Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Video Tape (2010)

video nasties poster

Canibal Holocaust

Death Trap

The Driller Killer

The Evil Dead

Frankenstein (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein)

I Spit On Your Grave

Last House on the Left

The Toolbox Murders

Zombie (Lucio Fulci)/Zombi 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters

What do all of these films have in common?  If you said that they’ve all been recently remade by Hollywood, I would reply “nice guess, but no.”

The films listed above, along 63 others, appear on the notorious list of Video Nasties which spurred a moral outrage in the United Kingdom in the mid to late ‘80s.  Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Video Tape (AKA Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Documentary)  does an excellent job of examining this period.  While the documentary does include clips of a graphic nature from some of the movies on the list, the real frightening portion of the film is the series of interviews with the people who made it legal to prosecute video store owners and video distributors.

nasty 2

The documentary consists of a number of interviews, clips from televised material from the ‘80s, and in depth discussion of the topics of political control, censorship, creative expression, and free speech interspersed with trailers and clips from the video nasties themselves.  The term refers to movies which appeared in the UK on video cassette and thereby were able to be released without classification by the BBFC (the British version of the MPAA).  Due to material deemed objectionable, often violent content and gore, the films came under the criticism of various citizen run watch groups, especially those connected with Mary Whitehouse who spearheaded the crusade for legislation to ban the films.

nasty1

While the documentary’s creators do a good job of presenting both sides of the argument, the movie is decidedly pro-horror/anti-banning.  Parallels are drawn between the reactions to the video nasties and the outrage against horror comics in the 1950s which ultimately lead to their near demise.  Video Nasty exposes how those who banned the films used shoddy or outright false data to defend their claims, how many of the original trials were biased by previous media coverage, and the classist notions behind the entire movement.

History buffs, cinema enthusiasts, and those who enjoy documentaries will find the film well researched and well made.  Fans of horror, especially fans of gore and splatter films, will enjoy the movie for its clips as well as the content.  Any fan of horror will find the discussions informative and chilling.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

About the Author

Michael Cieslak is a lifetime reader and writer of dark speculative fiction.  He lives near Detroit in a house covered with Halloween decorations in October and dragons the rest of the year with his wife and two dogs.  His works have appeared in numerous anthologies.  He is the Literature Track Head for Penguicon.  In 2013 he started the Dragon’s Roost Press imprint which which published its first book, Desolation, 21 Tales for Tails in 2014.  His mental excreta can be found at thedragonsroost.net.

4 thoughts on “Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship, and Video Tape (2010)

  1. Without doubt the definitive guide on the video “nasties” debacle, and who knew, even dogs (apparently) can get affected by watching horror films? (Yes someone in a position of authority actually said this lol). I’m not sure if you know, but the second of these documentaries is out now – Video Nasties Draconian Days. It takes the tale further along up to 1999. It’s just as good as the first one and Im pleased I own both volumes. Essential stuff.

  2. Mary Whitehouse was a scumbag! Watch “Pride” (about the alliance between the gays and the miners during the 1984-85 miners’ strike in the UK) to see what sort of person she was.

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