Censor (2021)

Obviously, we’re kind of invested in video nasties, what with our deep dives into sections 1, 2 and 3 of the films that were criticized for their violent content by the UK press and various organizations such as the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.

Thanks to a loophole, these films did not have to pass through the British Board of Film Classification. Soon could rent films that could never have made it into British theaters. Obviously, guardians of decency and morality soon lost their minds. It’s kind of hard to put this into a U.S. frame of mind. Sure, we had the PMRC, but we didn’t grow up in Thatcher’s England.

Yet nearly forty years later, the lure of video nasties still gets our collective lizard brain excited. We live in a place where you can now just load up something like Anthropophagous on a streaming service, but at one point, it wasn’t just hard to find that movie. According to the Video Recordings Act 1984, all video releases required BBFC certification, along with a stricter code of censorship on home video than it did for actual films. If caught renting or selling these movies, authorities could use the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to levy fines, potential jail sentences and even close down businesses.

All we got were stickers on our albums and some scattered record burnings. Nothing like the outright panic that occurred in the UK.

This is the world that Censor takes place in.

Enid is a video censor (Niamh Algar) who approves a movie* that a killer claims inspired him to devour his wife’s face. Her notoriety leads to a producer named Doug Smart (Michael Smiley) to personally ask for her to censor his newest film, Don’t Go in the Church. He’s also attracted to the woman he sees hidden behind her thick glasses and severe lack of fashion, saying that she should be in one of his movies.

Enid replies, “I don’t think I like the idea of being raped and cut into pieces on screen.”

The shady producer shoots back, “The public would love it.”

As she continually watches the film in an attempt to slice its most worrisome moments — Enid is fastidious in her job, unlike many of her co-workers — she is reminded of her sister Nina, who disappeared when she was only seven years old. She becomes convinced that the actress Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) is her missing sibling who has been forced to appear in these increasingly violent films.

With her parents asking her to move on, Enid has no choice but to use the attraction that the producer has for her and follow him home. He thinks he’s getting a chance to sleep with her. She wants more information on Alice Lee’s next movie with director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). As he attempts to seduce her, she pushes him away, causing an accident where he’s violently impaled on one of his awards. At this point, reality and dreams start to mesh, brought together with the lines of tracking and fuzz that VHS movies once awarded us with.

This moves Enid literally into the woods, seeking out the set and directed North, who confesses that all that he knows is that his movie was based on a true story. He casts her in the film without knowing that our protagonist has completely dissociated herself from reality and has the mission to rescue her sister and thereby end the blight of the video nasties.

Director and co-writer** Prano Bailey-Bond explored similar territory in her 2015 short Nasty, a film in which a young boy searches for his missing father by watching the lost man’s collection of video nasties. For a first feature, she does an admirable job of keeping a consistent tone of dread and nastiness; this would fit somewhat into the giallo subgenre of “woman slowly losing her mind in an attempt to come to grips with her past,” which may be the longest name of a sub-genre ever.

Unlike movies set in the 80s that keep things strictly neon, production designer Paulina Rzeszowska and director Bailey-Bond strove to keep things within the gray world — until we enter the videodrome, as it were — of Thatcher. Once those films start to play, they feel real, as the goal was that each fake movie had to have its own storyline, even if we don’t see them play out in Censor. What we end up with is a sinister Wizard of Oz, where the escape to fantasy looks filled with the colors of Bava and the soft darkness of Eurohorror.

The film may have an ending you see coming from the beginning, but it’s still a pretty entertaining and tight affair. And hey — anyone making horror movies that are just 82 minutes long understands exactly one very important and lost rule of how the genre should play.

You may be upset with the fact that your beloved video nasties will get a new audience of people who may not understand why they’re important to you. Perhaps you will get the opportunity to explain it to them and open the gates somewhat. Or you can always avoid it, wait for this to pass over and content yourself by watching Bloody Moon for the twentieth time.

As for me, I hope that someday, Bailey-Bond makes a full version of Don’t Go Into the Woods, because it looks like the kind of film that I absolutely love.

You can learn more about Censor at the official site.

*It’s Deranged, the real 1974 movie directed by Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen. I kind of love how Censor balances films created within its universe with actual movies.

**Co-writer Anthony Fletcher also worked on both of these films.

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