Exploring is a new series here on B and S About Movies where we’ll go deep into a historic movie era or genre, finding out all there is to know and sharing it with you. I’ve always been fascinated with the early 1980’s UK scare of video nasties and how they relate to the Satanic Panic that was going on at the same time in the United States.
The first time I ever heard the phrase “video nasty,” it was in the ninth episode of The Young Ones, entitled “Nasty,” where Mike and Vyvyan attempt to get a VCR to show a video nasty that they’ve got their hands on. I had no idea what the phrase meant, thinking that it had to be a pornographic film.
Instead, the phrase video nasty refers to a number of films distributed on video cassette that were criticized for their violent content by the UK press and various organizations such as the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.
How did these movies get into the country in the first place Well, they weren’t ever shown to the British Board of Film Classification — think our MPAA — because of a loophole that allowed video cassettes to bypass the review process. Soon, anyone — including the children, why won’t someone think of the children — could rent the most violent and depraved films possible.
Many feel that this controversy all started because Vipco (Video Instant Picture Company), the UK distributors of The Driller Killer, placed huge ads proclaiming the violence of that film, which led to plenty of complaints. They were owned by Michael Lee, the same man who produced Spookies.
Then Go Video tried to take a page out of the Kroger Babb playbook and wrote to Whitehouse, complaining about Cannibal Holocaust, a movie they distributed, to see if they could generate some negative publicity to boost sales. That backfired and she went on the warpath.
Before you knew it, The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail started their war against video nasties, blaming them for the rise in juvenile delinquency — repeating the same silly tactics that Dr. Frederick Wetham used to put EC Comics six feet under in the 1950’s.
Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA started a campaign that soon allowed local jurisdictions to prosecute certain video releases for obscenity. But how can you tell what is — and what isn’t — obscene?
Simple. The Director of Public Prosecutions created a list of 72 films that he believed violated the Obscene Publications Act 1959, as well as another list of 82 titles which couldn’t be prosecuted as they had already been acquitted of obscenity.
It all led to the Video Recordings Act 1984, which forced all video releases to require BBFC certification, yet this new law imposed a stricter code of censorship on home video than it did for actual films.
For this article, we’ll be examing the 39 films that were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. If you’d like to learn more, many of these films have already been reviewed on our site and we’ve provided a handy hyperlink within each title.
1. Absurd: This Joe D’Amato directed, George Eastman starring, Halloween ripping off slasher had 2 minutes and 32 seconds of gore sliced off in 1983 after being prosecuted and has never been resubmitted in the UK. An uncut version of the film was recently released in the US by Severin. I can only imagine how horrified British old women were when they watched this one.
2. Anthropophagous: Also recently reissued in uncut form by Severin, this movie has more titles than almost anything save The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. Antropofago, Man Beast, Man-Eater and The Savage Island — call it what you will, but I’m certain the British censors probably called it “that movie where a maniac eats a baby out of its mother’s womb.” It was eventually released with eight minutes cut in 2002 under another title, The Grim Reaper. Give it up for Joe D’Amato and George Eastman, folks. They hit one and two on this list with two movies that are pretty much the same film. I say that as high praise.
3. Axe: This 1974 film — originally entitled Lisa, Lisa — was bought by Harry Novak and re-released in 1978 as Axe. You may have also seen it under the titles California Axe Massacre and The Axe Murders. It’s a rape revenge film that surely challenged the morals of Mary Whitehouse.
4. A Bay of Blood: This is the movie that invented the slasher, after Mario Bava pretty much invented giallo. Even a full decade after its creation, it still had the power to shock. 43 seconds of the film were cut, although a 2010 release in the UK was uncut. Much like the previously mentioned Anthropophagous and The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, this movie was released under a ton of titles.
5. The Beast In Heat: Another video nasty, another recent blu ray re-release from Severin! Never screened in America, this tale of an evil Nazi female doctor and the dwarf sex-crazed monster that she’s created seems like the kind of film that could decimate the fragile sensibilities of even the most hardened individual. It remains banned in the UK and Australia.
6. Blood Feast: Not to be outdone by A Bay of Blood being nearly ten years old, this Herschell Gordon Lewis movie was around twenty years old when the video nasty scandal occurred. I guess there’s no statute of limitations when it comes to “a veritable orgy of blood and gore.”
7. Blood Rites: Perhaps better known as The Ghastly Ones, this Andy Milligan film was made in 1968, but perhaps the low budget gore — made with real animal organs — is what got it on the list of video nasties.
8. Bloody Moon: As the slasher grew in popularity in the early 1980’s, Jess Franco created his own version of these films. Of course, it was packed with nudity, as well as “incest, voyeurism and roller disco” to quote the fine folks at Severin, who of course released this on blu ray uncut and ready to melt brains. There’s also a scene where a head is taken clean off with a power saw that probably kept this out of the UK. This won’t be the last Franco movie on the list.
9. The Burning: While this American cash-in on Friday the 13th made it uncut into UK theaters, it caused major issues when released on video. 19 seconds were cut when it was re-released in 1992, but it’s since been released uncut. Hey — you hire Tom Savini to do the effects, you kind of expect these things.
10. Cannibal Apocalypse: Also known as Invasion of the Flesh Hunters, this Antonio Margheriti film about Vietnam vets bringing back a zombie virus — John Saxon is amongst them — was originally released on video with no cuts. Years later, it would be rereleased with two seconds of a rat being killed cut.
11. Cannibal Ferox: What, did you think a movie also known as Make Them Die Slowly was going to not be a video nasty? Umberto Lenzi’s film brags about being the most violent film ever made and being banned from 31 countries, so one would assume that he laughed when he heard that his film was getting people arrested. A 2001 reissue found six minutes cut out of the film before censors even saw it. Yeah, it’s that rough. You can get the Grindhouse Releasing blu ray reissue at Diabolik DVD or watch it on Shudder.
12. Cannibal Holocaust: This movie was born to be on this list. It’s packed with so much menace, brutality and just plain scum that people had to be protected from its evil. In fact, as of 2012, it’s still banned outright in Malaysia, Singapore, Iceland, Germany, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Iran and New Zealand. Keep in mind that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested for murder, as authorities believed that this was an actual snuff film. Feeling brave? The uncut version is on Shudder.
13. The Cannibal Man: Despite its title, this movie has no cannibalism, but does have some slaughterhouse footage. This Spanish film is less exploitation — despite what its artwork will lead you to believe — and more a takedown on the oppressive regime of Franco (Francisco, not Jess).
14. Devil Hunter: Speaking of Jess, here he is again. Al Cliver stars as Peter Weston, a Vietnam veteran out to save a kidnapped model from cannibals and their lurking demonic lord. Perhaps more interesting, this movie was co-directed by Franco’s mistress Lina Romay and edited by his first wife Nicole Guettard, who he was still married to at the time.
15. Don’t Go In the Woods: By 2007, this movie was released uncut in the UK. But back then, I guess nobody got the joke. I’ve never taken this movie seriously, despite its graphic content. Maybe some people just don’t get the joke. When compared to some of the truly damaging films on this list, this one is kid stuff. Maybe the theme song freaked them out?
16. The Driller Killer: As much an art film as a slasher, the lurid cover of this movie was one of the major reasons for video nasties getting so much press. Abel Ferrara, its creator, believe that that campaign was the main reason his film was banned. Maybe it was also the scenes of drills penetrating human bodies, too.
17. Evilspeak: This movie, a favorite of the Church of Satan, had three minutes and forty-four seconds removed before it could be released in 1987, but has since been re-released uncut. Look, if you’re going to put a sword in Clint Howard’s hand, the guy is going to decapitate bullies. There are also rumors — substantiated by Howard — that the film’s original cut has even more blood, gore and nudity. Someone really needs to find that and release it.
18. Expose: Another film that once played in movie theaters uncut and was stung when released on VHS, this film — also known as The House On Straw Hill and Trauma — was released with almost a minute of offense footage cut out. The ad campaign promised “Nothing, but nothing, is left to the imagination!” This movie — about Udo Keir as a novelist working on a sexy novel and running afoul of a potentially unhinged housekeeper — was finally released uncut by Severin.
19. Faces of Death: The film that dared you to rent it, this sat on the shelves of my local video store and stared at me in the face, calling me names for never renting it. You can debate the truth of whether or not this movie shows snuff footage, but it cannot be denied that it ended up on the list of video nasties. It probably laughed and said, “Cool.”
20. Fight for Your Life: This movie wasn’t permitted to be released in UK cinemas and immediately banned upon video release, pretty much. The reason it’s on the list? The racist language used by William Sanderson — yes the guy from TV’s Newhart — as he attacks a black family. If you want to see an uncut version, it was re-released by Blue Underground.
21. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein: This is yet another movie that made it unscathed into theaters and was attacked upon video release. As the film was shot for 3D, there are plenty of images of organs and blood coming right at the viewer, along with a mix of sex and death that had to be upsetting to the stiff upper lips of British censors.
22. Toxic Zombies: Featuring John Amplas — yes, Martin himself — and igniting the redneck zombie genre, this movie has never been re-released in the UK. It’s also the only movie directed by Charles McCrann, who also acted in the film. After this, he became a businessman and died in his World Trade Center office on 9/11/2001.
23. The Gestapo’s Last Orgy: Also known as Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler, which is the most grindhouse title ever. This movie’s IMDB about listing states, “A Jewish WWII survivor revisits the ruins of a hellish concentration camp, and the memories are still vivid. How did she escape the humiliation, the tortures, and the destruction of human flesh? How did she flee from Gestapo’s last orgy?” You can imagine that this has also never been re-released in the UK, right?
24. The House by the Cemetery: This Fulci gutbuster had anywhere between four and eight whole minutes chopped out of it when re-released in 1988. Those cuts made an already murky plot even stranger and harder to follow, if that’s possible. Don’t get mad — this is one of my favorite movies, but even I can admit that it’s a little “difficile da seguire” as you say in Italian. Even the bat attack scene was censored, perhaps because of the violence to the animals.
25. The House on the Edge of the Park: David Hess joined up with Ruggero Deodato to pretty much remake Hess’ best-known movie, The Last House On the Left. Even Deodato is shocked by this film and he made it: “I thought it was too violent. I make violent films, but softer ones. But this film was full of violence, and that made me uncomfortable. When I met David Hess, I thought that with my direction I could make him do anything. But when I first read it, I found it quite disturbing.” This is a prime example of a movie that wasn’t allowed in theaters being released uncensored on home video, with a re-release in 2002 missing around twelve minutes of depravity.
26. I Spit On Your Grave: Also known as Day of the Woman, this film was prosecuted in the UK while being outright banned in countries like Ireland, Norway, Iceland and West Germany. A 2001 re-release saw seven minutes of the film being cut, mostly the lengthy rape sequence that has earned this film its misogynistic label.
27. Island of Death: This Nico Mastorakis-directed is all about a man and a woman, who act as newlyweds on a honeymoon to the Greek island of Mykonos before killing anyone they find sinful or perverted. It’s not hard to see why this made the list — drug use, animal torture, priests being killed, incest, watersports, decapitation by bulldozer, multiple rapes — but it’s amazing that Arrow Video later released it uncut on blu ray.
28. The Last House on the Left: This movie remained unreleased in its uncut form until 2008. There were so many cuts to the film by theaters that it’s near impossible to find an original film that has everything intact. Wes Craven was given to tell people that many projectionists were so offended by it that they stole prints and burned them, which sounds like hyperbole. Arrow Video has released this on blu ray.
29. Love Camp 7: This Lee Frost /Bob Cresse Naziploitation affair — about two female agents going undercover in a Nazi prison camp — had no hope of not being a video nasty.
30. Madhouse: This tale of a young girl and her murderous sister is packed with gore and menace, as well as violence with and to dogs, so it’s easy to see how this ended up on the list. It’s pretty great, however, a mix of slasher and giallo and just plain weird filmmaking from the creator of The Visitor. It was eventually released on blu ray by Arrow Video.
31. Mardi Gras Massacre: A remake — err, ripoff — of Blood Feast that exchanges Miami and the Egyptian goddess Ishtar for New Orleans and the Aztec goddess Coatl, this movie was given an X rating in the United States and was never resubmitted for British re-release. Code Red released it on blu ray in 2016, but copies are scarce.
32. Nightmares In A Damaged Brain: While this film originally played in New York theaters with an X rating and UK cinemas with some cuts, it was still prosecuted when released on home video. Its distributor was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to edit out a sequence lasting one second from the film.
33. Night of the Bloody Apes: Made in 1969, René Cardona remade his earlier effort Doctor of Doom and turned it into a real party, filled with nudity, medical footage, women wrestling, a murderous ape — as one would hope from the title — and lots of gore. This also passed — with some cuts — to play in UK cinemas, which made it odd that it was prosecuted.
34. Night of the Demon: I absolutely adore this strange hybrid of a movie, which somehow starts with a giallo-esque open, then turns into a Bigfoot movie, then becomes a slasher. Two minutes of this movie were cut before it was re-released. Not making the cut? Bigfoot ripping off a biker’s penis and using another man’s intestines to beat on someone. That’s a real shame. You can watch it on Amazon Prime.
35. Snuff: This 1976 film — which could only be made in South America where life is cheap — takes a movie made years before called Slaughter, adds a new ending and removes the credits to give the appearance that it’s a real snuff film. It caused outrage in both America and the UK, where people believed that its ad campaign had to be true.
36. SS Experiment Camp: This lovely film — all about Colonel von Kleiben needing a testicle transplant after being castrated by a Russian girl — drew plenty of the wrong kinds of attention thanks to its advertising campaign. Posters featured a semi-naked woman hanging upside-down from a crucifix, yet the British Board of Film Classification passed it with no cuts. They claimed that “Despite the questionable taste of basing an exploitation film in a concentration camp, the sexual activity itself was consensual and the level of potentially eroticized violence sufficiently limited.”
37. Tenebre: One of my favorite — if not my favorite — giallo films, Tenebre is at the same time director Dario Argento’s answer to criticism that his movies were too violent toward women while killing more women — and to be fair men — than any of his previous films. That said, this movie is probably the best-made film on this entire list and is only considered a video nasty because of the sexualization of much of its violence.
38. The Werewolf and the Yeti: Welcome to the video nasty list, Paul Naschy and your alter ego, Count Waldemar Daninsky. This movie was never re-released in the UK after appearing on the video nasty prosecuted films list.
39. Zombi: There’s no way that the Godfather of Gore’s opus wasn’t going to get someone, somewhere, somehow in trouble. In 1992, it was re-released with nearly two minutes exorcized from the film, but today is available uncut. Blue Underground’s recent blu ray rerelease is the best way to see this movie in all its gut chomping glory.
Soon, we’ll cover Section 2 — the thirty-three films that were unprosecuted. If you have something you’d like to add or a memory of the video nasty era, we’d love to hear it!