30 December 2013 | Red-Barracuda
Fun and informative film documentary
I remember back in the early 80's when I was at school, in our lunch hour me and my friends would often visit the local video rental shop which adjoined a Texaco garage. This was so exciting and to think that all we actually ever did was *look* at the video covers! We were too young to actually rent anything out. It's probably very hard for younger people to understand the excitement caused by the video boom of the early 80's, especially the influx of horror titles that saturated the market back then. The covers of these videos were garish and unsettling. They promised so much excess. They were a forbidden fruit. Some ironically were given eternal fame by being banned. I genuinely think that back in those days the authorities were so naive that they didn't foresee this. I distinctly remember seeing the list of the banned titles for the first time in a magazine of the time called 'Halls of Horror'. The list contained all of the films that would achieve infamy as video nasties plus several others that were patently absurd such as the war movie The Big Red One. This latter film made the list because the authorities assumed it must be a pornographic film going by its title! Its details like this that shows how absurd the whole thing was in many ways and how amateurishly it was handled.
In the last few years or so, I have caught up with most of the infamous video nasties and on an alarmingly common basis wondered how in hell they were ever considered obscene in the first place. Of course, I don't refer to all of them when I say this; movies such as Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the Edge of the Park remain deeply troubling movies, while Faces of Death is guaranteed lasting infamy for its real death footage. But when viewing films such as Funhouse or Visiting Hours, amongst many others I just couldn't get to grips with how they could have fallen foul of the law to such a massive extent. As it turned out the 72 nasties were eventually whittled down to 39 'true' video nasties that were considered the extreme of the extreme Although when you consider that this final list included the innocuous The Werewolf and the Yeti you are still left wondering about the thought process that produced this final list.
This documentary looks at the thinking behind the panic and the way the authorities acted. It was driven by politicians, puritans and Mary Whitehouse. The tabloid press were possibly the most influential of all though, informing the public that the sadistic videos were not only pernicious but that some were even genuine snuff movies. All of this was eaten up of course and titles with tabloid friendly, memorable names such as The Driller Killer became poster boys for all that was wrong with the new home video entertainment. Although most of us never actually thought about it at the time but the reason the market was flooded with low budget horror titles in the first place was that when the home video format first emerged, the big American studios refused to release their movies onto it seeing it as a competitor to their cinematic offerings. Consequently, lots of small traders emerged and bought up packages of cheap films, often very obscure and with a large percentage being horror flicks. And with this historical context, the early 80's home video horror boom was born.
In fairness, it isn't very surprising that the Video Recording Act happened. It does seem insane that these films weren't age certificated in some way. It's also not hard to understand why a lot of folks were uncomfortable when they were presented with lurid promotional posters for the likes of S.S. Experiment Camp. We have been desensitised these days to film violence and you really have to take into account the historical context to understand the genuine shock that these films engendered. So the documentary looks at why the furore happened and it allows both sides of the argument fair air time to present their case. It would only be fair to say that the film is clearly on the side of the defenders but I did think that it allowed the other side of the argument a fair hearing and didn't make them look silly with cheap editing or anything. We get to see short clips of all the 72 films but in the final analysis, this is not about the films themselves. It's about what caused the Video Recordings Act of 1983 to come into place. If you have knowledge of the subject there probably won't be too much new here although I am certain you will learn a few new nuggets of information. If, on the other hand, you have no, or limited knowledge, of the whole video nasty phenomenon then this is as good a place to start as any.