Horror For the Weekend: Video Nasty Edition

It’s Friday, and we have something a little different lined up for our horror viewing this weekend. Today marks the anniversary of notorious 1980s horror movie – Cannibal Holocaust’s premiere. It’s one of the most fascinating horror films to look at in terms of controversy and censorship history. Upon release, rumours were widely circulated that it was snuff film, with actors murdered on camera.  The film was confiscated ten days after its premiere in Milan, and  director Deodato was arrested. Although he was originally charged with obscenity, the charges were amended to include murder, as the courts not only believed that the four actors portraying the missing film crew were killed for the camera, but that the actress in the impalement scene was actually skewered in such a manner. To make matters worse for Deodato, the actors had signed contracts with him and the producers ensuring that they would not appear in any type of media, motion pictures, or commercials for one year after the film’s release in order to promote the idea that the film was truly the recovered footage of missing documentarians. Thus, when Deodato claimed that he had not killed the group, questions arose as to why the actors were in no other media if they were alive.

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When it was proved that the actors were alive, the courts decided to ban Cannibal Holocaust because of the genuine animal slayings, citing animal cruelty laws. Due to this ruling, Deodato, the producers, screenwriter, and the United Artists representative each received a four-month suspended sentence after they were convicted of obscenity and violence. The film then made the infamous ‘video nasty’ list in the United Kingdom – a list compiled by the Department of Public Prosecutions of 72 video releases that were not brought before the BBFC for certification and declared them prosecutable for obscenity. At the time of the introduction of domestic video recorders in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, there was no legislation specifically designed to regulate video content, allowing for unrated horror films to bypass the BBFC by releasing direct to VHS. If you haven’t seen Cannibal Holocaust – the most famous film to be dubbed a ‘video nasty’, then it’s a good starting point to look at this very interesting period in UK and horror history. We’re going to take a look at some of the others who made the list.

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Faces of Death was one of the films that caused widespread hysteria in the UK. The film is basically a collection of video clips depicting brutal deaths and violent acts.  The producers of the movie marketed it with a tagline  that the movie was banned in over 46 countries. While totally untrue (the real number is something like five), it did mark the film as one of the more horrific entries in the list. And for the time it was. However, many of the scenes were staged and obviously fake, oftentimes involving truly horrible acting and outdated special effects. It is however, an interesting look at how horror pushed the boundaries in the late 70s, and a central piece in the mondo tradition. Worth checking out, though you’re going to want to shower afterwards…

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I Spit on Your Grave also caused controversy due to the BBFC’s stance on violence against women. It’s certainly not comfortable viewing, with extended scenes of sexual violence, but is seen in a far more favourable light now than when it was originally released. There’s a lot of debate over whether this one is a feminist film, but it is probably the most famous revenge horror out there. Much of the original criticism came from people who had not actually seen the film, so we’d say you need to check this one out for yourself before you make any judgement.

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With widespread panic over the moral implications of extreme horror films, it’s unsurprising that people’s curiosity was spiked. As such, there were films created to cash in on the interest, Snuff being one of them. 99% of the film is actually pretty unremarkable, starting it’s life as a low-budget gore film titled Slaughter which was written and directed by the husband-and-wife grindhouse filmmaking team of Michael and Roberta Findlay. Filmed in Argentina in 1971 on a budget of $30,000, the film probably would never have surfaced outwith it’s home country. When distributor Allan Shackleton came across the film, he staged an alternate ending which apparently depicted the crew murdering an actor with the tape still running. What makes this one interesting is the lengths Shackleton went to in order to promote the film – including fake protesters to picket outside film theatres. It’s not a great film – neither the original or the tacked on ending. But is a good look at the early days of viral marketing, and the ability to cash in on current events.

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Lucio Fulci’s unofficial follow up to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (known as Zombi in Italy),  resulted in this unlicensed film known as Zombi 2/Zombie Flesheaters. It is not however a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, but an unrelated story basically cashing in on the name. Still with us? Zombi 2 was released in the UK in the early 1980s as Zombie Flesh Eaters, which was passed with 1 minute and 46 seconds of cuts for cinema exhibition. The original Australian version of the film used this cut. It was later released in the same “X” version on video. Some time later, the distributor decided to release a “Strong Uncut Version” on video, which caused it to be placed on the Director of Public Prosecutions list of “video nasties”. Three scenes in particular were criticized by the British Parliament for their bloody and graphic content: the eye gouge scene through a splinter, the zombie feast scene, and the scene in which Susan has her throat excavated by a zombie conquistador. It’s good gory fun, has that distinctive Fulci atmosphere, and is the unofficial ‘master of gore’s best known film.

For a full list of film on the ‘video nasty’ list, click here.

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