originally published November 12, 2012
Two fun-filled days ago, I told the story of the video nasty. These are the movies that were determined by some frightened old woman named Mary Whitehouse to be too harsh for the gentle British sensibilities in the early 1980s. Some of these movies – which bypassed theatres and went straight to video – were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. Many were re-released after the most offending scenes had been cut; some have never again seen the light of day.
With 72 films on the list, I felt it would be a shame if I never explored some of them, just to see what had Mary’s panties in a bunch. I wonder if she watched each of the films on her list personally.
Like Blood Feast, the 1963 film directed by the ‘Godfather of Gore’, Herschell Gordon Lewis. This is the story of a psychotic caterer who kills people in order to serve them in his meals, while making sacrifices to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar. The movie was notable for being the oldest film on the video nasty list, and for being the inaugural splatter movie.
Blood Feast has, according to its reviews, some of the worst acting, camera work, and writing you’ll ever see in a film. But it was the first of its kind, and therefore historically important. British audiences could only see the cut version (21 nefarious seconds that were too brutal, I guess) until 2005.
The original Last House On The Left, written and directed by Wes Craven, is generally accepted by horror enthusiasts as a seminal piece of blood-n-gore mastery. It had a particularly tricky time overcoming the video nasty label. The film wasn’t allowed into England by the BBFC (England’s version of the MPAA) in 1972. It was issued on video in the early 80s and swiftly labeled as a video nasty and banned outright.
The town of Leicester got permission to screen the movie once in June of 2000, in response to the impressive cult following that had built up via black-market tapes among Britain’s horror-fan underground. One and done – the BBFC said the ban would stick. They offered to stamp an 18-rating on a video release, provided the distributors slice out 16 seconds of particular nastiness. The distributors said no, the case went to appeal, and the end result was that the video would be released in 2002.
With 31 seconds cut.
The snipped moments could be viewed as a slideshow in a DVD bonus feature, and the disc also contained a link to a website where the banned content could be seen in its entirety. But it took until 2008, 36 years after its theatrical release, before British fans could view the film uncut.
Was this necessary? Anyone who watched this film knew what they were getting into – I can’t imagine whatever was in that 31 seconds would have led to the tipping point to damage a viewer’s brain.
The Nazisploitation genre was not to remain untouched by the video nasty list. In addition to Last Orgy Of The Third Reich, a film about love, torture, rape, death, and even more death, the BBFC banned SS Experiment Camp. This also featured the torture and rape of women at the hands of Nazi officers, but apparently included an almost comical scene in which the commandant decides he wants a new pair of testicles, and sneakily has a pair stolen from one of his burly guards. The guard doesn’t realize he’s been castrated until he goes to use his schlong on a prisoner, at which point he confronts the commandant with the classic cinematic line: “You bastard! What have you done with my balls?”
As of 2005, you can now track down a copy of SS Experiment Camp on DVD in the UK if that’s your thing. The same can’t be said for La Bestia in Calore (or SS Hell Camp), a delightful tale of a female Nazi doctor who creates a… well she creates one of these:
…then lets it torture and rape the female prisoners. I suppose there was a real market for Nazi-rape flicks – and given that all three I’ve mentioned here were made in Italy, we can narrow down precisely where that market can be found – but British lovers of the genre have to dig pretty deep to find these movies. I’m sure somebody feels it’s worth the effort.
Actually I have no doubt there are hundreds, probably thousands of British fans who would want to see these movies. The novelty of how much human depravity can be captured on celluloid knows no bounds. Take, for example, the 1978 rape/revenge film I Spit On Your Grave. By most accounts, the production value is rotten, the acting is non-existent, and the storyline of ‘girl gets raped then violently butchers her attackers’ is not expanded to allow for character development or anything approaching artistic nuance.
But this is another film that attracted cult status in the UK. When it finally got released in 2001, a whopping seven minutes and two seconds had to be cut.
Winding our way deeper down the drain of ridiculously whatthefuck cinema, we eventually reach the nunsploitation genre. Most of these films, which can feature feminist and quasi-religious themes, take place in medieval-era convents. Killer Nun, a 1978 sex-and-violence flick from – surprise – Italy, contains no such questions. It’s about a nun who has a lesbian affair with another nun, then tortures a bunch of old people and commits murder. Or does she? I don’t know, she probably does. Screw you, ambiguous Wikipedia synopsis.
This one made it to video in 1993 with thirteen seconds cut, then finally in its pure form in 2006. I have no desire to see this movie, but there’s a part of me that really wants to see what was contained in that mysterious thirteen seconds.
Last on this list – and I am deeply glad to be ridding myself of this list – we have Fight For Your Life. This film about three convicts – a redneck and his Asian and Mexican sidekicks – who escape from a prison and hide out in a black minister’s house, is the only video nasty that was placed on the list purely for language concerns. I’m thinking there was a lot of N-word use.
The redneck was played by William Sanderson, better known as ‘Larry’ of ‘Larry, Daryl and Daryl’ on the show Newhart. So completionist fans of that sitcom may want to track this one down. It never received a release in the UK though, probably because nobody really cares.
As a lover of movies, I don’t feel that British audiences really missed a lot of quality art through the video nasty banned-movies list. I’m not a fan of censorship at all, but I don’t see a lot of high quality material on this list.
Still, now that most of the films on this list have seen an official or unofficial UK release, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before the entire nation crumbles into complete and total blood-lust anarchy. Unless… unless maybe Mary Whitehouse was wrong…