By 1980 the home video market was taking off, and there was very little censorship or regulation for video distribution in the UK. Censorship from the BBFC only applied to films being showed in theatres at that time and subsequently, a wave of films from Italian horror and the American Grindhouse cinema quickly took advantage of the UK’s lacking regulatory system.
It wasn’t long before the tabloids began focusing on these films, highlighting and playing on their excessive violence and sexual nature, branding them as immoral, corrupt, and blaming them for youth violence. As far as horror films go, this kind of bad publicity is about as good as publicity gets. As the films were named and shamed by the tabloids newspapers, it did wonders for their popularity, and of course, sales.
In 1981, Go Video started distributing Cannibal Holocaust in the UK. As a marketing ploy, they wrote an anonymous letter to Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association expressing their outrage and disgust for their own film. In a way, this backfired, as it spurred Mary White to lead a national campaign against these movies that were soon given the name ‘Video Nasties’.
The tabloids, notably led by The Daily Mail, fed the hype and whipped their gullible readers into a frenzy with headlines such as “For the sake of all our children, burn your video nasty”, and “Ban the Sadist Videos! Before they invade your home!” Clearly both sound advice.
In 1983, as a response to heavy, if not a little misguided, public pressure, the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published a list of films that were banned by name. This kick-started raids on video stores, and a somewhat trial-by-fire of the horror film industry in the UK, resulting in a total of 72 films being added to the list and facing the risk of prosecution for public obscenity.
Today, most have been re-released, some with cuts and editing, and 10 remain banned because they have not been resubmitted to or have been refused classification. However, what remains truly shocking isn’t the content of these films, but the abuse of power and ignorance displayed by the British government, who inadvertently created a black-market, and essentially prompted the start of movie pirating in the UK. The list gave these films instant cult status and immortalized them as part of cinematic history, whereas, had they gone ignored it seems likely most would have faded into obscurity.
Ironically, these days, the list makes a solid check-list for horror enthusiasts and connoisseurs to follow. So, as standalone films, are they any good?
Well, for most, the answer would be no. The majority are low budget, poorly produced films, with bad acting and a fairly loose plot, and that’s the American Grindhouse movies. The Italian films share these qualities, but are far more confusing and have painfully bad dubbing. I would suggest that even the most die hard horror fan would not do any injustice to their preoccupation by missing most of these off their watch list. However, the Video Nasties fall on a scale that goes from one extreme to another, yes, most are quite awful, but some are very good. You know, in a sick, perverse kind of way.
10. There was a Little Girl
9. Cannibal Holocaust
8. House by the Cemetery
7. Fight for your Life
6. Dead and Buried
5. Zombie Flesh Eaters
4. The Beyond
1. The Evil Dead
I am still looking out for SS Hell Camp and Mardi Gras Massacre, I’ve struggled to find them. I suspect someone, somewhere has a dusty VHS copy packed away in there loft. If you have seen them, I’d be interested to know what they are like? Or if you have a copy, start rewinding it, and ill begin relearning the art of tracking on my old video player now.