Demonstrating how the shameful phenomena of what became known as "video nasties" - a group of films banned in the UK during the 1980s, thanks to hyperbolic scare-mongering by The Daily Mail and the gullibility of the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) - have achieved worldwide notoriety over the decades, Marc Morris ad Jake West's superlative retrospective package now gets its much-deserved release on US shores courtesy of our friends at Severin Films.
Once more, it's a thrillingly comprehensive 3-disc proposition.
Disc one opens with a nice animated main menu page which celebrates Emily Booth's agreeable curves, observing her slipping a videocassette on in the comfort of her living room.
From there, the fun kicks off proper with Jake West's spiffing documentary "Video Nasties - Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape".
It starts with a brilliant montage of ultra-violent clips from all 72 nasties (check it out - I MISS YOU HUGS AND KISSES, THE SLAYER ... literally the lot), set to The Damned's "Nasty". There couldn't be a better way to open proceedings.
Things settle down somewhat for a series of well-edited, expertly paced interviews to camera from folk such as Kim Newman, Marc Morris and Martin Barker - along with a few other faces, particularly the likes of then-Conservative MP Sir Graham Bright: vociferously arguing the case against violent horror videos.
The film works extremely well, moving swiftly through insightful and concise interviews that are adroitly interspersed with archive TV footage and newspaper cuttings. Former BBFC head honcho James Ferman even turns up in archive clips, as well as some sensational news reports that really highlight the ignorance of the media at the time. "Moral panic", indeed.
It's a great document of a curious time in terms of a new medium and the country's censors conspiring with the government to convince the public that it desperately needed censoring. Even better are the personal recollections of the likes of Morris, Christopher Smith SEVERANCE), Neil Marshall (THE DESCENT) etc reminiscing over how they pursued these gory films under the shelves of local video stores.
As someone who scoured the North East of the country avidly trying to track down all of these titles in the 80s (and getting quite close to owning all of them, I must add), the memories this brought back to me were glorious. If you weren't there at the time, don't worry: this is still as informative and entertaining a documentary as you're likely to find. The stories, the clips from the films ... it's all great.
The irony of course is that many of these films are now legally available in the UK, some of which can even be seen in more violent versions than those originally banned (THE BEYOND and THE EVIL DEAD, for example). Also, you've got to factor in that a lot of modern horror films - the likes of HOSTEL PART 2 and INSIDE to name but two - are bloodier than most anything featured here.
Anyhow, the documentary comes with its own animated scene-selection menu allowing access to it via 12 chapters. The picture is a predictably sharp, clear 16x9 presentation and the English 2.0 audio is great throughout.
Extras on disc 1 begin with a "Video Indent-a-Thon". It's a window-boxed gallery of original idents for all the offending video labels - another really nice touch. Try not to smile in recognition when the music and the logo for Alpha Video comes on, for example...
There is also a bonus gallery of original cover art for 80 further titles that the DPP deemed not suitable for prosecution. These include ABDUCTED, THE BLACK ROOM, DEATH WEEKEND, DEEP RED, ENTER THE DEVIL, THE MAD FOXES and more. We get to enjoy the full covers: front, spine and back.
Over on disc 2 we gain access to original trailers for all of the "final 39" titles to feature on the DPP's banned list.
Newman, Alan Jones, Stephen Thrower and Allan Bryce are enlisted to share introduction duties to each trailer, speaking for several minutes about each film - usually berating them for their awfulness, and commenting on how stupid the DPP must've been to have ever found such tripe offensive. The likes of Booth, Smith, academic Julian Pelley and even Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) crop up on occasion to offer their own thoughts on the films and why they believe they proved to be so controversial. The general consensus seems to be that the marketing of the featured films - their salacious covers; their eye-grabbing titles - were the main reasons they were singled out.
Anyhow, as absorbing as the intimately-shot introductions prove to be - filmed in the respective hosts' natural dwellings by the looks of things, with impressive DVD/video/CD collections loitering in the backgrounds - it's the trailers that are the stars here.
Although many of them look ropy, it would be hard to imagine (or appreciate) them in any other condition. Like those trailers that Rob Zombie etc filmed for the GRINDHOUSE interval but much better because they're the real thing, these 39 shorts are fantastic fun. From ABSURD through to ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS and taking in everything from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to even a mega-rare trailer for NIGHT OF THE DEMON in-between, they are a joy of pure nostalgia and guilty pleasure to view.
Highlights include the earnest warning at the start of the misleading SNUFF trailer, Thrower trying to rationalise his fondness for Andy Milligan and a very rare UK TV spot for TENEBRAE.
Of the commentators, Thrower comes across the best as only he really exhibits enthusiasm for many of the titles on offer; Jones and Newman provide a wealth of interesting information, but don't seem too keen on hardly any of the films they discuss.
Disc 2 is a marvellous way to spend 4 hours and 3 minutes. And that's before you've even checked out the bonus gallery of cover art for each of the banned titles. It's a great extra that covers each of the titles - including alternative covers from the same era - and is complemented by snippets of music that could originally be heard on the idents (the openings) of each videocassette (Palace Pictures' signature tune, and so on).
A chapters menu allows you to make your way to specific titles, by presenting each film on a video shelf in its original case - just click on the spine of the video you want. Nice stuff.
There's also the option of watching the trailers without the introductions, which make this ideal as a party disc too.
Disc 3 probes into the 33 titles that got away. That is, titles that the BBFC and DPP also withdrew from circulation during the cull of the mid-80s but were later dropped from the official list (despite having been successfully prosecuted on obscenity charges ...).
These include the likes of THE BEYOND, DELIRIUM, DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE, TERROR EYES and NIGHTMARE MAKER.
Again we're treated to original trailers for each film and optional preceding introductions from Patricia MacCormack, disc producer Morris, Xavier Mendik and Brad Stevens, along with the returning Thrower, Jones and so on.
Menus and chapter/subtitle options are pretty much the same as on disc 2, with the trailers themselves ranging from murky VHS standard to grainy film prints, with occasionally muffled mono audio.
Once more we're treated to a gallery that also celebrates the lovely cover artwork for these films too, and I should point out that - on both discs - each film/chapter begins with a title page that offers details such as the movie's year/country of origin, director, cast, alternate titles and so on.
The packaging, like the content of the discs (minus the option of English subtitles, it has to be said), also stays true to Nucleus Films' original UK DVD by taking on the appearance of an old VHS box and benefiting from superb artwork from Graham Humphries (the guy behind the iconic cover art to Palace's pre-cert release of THE EVIL DEAD).
Marc Morris and Jake West should be very proud of what they've achieved here. And kudos to Severin Films for bringing it to American audiences. Its message regarding the censorship of art is universally troublesome; its entertainment value is second to none.
For once, the word "definitive" absolutely applies. I said when I reviewed the UK DVD of this set and I might as well say it again here: if a more comprehensive, entertaining and indispensable account of the video nasties furore is released in our lifetime, I will eat my own testes.
The whole thing is region free too. So if you missed out first time, there is really no excuse not to catch up with this sterling release now.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severin Films|
|see main review|