Video Nasty

The British Video Nasty scare of the 1980’s was stoked up by the tabloid newspapers and ended up gaining so much ground that it resulted in The Video Recording Act 1984 becoming law, and saw a list of films banned for a great many years. The greatest majority of these were low budget horror films, but there were also some high profile movies, sinced passed uncut, that fell foul of the new legislation – this included the Exorcist and Straw Dogs.

At the time that home video recorders started to make their way into UK homes, there was no legislation to state what could and could not be shown. There was a system where films in the cinema could be certified and the X certificate was the equivalent of today’s 18 rating. But where children could be refused admittance to a cinema it was much more difficult to control who watched a video tape at home. These concerns were raised by the press and various viewers association. Another factor was that the main film companies were slow to latch onto video tape over concerns of piracy and as a result hordes of copies films came into the market, many of these were low budget Italian and American shockers.

Public awareness of the availability of these videos began in early 1982, when Vipco, the UK distributors of Driller Killer, took out full page advertisements in a number of specialist video magazines, depicting the video’s explicit cover; an action which resulted in a large number of complaints. A few months later the distributors of Cannibal Holocaust, Go Video, in an effort to boost publicity and generate sales that ultimately backfired, wrote anonymously to Mary Whitehouse (a truly batty old bird)  of the National Viewers and Listeners Association complaining about their own film. Whitehouse sparked off a public campaign and coined the term video nasty. Amid the growing concern, the Sunday Times brought the issue to a wider audience in May 1982 with an article entitled How high street horror is invading the home.  The oh so right wing Daily Mail then began their own campaign against the distribution of these films. The exposure of nasties to children began to be blamed for the increase in violent crime amongst youths and all manner of social ills. The growing media frenzy only served to increase the demand for such material among adolescents. At the suggestion of National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, the Conservative MP Graham Blight introduced a Bill to the House of Commons in 1983. This was passed as the Video Recordings Act of 1984 which came into effect on 1 September 1985.

The list of titles affected and banned by the act follows:

1. Absurd*
2. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein*
3. The Anthropophagus Beast*
4. Axe*
5. The Beast in Heat*
6. The Beyond
7. Blood Bath*
8. Blood Feast*
9. Blood Rites*
10. Bloody Moon*
11. The Bogey Man
12. The Burning*
13. Cannibal Apocalypse*
14. Cannibal Ferox*
15. Cannibal Holocaust*
16. The Cannibal Man*
17. Cannibal Terror
18. Contamination
19. Dead and Buried
20. Death Trap
21. Deep River Savages
22. Delirium
23. The Devil Hunter*
24. Don’t Go in the House
25. Don’t Go in the Woods…Alone*
26. Don’t Go Near the Park
27. Don’t Look in the Basement
28. The Driller Killer*
29. The Evil Dead
30. Evilspeak*
31. Expose*
32. Faces of Death*
33. Fight for Your Life*
34. Forest of Fear*
35. Frozen Scream
36. Funhouse
37. Gestapo’s Last Orgy
38. The House By the Cemetery*
39. House on the Edge of the Park*
40. Human Experiments
41. I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses
42. I Spit on Your Grave*
43. Inferno
44. Island of Death*
45. Killer Nun
46. The Last House on the Left*
47. Late Night Trains
48. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
49. Love Camp 7*
50. Madhouse*
51. Mardi Gras Massacre*
52. Night of the Bloody Apes*
53. Night of the Demon*
54. Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker
55. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain*
56. Possession
57. Pranks
58. Prisoner of the Cannibal God
59. Revenge of the Bogey Man
60. The Slayer
61. Shogun Assassin
62. Snuff*
63. SS Experiment*
64. Tenebrae*
65. Terror Eyes
66. The Toolbox Murders
67. Unhinged
68. Visiting Hours
69. The Werewolf and the Yeti*
70. The Witch Who Came from the Sea
71. Women Behind Bars
72. Xtro
73. Zombie Creeping Flesh
74. Zombue Flesh Eaters
75. Zombie Holocaust

All those marked with the asterisk are the 39 films that were finally prosecuted and banned. Most, if not all of these films are known under a variety of different titles, varying from their original language titles, foreign release title and the title given to a cut print.

Other film not banned but not carried by video shops because of adverse publicity included Friday 13th, Straw Dogs, Evil Dead. Although these films were not actually banned it was wrongly reported in the press that they were included on the video nasty list, and as a result shops were unable to locate copies because distributors, fearing prosecution didn’t carry the titles.

Films that had passed uncut for cinema release were often cut for video. The supply of unclassified videos became a criminal offence, as did supplying 15 and 18 certificate videos to under-aged people. As well as the low-budget horror films the Act was originally intended to curb, a number of high profile films which had passed cinema certification fell foul of the Act. In particular, The Exorcist, which was made available by Warner Home Video in December 1981, was not granted a video certification by the BBFC and was withdrawn from shelves in 1986. Similarly Straw Dogs was also denied video certification and removed from video stores.

These days the code has been relaxed considerably and many of the once banned films are now available. Since James Ferman was replaced as the head of the British Board of Film Classification it seems that a much more common sense approach is taken and films like Saw and Hotel are released in their original cinema form – it is beyond doubt that back in the 1980’s these films would have been banned outright.

That many of the films are forgettable and are only remembered today because of the controversy they caused is ironic. These films have been given a cult status by their notoriety that is quite frankly more than they deserve.


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