It may appear to be nothing more than a glorified DVD extra, having appeared on “Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide”, but what Jake West’s documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape lacks in length, big name interviewees and theatrical prestige it gains in pure thorough entertainment. An obvious relative to Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, which looked at the bawdy “ozploitation” films of the 1970s and ‘80s, West’s film is never the less a more historical look at a time when British politics went mad and aimed to silence filmmakers for simply failing to adhere to the prehistoric borders of good taste and decency.
Beginning with a superbly edited and comically ridiculous three minute montage of “the 72 films that changed Britain forever” (as the tagline suggests), Video Nasties then aims to educate viewers on the hows and whys, ins and outs of just what was so deemed so bad about these films, who was responsible for their subsequent banning and the fall out from what was tantamount of a right ol’ book burning, but with beta and VHS piled up instead of paper and bindings.
Jake West comes from a background of horror movie DVD featurettes as well as direct-to-DVD sequels like Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes and has directed and edited Video Nasties himself. For the first 10 minutes or so he throws in VHS-style “grindhouse effects” like tracking symbols, fuzziness and looping, but downplays it after a short while. The 72 running time (coincidental or deliberate?) feels like it could easily have been extended, but that’s probably more an issue of time and budget than West’s skills behind the camera. Unfortunately though, Video Nasties lacks a sort of bravura authoritativeness that Not Quite Hollywood had in spades.
His interview subjects are fascinating, but apart from several big(ish) name directors like Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) and Christopher Smith (Severance, Triangle) and some important political figures of the time, they lack depth. Their expertise on the topic somewhat makes up for this, but it’s a shame West and his producers couldn’t nab a big name like Hartley did with Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Hopper or the seemingly never-ending parade of cast and crew that were directly involved in the making of the “ozploitation” films that particular movie covered. It is interesting to hear them speak on something I’ve noted personally several times, that watching these movies on blu-ray almost defeats the purpose of them. The example of A Serbian Film is used, saying that it looks too good to be a true “video nasty”, the value of which comes from being grungy and done so that you either believe it’s really happening (Cannibal Holocaust) or so over-the-top that you can’t believe anybody ever thought it was scary (Night of the Bloody Apes).
If Video Nasties does improve upon Not Quite Hollywood in one aspect, it’s the way its subjects have such a strong historical context in the censorship debate. A debate that, it must be sadly noted, is still raging to this day, at least here in Australia (what with movies being banned and the like). West’s clip selections – film and vintage news – are also a riot, and it’s fascinating to see footage from so many movies and laugh at the thought that the overly silly violence was deemed too indecent for the British public. Hearing Marshall, Smith and the others discuss that thrill of entering a video store during those early years of video tapes and discovering the world that cinema would open up to them is something all cinephiles will identify with and find humour in.
Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape is not a perfect documentary, but it tells a wonderful story that is rarely discussed about in these days of everything being available to anyone, anywhere at the click of a mouse. It’s important to remember that Apocalypse Now, The Big Red One and even poor, defenceless The Best Little Whore House in Texas were once taken off the shelves purely because some people deemed fit to monitor the public’s viewing habits thought they sounded offensive and would corrupt the masses. Movie lovers should watch this and imagine what could possible happen in 2011 of a similar nature. Perhaps that’s a topic for another DVD. B