Exhumation: (n) the act of digging something out of the ground (especially a corpse) where it has been buried.
This article was published 05/06 for GoreZone (U.K.) Issue #9
The Video Nasties: A History of Censorship, Abuse of Power and Hysteria
When I was first asked to write this article, I was not sure which way I would go with it. Being an American writer and being published in a U.K. magazine is an honor I can’t express. To know that you guys read what I write and enjoy it thrills me to no end, so I please ask that you give me a little rope on this one! I may not live in the U.K., and I find it hard to understand your censor board, but I know when something is seriously wrong. I can not imagine living in a country where films have to pass through such a vigorous and harsh rating system just to make it to home video. While it seemed that there was some good intention to know and see what was coming out in the video boom era, it became a witch hunt and a media circus. The Dark days of U.K. cinema had begun…
Due to there not being any regulations on video, they fell under “The Obscene Publications Act”. The Act, which prohibits the distribution of materials liable to “Deprave & Corrupt”, opened a door when several video companies ran full page ads in video magazines that showed their graphic cover art. People started complaining to the Advertising Standard Authority, and then the media started to pick up the story. The press brought everything it could to hammer the videos, even remarking on how easy it was for children to gain access to such material.
That was enough to get the police involved, and then the raids started. The Department of Public Prosecutions came up with a list a films they thought were likely to be judged as obscene by the courts so that the police could go after certain titles during their raids. The press called them “The Video Nasties.” 74 different films appeared on that list, and the numbers fluctuated as certain films were dropped and new ones were added. In the end, a total of 39 were successfully prosecuted.
In 1984, the Video Recording Act was passed. This outlawed trade in the unclassified tapes and made it so all films had to be submitted to the British Board of Film Classifications before release. Many films were banned, and at the same time, it ended all of the prosecutions. The press eventually died down as well. The damage was done, and the horror genre in particular was laid out on its back. While several of the banned titles have been released to DVD and their names removed from the infamous list, the stain of such hysteria has stunted the growth of many horror fans that otherwise may have had more enjoyable yet gut wrenching experiences in their youth.
As I leave you with this, I do not want you to think that we have it all roses here in the states. We have a version of the BBFC known as the MPAA. They are just as guilty and hypocritical as your rating system is, but we have the “luxury” of getting the uncut DVD’s with great ease here. I always have and always will believe in the fact that we as individuals know what we want to watch and what we don’t. If I don’t want to watch something, I won’t. I will not protest if some likes something I don’t. All I can say is that technology has made it possible for everyone to finally get the films that they want the way they want. Till the time comes when our generation begins to take office and things that need attention are paid attention to, horror will continue to be abused by those that don’t understand.
So for those that have not been able to see these films, here are my top 10 picks from the Video Nasties!
10. The Last House On The Left (1972, Dir: Wes Craven, U.S.A.)
Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham teamed up earlier in their careers to make one of the most shocking films of all time. The film was brought under fire due to the graphic and disturbing depictions of rape and violence. The film received a DVD release in the UK in May 2003 with 31 seconds of cuts. It has not received a certificate for a cinema release and it has not been released uncut on DVD in the UK.
9. I Spit On Your Grave (1978, Dir: Meir Zarchi, U.S.A.)
A film with a very bleak outlook, this film was pretty much banned or censored wherever it went. While the female lead in the movie is brutalized beyond comprehension, she ultimately gets her revenge in spades. Some see the film as a rally cry for feminists while others think it is just violence towards women just for fun. Judge for yourself! The film gained a UK video certificate in 2001 after 7 minutes and 2 seconds of cuts to the rape scenes.
8. SS Hell Camp (1977, Dir: Luigi Batzella, Italy)
This is one of the oddest titles on the list. The combination of Nazi tyranny and the horrible rapes of Jewish women by a hideous man-beast left me feeling like I needed to take a shower. What was even more disturbing was the fact that the attacks were lead by a woman! Vengeance is played out in the end, but it is a tough film to watch. The film is still banned in the U.K. to this day.
7. The House By The Cemetery (1981, Dir: Lucio Fulci, Italy)
Ahhh, one of three films by Lucio Fulci on this list. One of Fulci’s wetter films, the films was supposedly praised by the Sunday Times for its “constraint”! The whole creepy under story of what happened in that house and wondering if the family will survive will keep you on the edge of your seat. The film was finally released on BBFC friendly version with 4 minutes and 11 seconds worth of cuts on Elephant Video.
6. Cannibal Holocaust (1979, Dir: Ruggero Deodato, Italy)
Now here was one that REALLY stirred the pot! There were many claims that the film was an actual snuff project, and if that was not enough, there was actual depiction of animals being killed onscreen! Much more graphic in its violence and depiction of rape than Cannibal Ferox, this one will make the weak of heart think twice! It received its Rating 18 in 2001 with 5 minutes and 44 seconds worth of cuts.
5. Cannibal Ferox (1981, Dir: Umberto Lenzi, Italy)
Following a few years after Cannibal Holocaust, this film also continues the cruel depiction of man killing animal onscreen, as well as mans cruelty to one another. Not quite as graphic with the sex, the film does not shy away from the gore. The scene shifting between New York City and the Amazon leads to some funny moments as well! The film was passed at 18 in 1983 after 7 minutes worth of cuts. In 2000, it was re-submitted to the board and was passed with an additional 6 seconds worth of cuts.
4. The Burning (1980, Dir: Tony Maylam, USA)
One of the followers of Friday the 13th, The Burning had the magic of Tom Savini’s make-up to help propel it to the Censor’s cutting block. Blatant gouges to throat’s and fingers of young campers did not make the censors happy, so in 1992 when Vipco released their version on tape, 10 seconds were pre-cut and an additional 9 were cut by the BBFC. In 2002 all of the cuts were restored!
3. Anthropophagus The Beast (1980, Dir: Joe D’Amato Italy)
The only thing that needs to be said about this film is WOW! A huge, lumbering giant of a man walking around and eating his victims is one thing, but all limits of taste were passed when the manual strangulation/abortion/snack scene take place! A first as far as I know in the genre! The cut U.S version was passed by the BBFC in 2002 with 2 cuts to the film.
2. Zombi 2 (1979, Dir: Lucio Fulci, Italy)
George Romero may have started the boom in the zombie genre, but I think that Lucio was the man that set the benchmark for a lot of what we see today. The zombies are everything that could be hoped for, and the splinter in the eye is the stuff of dreams. Great location, good genre actors, and zombie vs. shark! The cinema version was rated X in 1979 with 14 cuts totaling 1 minute and 46 seconds. In 1999, the video re-release only had 23 seconds worth of cuts with the others being waived. Finally in 2005, all of the cuts were waived!
1. The Beyond (1981, Dir: Lucio Fulci, Italy)
Lucio Fulci’s definitive masterpiece. This film has everything that you could want: a great location with one of the creepiest hotels I have ever scene, make-up effects that are enough to make your skin crawl, and a story that belts it all out at an explosive pace. A fitting end to his Undead trilogy, Fulci found a way to bring gore and class together in the same film! The film was cut and rated X for its cinema certificate, while in 2001 it was passed uncut!