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Tuesday, June 24, 2014


For those unfamiliar with the story, Severin Home Video's new 3-disc DVD set VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE should serve as a more than adequate recap of one of the strangest cultural battles ever to take place on English soil. And even if you already know all the information imparted by the collection's first disc documentary, "Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Videotape" (2010), the barrage of trailers on discs 2 and 3 should keep you entertained for hours.

The 2010 documentary, directed by Jake West, begins as the home video craze is heating up in the early 80s. One of the hottest attractions is what would become known as the "video nasty", namely those cheap but extremely gory horror flicks that had many of us haunting our local mom 'n' pop video stores looking for anything with some of that good ol' shock value.

But when societal watchdogs in England such as aging activist Mary Whitehouse noticed that these gruesome films were bypassing theatrical age restrictions and being watched on home VCRs by little kids, something was bound to hit the fan.

With something new to censor, various members of Parliament joined Ms. Whitehouse and an indignant press in stirring up public outrage against the "sadist videos" (which Whitehouse admitted to never having watched) along with some heavy legal backlash. The first step was a widespread confiscation, with 32,000 tapes such as DRILLER KILLER and DEATH TRAP being seized and burned in London's Metropolitan area alone.

As righteous anger over these videos grew, so did the penalties for distributing and renting them, with several offenders paying large fines and even going to jail. Newspapers and police began using the films to conveniently explain all sorts of criminal behavior, accusing them of potentially "corrupting and depraving" anyone who watched them.

It wasn't long before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher jumped on the bandwagon in order to attain some much-needed moral cred, coming up with a list of 72 banned titles that could get you into big trouble if caught renting or distributing them. This list, of course, became a "must-see" menu for fans of the genre although the films were becoming increasingly difficult to find.

The documentary describes how the banned video nasties got copied and passed around by fans, and how these multi-generation tapes had a fuzziness which helped obscure bad FX and make the images seem more mysterious and realistic. One of my favorite things about "Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Videotape", in fact, is how it delves into the nostalgia those of us from the VCR era still have for those big, clunky machines and often battered tapes that we ran through them.

The documentary--and, in fact, the DVD packaging and menus themselves--display an almost fetishistic regard for VCRs, VHS, videotape imperfections, and other quirks of the medium with which I could strongly identify. There's also a fond remembrance of those hole-in-the-wall video stores that seemed to pop up just about everywhere in the 80s, each of which had its own individual ambience and unique variety of titles both familiar and obscure.

What I didn't like so much about the documentary--and it's a small gripe--is that it leans rather heavily on talking heads (politicians, filmmakers, critics, and other interested parties from the era) and not enough film clips. However, since discs 2 and 3 more than make up for this, then disc 1 can be forgiven for being more of a history lesson than anything else.

Disc 2 features trailers for "The Final 39", or the films that were successfully prosecuted in UK courts and "deemed liable to deprave and corrupt." Retailers and distributors could be heavily fined and even imprisoned for handling these hot-button horrors. The trailers range all the way from something called ABSURD to ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS, with some of the titles in-between including: THE BEAST, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE DRILLER KILLER, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (I think I rented this under the shortened title NIGHTMARES), and the infamous fake-out SNUFF.

Disc 3 contains trailers for the 33 films that were initially banned but later removed from the "leper list" (as I just now decided to call it). Are they truly milder than the notorious 39 and less likely to turn viewers into gibbering sadists? It's your call as the line-up includes such blood-soaked fare as THE BOGEY MAN, DEATH TRAP, DEEP RIVER SAVAGES, THE EVIL DEAD (that one definitely warped MY mind), THE FUNHOUSE, HUMAN EXPERIMENTS, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, and ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH.

The trailers on Discs 2 and 3 can be viewed in all their uninterrupted glory, or with introductions and reviews (some pretty in-depth) from some of the talking heads seen in Disc 1's feature documentary. Cult horror presenter Emily Booth greets us at the start of each disc. Other extras include VHS box art and video logo galleries. The discs are in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby digital sound. No subtitles.

"Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Videotape" is an interesting but slow-moving and occasionally dull account of a fascinating time in British history. Lots of yakkity-yak and not enough video clips slow things down to a creep even though this is a valuable historical document that should be seen by anyone interested in the subject. But it's that collection of "must-see list" trailers that really rates VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE a nasty niche in your own video library.

Buy it at

Read our review of Part Two


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