Video Nasties is a term associated with a period of panic and censorship in the UK during the rise of popularity of the video cassette. A list of films that were censored and banned that now wear that Video Nasty stamp like a badge of honor. Looking back, it seems blown out of proportion, but it’s a fascinating part of film history that still has rippling effects even today.
When video cassettes emerged in the marketplace, it took off like wildfire. There were only about 3 channels to watch in the UK, and the newness of the cassettes meant lack of regulations in a place where censorship was trigger happy. Enter distributors, who took out huge advertisements of films like The Driller Killer, which was essentially like dumping chum into the media shark infested waters. Articles about morally bankrupt horror began to spread, setting the wheels in motion for the authorities to step in and search for videos deemed in breach of the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. With varying opinion among the police force on what did or didn’t classify as obscene, the Department of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of 72 films deemed worthy of prosecution. Of the 72 initially on the list, 33 of them were dropped from either failure to successfully prosecute or just not prosecuted in the first place.
Then came the Video Recordings Act in 1984, which placed British Board of Film Classifications as responsible for theatrical and video releases. All films released on video before it went into effect had to be re-submitted for classification. This act essentially doomed independent distributors with high costs of releasing a film on video.
Why does any of this matter today? There are certainly parallels to be drawn and lessons to be learned from the initial unregulated video market and the governments’ overkill in its attempt to employ regulations. For fans, any film deemed a Video Nasty meant something taboo that must be sought out and worth watching. Anything banned earns instant curiosity.
More than a history lesson, the panic of the Video Nasties is also responsible for shaping horror and budding filmmakers that grew up in the midst of the craze. Filmmakers like director Neil Marshall, who went on to direct modern horror classic The Descent because the Video Nasties craze had an effect on his viewing habits in his youth.
We break down all 72 Video Nasties to get to the bottom of the censorship craze, find out what triggered the censors, and the surprises in between:
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