From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Video nasty was a term coined in the United Kingdom in the 1980s that originally applied to a number of films distributed on video that were held by some to be unfit for domestic viewing. Many of these "video nasties" were low-budget horror films produced in Italy and the United States. The furor created by the moral crusade against video nasties led to the introduction of the UK's Video Recordings Act 1984 which imposed a stricter code of censorship on videos than was required for cinema release. Several major studio productions ended up being banned on video, falling foul of legislation that was designed to control the distribution of video nasties.
Obscenity and video
At the time of the introduction of domestic video recorders in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, there was no legislation specifically designed to regulate video content, apart from the Obscene Publications Act 1959 which had been amended in 1977 to cover erotic films. Major film distributors were initially reluctant to embrace the new medium of video for fear of piracy and the video market became flooded with low-budget horror films produced by small independent film companies. Whilst some of these films had been passed by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for cinema release some had been refused certification. The Obscene Publications Act defined obscenity as that which may "tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it". This definition is of course open to wide interpretation.
If the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) felt that a certain video might be in breach the Act then a prosecution could be brought against the film's producers, distributors and retailers. Prosecutions had to be fought on a case by case basis and a backlog of prosecutions built up. However, under the terms of the Act the police were empowered to seize videos from retailers if they were of the opinion that the material was in breach of the Act. In the early 1980s in certain police constabularies, notably Greater Manchester Police which was at that time run by the controversial Chief Constable James Anderton, police raids on video hire shops increased. However the choice of titles seized appeared to be completely arbitrary, one raid famously netting a copy of the Dolly Parton musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas under the mistaken belief it was pornographic.
The Video Retailers Association were alarmed by the apparently random seizures and asked the DPP to provide a guideline for the industry so that stockists could be made aware of what was liable to be confiscated and what they could legitimately keep on their shelves. The DPP recognised that the current system, where the interpretation of obscenity was down to individual Chief Constables, was inconsistent and decided to publish a list that contained names of films that had already resulted in a successful prosecutions or where the DPP had already filed charges against the video's distributors. This list became known as the DPP list of video nasties. The majority of the films listed were low-quality shock-horror films, but it included one or two films that are now regarded as classics, most notably The Evil Dead.
The lack of regulation of the domestic video market was in sharp contrast to the regulation of material intended for public screening. The BBFC had been established in 1912 and it was their responsibility to pass films intended for the cinema for certification within the United Kingdom. As part of this process the board could recommend that certain cuts be made to the film in order for it to pass at a certain certification level. Once a film has been passed for certification it was then up to local authorities to decide whether or not to grant cinemas within their jurisdiction permission to conduct public screenings of material passed by the BBFC. Such permission was not always granted, and in the case of the release of The Exorcist in 1973, a number of enterprising managers of cinemas where permission had been granted set about providing buses to transport cinema-goers from other localities where the film could not be seen.
Public awareness of the availability of these videos began in early 1982, when Vipco (Video Instant Picture Company), 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 to the Advertising Standards Agency. 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 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 of 1982 with an article entitled How high street horror is invading the home. Soon the Daily Mail 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 Bright introduced a Private Member's Bill to the House of Commons in 1983. This was passed as the Video Recordings Act 1984 which came into effect on 1 September 1985.
Effects of the Video Recordings Act 1984
Under the 1984 Act, the BBFC was renamed the 'British Board of Film Classification' and became responsible for the certification of both cinema and video releases. All video releases after 1 September 1985 had to comply with the Act and be submitted for classification by the BBFC. Films released on video before that date had to be re-submitted for classification within the following three years. The increased possibility of videos falling into the hands of children required that film classification for video be a separate process from cinema classification. 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 underaged 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 of 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.
Popular culture backlash against the Video Recordings Act included the May 1984 release of Nasty by the punk-goth outfit, The Damned, who celebrated the condemned genre with the lyrics, "I fell in love with a video nasty." The TV show The Young Ones included an entire episode entitled "Nasty", in which the characters rent a VCR specifically to watch a "video nasty" (with the fictitious name "Sex With the Headless Corpse of the Virgin Astronaut"), and which featured a lip synched performance of "Nasty" by The Damned.
The television program Spitting Image parodied the Video Nasties with their sketch of a sickeningly nice, low budget film, entitled a video "nicie".
Relaxation of censorship
In recent years, there has been a relaxation in film censorship and many of the films that were initially not granted certificates by the BBFC for video release have now been passed for certification uncut. The Exorcist was granted an uncut 18 certificate on 10 June 1999. Many recent films, such as 'Hostel' and the 'Saw' series, contain brutal, graphic violence but are passing through uncut.
The DPP list
The DPP list of 'video nasties' was first made public in June of 1983. The list was modified monthly as prosecutions failed or were dropped. In total 74 separate films appeared on the list at one time or another. Thirty-nine films were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act but some of these films have been subsequently cut and then approved for release by the BBFC. The remaining 35 were either not prosecuted or had unsuccessful prosecutions.
A number of films spent a short time on this list because their prosecutions failed shortly after publication or because it was decided that prosecution was not worth pursuing. Ultimately, the list became obsolete when the Video Recordings Act came into force, and since 2001, several of the films have been released uncut. In the majority of cases below where cuts were made, they were scenes of animal cruelty and/or excessive violence to women, both of which are still regarded with some degree of severity by the BBFC.
This is the list of these films (Note: All films that were cut are still banned in the UK in their original unedited version):
- Absurd (original title: Rosso Sangue -- released with 2m 32s cut in 1983)
- The Anthropophagous Beast (original title: Antropophagus -- released with approximately 3m of pre-cuts in 2002)
- Axe (original title: Lisa, Lisa -- re-released uncut in 2005)
- The Beast In Heat (original title: La Bestia in Calore -- Banned outright)
- The Beyond (original title: E tu Vivrai nel Terrore - L'Aldilà -- re-released uncut in 2001)
- Bloodbath (original title: Reazione a Catena -- released with 43s cut in 1994)
- Blood Feast (re-released uncut in 2005)
- Blood Rites (original title: The Ghastly Ones -- Banned outright)
- Bloody Moon (original title: Die Säge des Todes -- released with 1m 20s cut in 1993)
- The Bogey Man (original title: The Boogeyman -- re-released uncut in 2000)
- The Burning (re-released uncut in 2001)
- Cannibal Apocalypse (original title: Apocalypse Domani -- released with 2s cut in 2005)
- Cannibal Ferox (released with approximately 5m of pre-cuts plus 6s of additional cuts in 2000)
- Cannibal Holocaust (released in 2001 with 5m 44s cut to remove all scenes of animal cruelty)
- Cannibal Man (original title: La Semana del Asesino -- released with 3s cut in 1993)
- Cannibal Terror (original title: Terror Caníbal -- released uncut in 2003)
- Contamination (released uncut in 2004 with a 15 rating)
- Dead & Buried (re-released uncut in 1999)
- Death Trap (original title: Eaten Alive -- re-released uncut in 2000)
- Deep River Savages (original title: Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio -- released with 3m 45s cut in 2003)
- Delirium (released with 16s cut in 1987)
- Devil Hunter (original title: Il Cacciatore di Uomini -- Banned outright)
- Don't Go In The House (released with 3m 7s cut in 1987)
- Don't Go in the Woods (released uncut 26 Feb 2007)
- Don't Go Near The Park (released uncut in 2006)
- Don't Look In The Basement (original title: The Forgotten -- released uncut in 2005 with a 15 rating)
- The Driller Killer (re-released uncut in 1999)
- The Evil Dead (re-released uncut in 2001)
- Evilspeak (re-released uncut in 1999)
- Exposé (re-released with approximately 30s cut in 2006)
- Faces Of Death (released with 2m 19s cut in 2003)
- Fight For Your Life (Banned outright)
- Flesh for Frankenstein (re-released uncut in 2006)
- Forest Of Fear (original title: Bloodeaters -- Banned outright)
- Frozen Scream (Banned outright)
- The Funhouse (released uncut in 1987)
- Gestapo's Last Orgy (original title: L'Ultima orgia del III Reich -- Banned outright)
- The House by the Cemetery (original title: Quella Villa Accanto al Cimitero -- re-released with 33s cut in 2001)
- The House On The Edge Of The Park (original title: La Casa Sperduta nel Parco -- released with 11m 43s cut in 2002)
- Human Experiments (released with 26s cut in 1994)
- I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (released with 1m 6s cut in 1986)
- I Spit On Your Grave (original title: Day of the Woman -- released with 7m 2s cut in 2001)
- Inferno (re-released with 20s cut in 1993)
- Island of Death (original title: Ta Pedhia tou dhiavolou -- released with 4m 9s cut in 2002)
- Killer Nun (original title: Suor Omicidi -- re-released uncut in 2006)
- The Last House on the Left (released with 31s cut in 2003)
- Late Night Trains (original title: L'Ultimo treno della notte -- Banned outright)
- Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (original title: Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti -- re-released uncut in 2002)
- Love Camp 7 (Banned outright)
- Madhouse (original title: There Was a Little Girl -- released uncut in 2004)
- Mardi Gras Massacre (Banned outright)
- Night Of The Bloody Apes (original title: La Horripilante bestia humana -- released with approximately 1m of pre-cuts in 1999)
- Night of the Demon (released with 1m 41s cut in 1994)
- Nightmare Maker (Banned outright)
- Nightmare In A Damaged Brain (re-released with pre-cuts in 2005)
- Possession (released uncut in 1999)
- Pranks (original title: The Dorm That Dripped Blood -- re-released with 10s cut in 2001)
- Prisoner Of The Cannibal God (original title: La Montagna del Dio Cannibale -- released with 2m 6s cut in 2001)
- Revenge Of The Bogey Man (original title: Boogeyman II -- released with additional footage in 2003)
- Shogun Assassin (re-released uncut in 1999)
- The Slayer (re-released uncut in 2001)
- Snuff (released uncut in 2003)
- SS Experiment Camp (original title: Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommandantur -- released uncut in 2005)
- Tenebrae (original title: Tenebre -- re-released uncut in 2003)
- Terror Eyes (original title: Night School -- released with 1m 16s cut in 1987)
- The Toolbox Murders (released with 1m 46s cut in 2000)
- Unhinged (released uncut in 2004)
- Visiting Hours (released with approximately 2m cut in 1986)
- The Werewolf And The Yeti (original title: La Maldición de la bestia -- Banned outright)
- The Witch Who Came From The Sea (released uncut in 2006)
- Women Behind Bars (original title: Des diamants pour l'enfer -- Banned outright)
- Xtro (released uncut in 1987)
- Zombie Creeping Flesh (original title: Virus -- released uncut in 2002)
- Zombie Flesh Eaters (original title: Zombi 2 -- re-released uncut in 2005)
Breakdown of the list
Of these films:
- 32 have been released uncut
- 27 have been released with cuts
- 1 has been released with additional footage
- 14 are banned in the UK to this day.
Unless noted otherwise, all films that have been released have been rated 18.
Also note that a lot of these movies caused extra controversy with the cover art of the original big box releases seen in the video shops of the early eighties.