘strong uncut version’ as it stated on the Vipco Video box sleeve, and from that moment I knew I had to see more of this stuff! Subsequent video nights at the youth club had us entertained by such delights as Carrie and Faces Of Death! However, after Zombie Flesh Eaters I wanted to see more Italian horror and embarked on a personal quest to seek out everything I could find from my local rental shops , and over the following next few years I managed to amass quite a collection of VHS titles including Anthropophagous The Beast, Cannibal Ferox and The Beyond. Walking around the rental shops I felt like a kid in a sweet shop fascinated by the gory sleeves. I didn’t feel like decapitating anyone with an axe after a viewing of Nightmares In A Damaged Brain!
However the whole ‘video nasties’ debacle was about to hit Britain and things were about to change drastically for the worse. Once considered a harmless hobby, collecting these videos was now a criminal offense, and I found myself rudely awakened at the crack of dawn by two policemen who arrested me and informed me I was breaking the law by owning these titles. I was questioned but not charged and was later released after they had seized all of my VHS cassettes including many films that weren’t on the banned list and also my music videos. How times had changed! Months later i was told to collect what was left of my tapes from the police station after they had scrutinised all of them and I went to pick them up.They returned my music videos and some films but had destroyed any that had been listed as banned. It was akin to the nazis burning books! I discovered on arriving home that the audio on most of my tapes had been erased with magnets, obviously as some kind of prank. Childish behaviour on behalf of the police who had actually acted on a law which hadn’t been passed through Parliament, thus making their whole operation illegal.
It was crazy times indeed, and the media played their part well in the whole charade. I remember ITV News at Ten showing, as a serious news item on tv, the scene from Anthropophagous of George Eastman chomping down on Serena Grandi’s foetus (an effect that was actually produced using a skinned rabbit), and perporting it to be a scene from a snuff film, of all things! Hmm, strange how Serena managed to pop up in countless exploitation flicks AFTER that! I remember telling this to Joe D’Amato at Eurofest and he was dumbfounded by the stupidity of the British media. Personally I can sum them up with one word, and that would be the title of Joe’s ‘sequel’ – ABSURD!
Of course, like all good horror fans I wasn’t going to lie down quietly and accept this shit and so I continued to collect horror movies on VHS, making likeminded friends from here and abroad to trade tapes with, and later on DVD and Blu-ray. If it wasn’t for those good old days at my youth club and having the opportunity of seeing these films maybe I wouldn’t have the love for the genre that I have now. One thing is for certain, I will never forget the 80’s.