Banning films seems like a normal thing now doesn’t it?
Making cuts to certain scenes so the film is more socially accepted is an important part of distributing films to the big screen and to the DVD. But back in the 1980’s when VHS and the very short-lived Betamax was king, banning and making cuts to films were causing havoc in Britain.
Watching a film on VHS in the comfort of your own home was convenient, and a brand new medium, so you can imagine the excitement surrounding this new film revolution. Independent video stores were all of a sudden popping up over night, and corner stores were making room to shelve the latest VHS releases. But suddenly this excitement, and the potential to make a lot of money, got shot down. Police, who had no idea what they were looking for, were seizing VHS, all because of mass hysteria, scare tactics by the government, religious groups and misinformed ‘journalists’. It was this lethal combination that destroyed businesses, peoples passions and the freedom for people to watch whatever the hell they wanted.
The year was 1982, the FIFA world cup was being held in Spain, ‘First Blood’ had been released and the term ‘Video Nasty’ had been pinned, and it wasn’t going away and so the scare tactics had begun. It was clear from the beginning that the police and government didn’t actually know what they were looking for, all they knew is that overly violent, bloody and sexual violent films needed to be banned even if they hadn’t even seen the films. Apparently the brief synopsis on the back of the VHS cover told them everything they needed to know. Ignorance sure is bliss right? There were a lot of low budget horror films that did make the grade and were able to be distributed but it was films like Driller Killer and the extremely controversial Cannibal Holocaust that set off the dinner bell for the hungry government sharks. The graphic VHS cover of Driller Killer is what started VHS stores getting seized of their products. Police were just raiding video stores in the hope they will find something that looks just as graphic, depraved and explicit. It was clearly way more important to stop entertainment rather than try and find real life depraved criminals.
For a number of years the British people would were quite fearful that their own children were going to end up as depraved as the serial killer Yorkshire Ripper if they somehow managed to obtain a film like Driller Killer. When you went to the cinema, there were classifications, which obviously didn’t let minors into films, which were deemed inappropriate, sounds normal right? Well if a six year old walked into a video store and picked up a copy of Snuff, do you really think a grown up sales assistant is going to sell the kid a copy of it to rent? Don’t you think it would be a little stupid of them to do so especially since law enforcement and the government were cracking down on video stores for possessing certain films?
It’s obvious that kids at times were going to have a video nasty in their possession however, do you think maybe that is the result of an older person obtaining a copy; like an older brother or maybe even a PARENT!
After the government cracked down on video stores selling video nasties, many of these stores had these films hidden behind the counter in brown paper bags or blank VHS cases, so unless these young kids knew exactly what they were looking for, something tells me these films were not ‘Raping our children’s minds’; to quote The Daily Mail in 1983. It’s scare tactics and terrible journalism like that, which instils fear into the public. Can you just imagine the meeting in the boardroom at the Daily Mail? The conversation would have sounded something like this;
“Okay what is one way we can get more readers, and make more money? Well, the public hate rape, and they hate anything bad happening to children, oh I got it, we will make them think that video nasties that hardly any children have obtained are raping their minds…oh and we need to put it in bold lettering, really bold lettering, because if we don’t how will the British public know that we are serious?”
That kind of ‘journalism’ is absolutely disgusting. For a kick off, most of them hadn’t even seen past the first few minutes of a video nasty film, and probably wouldn’t know how to react if they did see one it’s in entirety.
Another issue in all of this is something that needs to be brought up; did any of the law enforcement, government, religious groups and so called journalists actually understand that these were just films? Did they notice that they were just entertainment? Did they notice that there were people getting paid to act? And more importantly did they understand that the world had been on a cultural revolution in the last 30 years years with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, the corruption surrounding numerous governments and because of that people were more freely saying ‘Fuck you’, because they just had enough? How did that go unnoticed? Why weren’t anthropologists, and psychologists brought in to tell the world,
“Shit thing’s have changed, people don’t want something clean cut and glossy anymore, they want honesty, brutality and overall imagination”.
It doesn’t take a film historian to know that when the times change, so does people’s creativity. Take a look at the music industry and how that dramatically changed generations and it made people socially aware of what political figures were spoon-feeding them. Elvis Presley was originally seen as the spawn of Satan with his gyrating hips, but the world mourned when he died. And it’s the same now with film, although it’s a little bit more selective. Depraved films can be socially accepted IF it is done in an artistic way. To be more blunt, if you have really great camera work and a foreign director attached to the piece, then it’s accepted.
Why was cracking down on these films so important? What was achieved in all of this? There is no clear indication on why 72 films were put on the infamous ‘Video Nasties List’, but what is a definite is that all these different groups came together for what they told the British public was a common good; but really it was all because they wanted to distract everyone from what was really going on in their own backyard. And the one thing that they knew they could do is create mass hysteria by faking statistics and scaring parents into believing that their children were all going to be serial killers and rapists.
Films do not make people want to go out and commit heinous crimes. If someone is psychologically unwell chances are they were going to commit a violent act without a films influence. No one ever bothers to look at criminal’s surroundings. Did they ever think to look at the parents? When you see neglectful parents wondering why their kids are acting up or going astray why do they feel they need to blame society and the media? No one in entertainment should be a role model, because they aren’t. And no one should take a film seriously and act on it, because if they do, it proves they were mentally ill to begin with and have actually lost touch of reality. Blaming entertainment for all societies wrong doings is a cop out, and people that do all the finger pointing are complacent humans with no real insight to anything that goes on outside their brain. So when a genre of film like horror and exploitation invades their mind they don’t know how to handle it or how to understand it, so what do they do? Try and destroy it.
For anyone who doesn’t know my film taste or passion, I shall give you an insight into my feelings on the video nasties. I was exposed to violent, gory and intense films very young, and they were not necessarily of the horror and exploitation genre, they were dramas. I saw films I shouldn’t but my parents were far stricter in other areas. I rented VHS weekly and sometimes I loved the trailers before and after the movies that were on the tapes, and through that I remember finding new films that way. But these films were more of the gory type. And as I got older I was able to cross off a video nasty off that list one by one.
With each viewing I became more and more desensitised to what I watched, and while as I have gotten older and become a little more shut off emotionally, when I watch these films, I become more alive. Does that sound sick? Maybe to people who don’t know me, but they made me feel alive because of the imagination, the creativity, the storylines and of course the practical FX. All those elements combined together create something so wonderful, which nothing could ever compare to. The video nasty films were made in a time, which needed them to be made, because they were relevant to our time. It’s the horror and exploitation genres, which dared to show what sometimes we think about deep down. You would be a liar if you hadn’t have wondered what it would feel like to hurt someone who hurt you. As I have gotten older and watched more of these kinds of films, I have noticed a lot of these films have hidden messages in them. Sure some are just revenge films with a tonne of blood and guts and depravity. But there are some that really sit with you and get you thinking.
I wrote an article on Cannibal Holocaust, and I stated how the message of the film are that we are the real savages. After doing a lot of intense research on the video nasties, I think that message applies. I read so many newspaper articles and was sickened by the lack of journalism, knowledge and lack of care that these people had on the issues. There was a quote from The Daily Mail, which stuck with me that stated this “How many more women will be savaged and defiled by youths weaned on a diet of rape videos”. – And to that I say, how many more women will be savaged and defiled in the armed forces by men in high ranks, and when it’s reported nothing is done? And to that I also say how many more young women will be a victim to this new rape culture where everything is posted online, and there is no justice for the victim when the rape is blatant and there in black and white for the whole world to see?
Violence, gore and sexual depravity happened a long time before films were ever made. Does anyone remember hearing about Elizabeth Bathory? Pretty sure she was bathing in virgin’s blood before a similar tactic was used in Hostel Part II. Films are not to blame for every crime ever committed, history is; film takes from history and the time it is currently in. All the groups who had it in for the video nasties didn’t understand what those films were trying to do, so they tried to destroy them and make sure people would never remember them. They remind me of the documentary crew in Cannibal Holocaust; they were taking what wasn’t theirs and doing what they wanted with them. Never mind article headlines like ‘Raping our Children’s minds’, because the minds that were getting raped were that of the misinformed British public.