In years past, this blog has been the home to an annual summer-long festival of American slasher films: whether it’s film-by-film analyses of the biggest franchises or a historically wide-ranging grab-bag, the Summer of Blood has become one of the most beloved signature items in this blog’s repertoire.
Hopefully, then, it won’t be too much of a shock to everyone’s system if I do something different this year. One can only watch so many slashers before they start to lose their charm, y’see, and if I didn’t shake things up a bit, I’d probably grab a knife and start hacking horny teenagers apart.
Ironically enough, though, the slasher film still had quite a lot to do with the subject for this year’s fest. See, if it wasn’t for the explosion of slasher movies in the early 1980s, then violent horror films wouldn’t have had such a prominent face, and they wouldn’t have been blamed for every damn act of violence perpetrated in the anglophone world for a decade.
But that’s not the only explanation for why, beginning in 1982, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland engaged in the most famous, comprehensive act of government censorship of a movie genre in history. It was in those days that the British Board of Film Classification and the Director of Public Prosecutions pursued with dogged intensity the removal of “obscenely” violent movies from the nation’s video stores, under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, using as their Most Wanted an ever-changing list of movie that either had been banned in some jurisdiction or another, or which the DPP wanted very much to get banned. This list, initially made as a guideline for video store owners to ascertain whether they owned contraband movies, became known as the Video Nasties.
The Video Nasties! Words to quicken the hear of any exploitation lover’s heart. When all was said and done, a grand total of 39 films were successfully banned, and another 35 or so had been the target of the DPP and BBFC’s hunts. A few of these films were truly diabolical. Most were not (and nearly all have since been released without tremendous incident) – some had a lurid cover hiding a mild film inside, some had a title that reminded the DPP of something else. Two were unabashed art house films, a good handful have become beloved genre classics in the intervening years, and the great majority were forgettable dreck that would have long since fallen off the radar of even the most devoted gorehound, if not for their presence on this one most infamous list.
How did the Nasties craze get started? It is a story of the history of home video above all else, and begins, as terrible things usually do, with the Hollywood studios. Hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when the studios were terrified of home video, convinced it would destroy their profits and lead to widespread piracy. Thus, in the early days of VHS and Beta, there was something of a content drought. Without major American hits on tape, store owners looked for any source they could find, and this proved to be a godsend for, among others (the makers of actual pornography, for instance), the distributors of cheap, tawdry horror films. Exploitation filmmakers abhor a void, and if there was a need for row upon row of videotapes, plenty of morally-untroubled people were ready to provide. From around the globe, violent films poured in the the UK like so much pigs’ blood drenching a prom queen.
Even this hothouse of immoral movies clogging up Britain’s video arteries might have passed unnoticed (though some of the titles in question, such as Last House on the Left and Cannibal Holocaust, were already noteworthy for their obscenity), except for the very foolish decision made by a couple of distributors to put out full page ads for their most notorious products in the pages of the nation’s videophile magazines. In Britain, in 1982, there was no such thing as a niche videophile magazine, which meant that for example a grizzled old man who loved 1940s war pictures, or a suburban mother hoping to find news about family movies on tape were just as likely as a slavering exploitation fan to stumble across Vipco’s legendary, notorious cover for The Driller Killer, which is often credited as the starting point for the whole Nasties craze.
This film is a great example of the basic intellectual bankruptcy of the Video Nasties era: based solely on the crucifix-inspired cover and the basic hook (the Nazis use their camps for violent and sexual experiments), the censors decreed that the film was insidious beyond all means. Except that SS Experiment Camp is one of the laziest, most ungodly boring movies you could ever hope to see: years later, the BBFC admitted as much, passing it uncut with a sheepish acknowledgment that however artistically offensive the film was, it surely wasn’t morally outrageous. Just very stupid. Incidentally, this is the sort of nugget I’d rather put in a full review, but SS Experiment Camp is the only Nazisploitation film from the Nasties list I’ve ever seen, and it’s so intensely, unutterably dull, like watching the bubbles pop in dishwater, that I cannot imagine any reason why I’d ever subject myself to it again. And if a movie is too boring for an inveterate bad movie lover, you know it has to be pretty fucking boring.
That’s an extreme example; but an example nonetheless of the idiocy afflicting Great Britain during those days when seemingly every moral scold in the country was completely obsessed with violent movies: acts of real-life murder and torture were blamed on slasher movies at a rate that puts to shame the legendary “horror movies and heavy metal make teenagers become Satanists” craze in the United States at the same time. After a few years, thankfully, it died out, with the passage of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which basically codified the government’s rules for obscenity and cut down on the number of raids, if not immediately relaxing the BBFC’s absurdly strict rules (though as I mentioned, the great majority of these films have since been released in the UK), and the days of super-lurid video covers were over. Leaving behind only a ready-made collection of films that for some length of time were thought to be so unspeakable that even their mere existence in Britain would turn the whole country into a pack of raping, murdering fiends.
So! now that we know what a Video Nasty is, why don’t we take a look at a few of the horrid, degraded, wicked things? Every Saturday this summer, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, I’m going to work my way through a handful of films that typify one aspect of Nastydom or another: from the most vile to the most innocuous, including films both artsy and artless. Each film will be judged on a Nastiness Scale, which is going to look like this:
5- Truly, disturbingly Nasty; if you were going to ban a movie (and you shouldn’t!) this would be one to ban
4- Pretty damn Nasty; I’d forbid my kids from seeing it
3- A little Nasty; if you really don’t like blood, you’d probably have a hard time
2- Not very Nasty; if you don’t like horror or violence at all, you’d have a hard time
1- Not at all Nasty; if you are a shrill conservative British housewife, you’d have a hard time
0- DPP, don’t be such an asshole
Three of the films on the list have already been reviewed on this blog at one point or another. I’ve put them in the Video Nasty section at the bottom of the Summer of Blood index, and have updated them with a Nastiness Rating. As for the next 15? To be honest, I haven’t nailed the list down just yet, although I’m certain on about 10 of them. Let’s just say you’ll have to be surprised.
Want to learn more? The history of the Video Nasties is an exceptionally well-represented subject on the internet. Just Google “Video Nasties” and step back in wonder.
Here follows a list of the 72 films which were at one point or another on the Nasties list, alphabetically by the title by which they were known at the time in the UK (my listing of alternate titles should be considered nowhere near complete), along with links to the ones I have reviewed.
Successfully Prosecuted and Banned
Absurd AKA Rosso sangue AKA Anthropophagus 2
Anthopophagus: The Beast AKA Anthropophagus AKA The Grim Reaper
Axe AKA Lisa, Lisa
The Beast in Heat AKA La bestia in calore AKA SS Hell Camp, etc.
Blood Bath AKA Reazione a catena AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve AKA Bay of Blood, etc.
Blood Rites AKA The Ghastly Ones
Bloody Moon AKA Die Säge des Todes
Cannibal Apocalypse AKA Apocalypse domani
Cannibal Ferox AKA Make Them Die Slowly
The Cannibal Man AKA La semana del asesino
Devil Hunter AKA Sexo caníbal AKA Mandingo Manhunter ,etc.
Don’t Go in the Woods
The Driller Killer
Exposé AKA Trauma
Faces of Death
Fight For Your Life
Flesh for Frankenstein AKA Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein
Forest of Fear AKA Bloodeaters AKA Toxic Zombies
Gestapo’s Last Orgy AKA L’ultima orgia del III Reich
The House by the Cemetery AKA Quella villa accanto al cimitero
The House on the Edge of the Park AKA La casa sperduta nel parco
I Spit on Your Grave AKA Day of the Woman
Island of Death AKA Τα Παιδιά Του Διαβόλου
The Last House on the Left
Love Camp 7
Madhouse AKA There Was a Little Girl
Mardi Gras Massacre
Night of the Bloody Apes AKA La horripilante bestia humana
Night of the Demon
Nightmares in a Damaged Brain AKA Nightmare AKA Blood Splash
SS Experiment Camp AKA Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommandantur, etc.
Tenebrae AKA Tenebre
The Werewolf and the Yeti AKA La maledición de la bestia, etc.
Zombie Flesh Eaters AKA Zombi 2 AKA Zombie, etc.
Targeted but Never Prosecuted
The Beyond AKA E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà AKA Seven Doors of Death
The Bogey Man AKA The Boogeyman
Cannibal Terror AKA Terror caníbal
Dead & Buried
Death Trap AKA Eaten Alive
Deep River Savages AKA Il paese del sesso selvaggio AKA Man from Deep River
Delirium AKA Psycho Puppet
Don’t Go in the House
Don’t Go Near the Park
Don’t Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten
The Evil Dead
Human Experiments AKA Beyond the Gate
I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses
Killer Nun AKA Suor Omicidi
Late Night Trains AKA L’ultimo treno della notte AKA Night Train Murders
Living Dead at Manchester Morgue AKA Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, etc.
Nightmare Maker AKA Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker AKA Night Warning
Pranks AKA The Dorm That Dripped Blood
Prisoner of the Cannibal God AKA La montagna del dio cannibale, etc.
Revenge of the Bogey Man AKA Boogeyman II
Terror Eyes AKA Night School
The Toolbox Murders
The Witch Who Came from the Sea
Women Behind Bars AKA Des diamants pour l’enfer
Zombie Creeping Flesh AKA L’enfer des morts vivants AKA Hell of the Living Dead, etc.