As someone who's enough of an Anglophile to know about the "video nasty" furor in the early 80s UK, but not enough of an Anglophile to know more than the bare facts, I was delighted to learn that Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide is now available in the US.
It was the early 1980s and the video revolution was taking off. Until VCRs came on the scene, the only way to see movies was to go to a theater, or to wait for them to show up on TV. Video changed all that, and suddenly a huge variety of films became available to rent. Horror films soon came under fire, sometimes because of their lurid box art or ad campaigns rather than the content of the films themselves. The tabloids whipped up furor about "video nasties," the government got involved, distributors of some films found themselves facing fines or jail time, and a total of 72 films were targeted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
All of this and more is covered in "Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Videotape," the documentary that comprises disc one of this three-disc set. The documentary starts by putting the video nasties panic in perspective, demonstrating how the video technology brought films that had been obscure into the public consciousness. Public fears, particularly fears that the heinous acts seen in some of the films were real rather than fictional, were only fueled by the limitations of videotape technology — worn-out or badly duped films often had a grainy, grungy, "home movie" look that seemed more "real" than if the films had polish and clarity. Adding to the panic were a conservative government that saw video nasties as an easier problem to fix than socioeconomic troubles; class conflicts; the reluctance of film critics and others to take up the cause of some admittedly questionable content; and even xenophobia (it's significant that only one film out of the 72 is British).
Contributing to the documentary are genre names such as author Kim Newman and director Neill Marshall, as well as politician Graham Bright (who has the most jaw-dropping moment in the documentary, when in archival footage he claims that the films were capable of corrupting the minds of not just children, but of dogs as well). Even non-horror films like The Big Red One and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas were seized by police, and at times the whole thing is so ridiculous it becomes almost laughable — until it's pointed out that people lost their jobs, paid fines, or even went to jail for selling the films that now anyone can buy online with one click of the mouse.
This documentary alone is excellent viewing, but there are two more discs that feature the trailers for all 72 of the films that were prosecuted and then banned (some were later acquitted). This in itself is astonishing, as many of these films are incredibly obscure. Anyone can find a trailer for Cannibal Holocaust, but the trailers for forgotten films like Frozen Scream and I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses must have been hard to come by. Moreover, each trailer comes with an introduction, most of which are informative and interesting. At times the presenters are able to shed light on why a particular film ran afoul of the censors, but at other times they're utterly baffled. The trailers can also be viewed without introductions. The films include usual suspects such as Cannibal Ferox, I Spit On Your Grave, Snuff, and The Driller Killer, as well as obscurities and oddities like Island of Death, Evilspeak, and Night of the Bloody Apes.
It's a fascinating time capsule, a collection of excellent trailers, and a look at how moral panic can shape legislation. Highly recommended!