Video nasty was a colloquial term in the United Kingdom popularized by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) to refer to a number of films distributed on video cassette in the early 1980s that were criticized for their violent content by the press, social commentators, and various religious organizations. These video releases were not brought before the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), which could have censored or banned many of the films, due to a loophole in film classification laws. As a result, this produced a glut of potentially censorable video releases, which led to public debate concerning the availability of these films to children due to the unregulated nature of the market.
Following a moral campaign led by Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA, local jurisdictions began to prosecute certain video releases for obscenity. To assist local authorities in identifying obscene films, the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of 72 films the office believed to violate the Obscene Publications Act 1959. This list included films that had been acquitted of obscenity in certain jurisdictions or that had already obtained BBFC certification. The subsequent revisions to the list and confusion regarding what constituted obscene material led to Parliament passing the Video Recordings Act 1984, which forced all video releases to appear before the BBFC for certification.
The implementation of the Video Recording Act imposed a stricter code of censorship on videos than was required for cinema release. Several major studio productions were banned on video, as they fell within the scope of legislation designed to control the distribution of video nasties. In recent years, the stricter requirements have been relaxed, as numerous films once considered video nasties have obtained certification uncut or with minimal edits. Due to a legislative mistake discovered in August 2009, the Video Recordings Act 1984 was repealed and re-enacted without change by the Video Recordings Act 2010.
- 1 Obscenity and video
- 2 Public concern
- 3 Effects of the Video Recordings Act 1984
- 4 Relaxation of censorship
- 5 DPP list
- 6 Republic of Ireland
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Obscenity and video
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At the time of the introduction of domestic video recorders in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, there was no legislation specifically designed to regulate video content, apart from the Obscene Publications Act 1959 which had been amended in 1977 to cover erotic films. Major film distributors were initially reluctant to embrace the new medium of video for fear of piracy and the video market became flooded with low-budget horror films. Whilst some of these films had been passed by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for cinema release, others had been refused certification. The Obscene Publications Act defined obscenity as that which may "tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it". This definition is of course open to wide interpretation.
If the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) felt that a certain video might be in breach of the Act, then a prosecution could be brought against the film's producers, distributors and retailers. Prosecutions had to be fought on a case-by-case basis and a backlog of prosecutions built up. However, under the terms of the Act the police were empowered to seize videos from retailers if they were of the opinion that the material was in breach of the Act. In the early 1980s, in certain police constabularies, notably Greater Manchester Police which was at that time run by devout Christian Chief Constable James Anderton, police raids on video hire shops increased. However the choice of titles seized appeared to be completely arbitrary, one raid famously netting a copy of the Dolly Parton musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) under the mistaken belief it was pornographic.
The Video Retailers Association were alarmed by the apparently random seizures and asked the DPP to provide a guideline for the industry so that stockists could be made aware of the titles which were liable to be confiscated. The DPP recognized that the current system, where the interpretation of obscenity was down to individual Chief Constables, was inconsistent and decided to publish a list that contained names of films that had already resulted in a successful prosecutions or where the DPP had already filed charges against the video's distributors. This list became known as the DPP list of "video nasties".
The lack of regulation of the domestic video market was in sharp contrast to the regulation of material intended for public screenings. The BBFC had been established in 1912 and it was their responsibility to pass films intended for the cinema for certification within the United Kingdom (though local councils were the final arbiters). As part of this process the board could recommend, or demand in the more extreme cases, that certain cuts be made to the film in order for it to gain a particular certification. Such permission was not always granted, and in the case of the release of The Exorcist in 1973, a number of enterprising managers of cinemas where permission had been granted set about providing buses to transport cinema-goers from other localities where the film could not be seen.
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Public awareness of the availability of these videos began in early 1982, when Vipco (Video Instant Picture Company), the UK distributors of The Driller Killer, a 1979 slasher film, took out full-page advertisements in a number of specialist video magazines, depicting the video's explicit cover; an action which resulted in a large number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency. A few months later Go Video, the distributors of the already-controversial 1980 Italian film Cannibal Holocaust, in an effort to boost publicity and generate sales that ultimately backfired, wrote anonymously to Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association complaining about their own film. Whitehouse sparked off a public campaign and coined the term 'video nasty'. Amid the growing concern, The Sunday Times brought the issue to a wider audience in May 1982 with an article entitled "How high street horror is invading the home". Soon the Daily Mail began their own campaign against the distribution of these films. The exposure of 'nasties' to children began to be blamed for the increase in violent crime amongst youths. The growing media frenzy only served to increase the demand for such material among adolescents. At the suggestion of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, the Conservative MP Graham Bright introduced a Private Member's Bill to the House of Commons in 1983. This was passed as the Video Recordings Act 1984 which came into effect on 1 September 1985.
Effects of the Video Recordings Act 1984
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Under the 1984 Act, the British Board of Film Censors was renamed the British Board of Film Classification and became responsible for the certification of both cinema and video releases. All video releases after 1 September 1985 had to comply with the Act and be submitted for classification by the BBFC. Films released on video before that date had to be re-submitted for classification within the following three years. The increased possibility of videos falling into the hands of children required that film classification for video be a separate process from cinema classification. Films that had passed uncut for cinema release were often cut for video. The supply of unclassified videos became a criminal offence, as did supplying 15 and 18 certificate videos to under-aged people. As well as the low-budget horror films the Act was originally intended to curb, a number of high profile films which had passed cinema certification fell foul of the Act. In particular, The Exorcist, which was made available by Warner Home Video in December 1981, was not submitted for video certification by the BBFC and was withdrawn from shelves in 1986. Similarly Straw Dogs was denied video certification and removed from video stores. Popular culture backlash against the Video Recordings Act included the May 1984 release of "Nasty" by the punk-goth outfit, The Damned, who celebrated the condemned genre with the lyrics, "I fell in love with a video nasty."
The TV show The Young Ones included an entire episode entitled "Nasty", in which the characters rent a video recorder specifically to watch a "video nasty" (with the fictitious name Sex With the Headless Corpse of the Virgin Astronaut), and which featured a lip synched performance of "Nasty" by The Damned. In another episode, "Bambi", the eponymous character had apparently done a "Disney nasty" entitled Bambi Goes Crazy-Ape Bonkers With His Drill and Sex.
The television programme Spitting Image parodied the Video Nasties with their sketch of a sickeningly nice, low-budget film, entitled a video "nicie".
Neil Innes' song "My New School" (1984) contains a video nasty reference "It's got all the charm of a video nasty/I've never been anywhere so ghastly, my new school."
Relaxation of censorship
With the passing of the Video Recordings Act, the films on the list could be prosecuted for both obscenity and not being classified. As well as not passing any film liable to be found obscene, the BBFC imposed additional bans and cuts on films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Claims, since proven at best to be speculative, at worse outright media fabrication, relating to the Hungerford massacre and the murder of James Bulger (where the 1991 film Child's Play 3 was erroneously held up as influencing the perpetrators), provided an additional impetus to restrict films and as late as December 1997, the Board claimed it "has never relaxed its guidelines on video violence, which remain the strictest in the world". However, the board did loosen its standards, especially at the 18 level, in response to public consultation in 2000. The departure of James Ferman from the BBFC may also have allowed some long-proscribed films to be re-appraised around this time. The Exorcist was granted an uncut 18 certificate on 25 February 1999 and several official 'nasties' were passed in the early 2000s either uncut or with cuts restricted to sexual violence or actual animals being harmed. A list of these is given below. Among modern films, many such as the Hostel and Saw series, contain brutal, graphic violence but have passed through uncut.
In 2008, there was another brief media frenzy over such films that had years earlier been approved for release by the BBFC, in particular SS Experiment Camp. This coincided with an attempt by MPs Julian Brazier and Keith Vaz to pass a law allowing MPs greater powers to tighten BBFC guidelines or force an appeal of a release. The bill failed to pass.
However, the UK Government passed a law criminalising possession of "extreme pornography". Whilst BBFC-rated films are exempt from the legislation, somewhat illogically screenshots from these same BBFC-rated movies are not, and would also apply to unrated films. Hostel: Part II was cited in the House of Commons as an example of a film where screenshots could become illegal to possess.
The DPP list of 'video nasties' was first made public in June 1983. The list was modified monthly as prosecutions failed or were dropped. In total, 72 separate films appeared on the list at one time or another. 39 films were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act but some of these films have been subsequently cut and then approved for release by the BBFC. The remaining 33 were either not prosecuted or had unsuccessful prosecutions. 10 films remain banned in the UK because they have not yet been resubmitted for classification by any distributors or have been rejected for classification. A number of films spent a short time on this list because their prosecutions failed shortly after publication or because it was decided that prosecution was not worth pursuing. Ultimately, the list became obsolete when the Video Recordings Act came into force, and since 2001, several of the films have been released uncut. In the majority of cases below where cuts were made, they were scenes of real-life animal cruelty and/or excessive violence to women, both of which are still regarded with some degree of severity by the BBFC. A large number of these movies caused additional controversy with the cover art of the original big box releases seen in the video shops of the early 1980s. Unless noted otherwise, all films that have been released have been rated 18.
- Absurd (original title: Rosso Sangue, also known as Monster Hunter, Anthropophagus 2, and Horrible) – No UK re-release.
- Anthropophagous: The Beast (original title: Antropophagus, also known as Anthropophagous, Antropofago, The Grim Reaper, Man Beast, Man-Eater, and The Savage Island) – Released with approximately 9 mins of pre-edits as The Grim Reaper in 2002.
- Axe (also known as Lisa, Lisa and California Axe Massacre) – Released with 19 secs cut in 1999. Released uncut in 2005.
- The Beast in Heat (original title: La Bestia in Calore, also known as SS Hell Camp) – No UK re-release.
- Blood Bath (original title: Reazione a Catena, also known as Twitch of the Death Nerve and A Bay of Blood) – Released with 43 secs cut in 1994. Re-released uncut in 2010.
- Blood Feast – Released with 23 secs cut in 2001. Re-released uncut in 2005.
- Blood Rites (also known as The Ghastly Ones) – No UK re-release.
- Bloody Moon (original title: Die Säge des Todes) – Released with 1 min 20 secs cut in 1993. Released uncut November 2008.
- The Burning – Released with 19 secs cut in 1992. Re-released uncut in 2001.
- Cannibal Apocalypse (original title: Apocalypse Domani, also known as Invasion of the Flesh Hunters) – Released with 2 secs cut to animal cruelty in 2005.
- Cannibal Ferox (also known as Make Them Die Slowly) – Released with approximately 6 mins of pre-cuts plus an additional 6 sec cut to a scene of animal cruelty in 2000.
- Cannibal Holocaust – Released in 2001 with 5 mins 44 secs cut to remove most animal cruelty and rape scenes. Re-released with 15 secs cut to one animal cruelty scene in 2011.
- The Cannibal Man (original title: La Semana del Asesino) – Released with 3 secs cut in 1993.
- The Devil Hunter (original title: El Canibal) – Released uncut in November 2008.
- Don't Go in the Woods – Released uncut in 2007 with a 15 rating.
- The Driller Killer – Released with 54 secs of pre-cuts in 1999. Re-released uncut in 2002. Now considered to be in public domain.
- Evilspeak – Released with 3 mins 34 secs cut in 1987. Re-released uncut in 2004.
- Exposé (also known as House on Straw Hill) – Released with 51 secs cut in 1997.
- Faces of Death – Released with 2 mins 19 secs cut to animal cruelty in 2003.
- Fight for Your Life – No UK re-release.
- Flesh for Frankenstein (also known as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein) – Passed with 56 secs cut in 1996. Released uncut in 2006.
- Forest of Fear (also known as Toxic Zombies and Bloodeaters) – No UK re-release.
- Gestapo's Last Orgy (original title: L'ultima orgia del III Reich, also known as Last Orgy of the Third Reich and Caligula Reincarnated As Hitler) – No UK re-release.
- The House by the Cemetery (original title: Quella villa accanto al cimitero) – Released with over 4 mins cut in 1988. Re-released with 33 secs cut in 2001. Released uncut in 2009.
- The House on the Edge of the Park (original title: La casa sperduta nel parco) – Released with 11 mins 43 secs cut in 2002. Re-released with 42 seconds cut in 2011.
- I Spit on Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman) – Released with 7 mins 2 secs cut in 2001. Re-released in a longer re-edited format in 2003 which reframed the rape scenes but was cut by 43 secs to the second rape scene by the BBFC. The original print was released again with 3 mins cut in 2010.
- Island of Death (original title: Ta Pedhia tou dhiavolou, also known as Devils in Mykonos and A Craving For Lust) – Refused a video certificate in 1987 under the title Psychic Killer II. Re-released with 4 mins 9 secs cut in 2002. Released uncut September 2010.
- The Last House on the Left – Refused a video certificate and passed with 31 secs cut in 2002. Released uncut on 17 March 2008.
- Love Camp 7 – Refused a video certificate in 2002.
- Madhouse (also known as There Was a Little Girl) – Released uncut in 2004.
- Mardi Gras Massacre – No UK re-release.
- Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (also known as Nightmare) – Released with approximately 3 mins of pre-edits in 2005.
- Night of the Bloody Apes (film) (original title: La Horripilante bestia humana) – Released with approximately 3 mins of pre-cuts in 1999. Re-released uncut in 2002.
- Night of the Demon – Released with 1 min 41 secs cut in 1994.
- Snuff – Passed uncut in 2003 but no UK release to date.
- SS Experiment Camp (original title: Lager SSadis Kastrat Kommandantur, also known as SS Experiment Love Camp) – Released uncut in 2005.
- Tenebrae (original title: Tenebre, also known as Unsane) – Released with 5 secs cut in 1999. Re-released uncut in 2003.
- The Werewolf and the Yeti (original title: La Maldicion de la Bestia, also known as Night of the Howling Beast) – No UK re-release.
- Zombie Flesh Eaters (also known as Zombie and Zombi 2) – Released with 1 min 46 secs cut in 1992. Re-released with 23 secs cut in 1999. Released uncut in 2005.
- The Beyond (original title: E Tu Vivrai Nel Terrore ‒ L'Aldilà, also known as Seven Doors of Death) — Released with approximately 2 mins cut in 1987. Re-released uncut in 2001.
- The Bogey Man (also known as The Boogeyman) — Released with 44 secs cut in 1992. Re-released uncut in 2000.
- Cannibal Terror (original title: Terror Caníbal) — Released uncut in 2003.
- Contamination — Released uncut in 2004 with a 15 rating.
- Dead & Buried — Released with 30 secs cut in 1990. Re-released uncut in 1999.
- Death Trap (also known as Eaten Alive and Starlight Slaughter) — Released with 25 secs cut in 1992. Re-released uncut in 2000.
- Deep River Savages (original title: Il paese del sesso selvaggio, also known as The Man From Deep River) — Released with 3 mins 45 secs of animal cruelty cuts in 2003.
- Delirium (also known as Psycho Puppet) — Released with 16 secs cut in 1987.
- Don't Go in the House — Released with 3 mins 7 secs cut in 1987. Re-released uncut in December 2011.
- Don't Go Near the Park — Released uncut in 2006.
- Don't Look in the Basement (also known as The Forgotten) — Released uncut in 2005 with a 15 rating.
- The Evil Dead — Released with approximately 2 mins cut in 1990. Re-released uncut in 2001.
- Frozen Scream — No UK re-release.
- The Funhouse — Released uncut in 1987. Re-classified 15 in 2007.
- Human Experiments — No UK re-release.
- I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (also known as Drop Dead Dearest) — Released with 1 min 6 secs cut in 1986.
- Inferno — Released with 20 secs cut in 1993. Re-released uncut in September 2010.
- Killer Nun (original title: Suor Omicidi) — Released with 13 secs cut in 1993. Re-released uncut in 2006.
- Late Night Trains (original title: L'ultimo treno della notte, also known as Night Train Murders) — Released uncut in 2008.
- The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (original title: Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don't Open the Window) — Released with 2 mins cut in 1985. Re-released uncut in 2002.
- Nightmare Maker (also known as Night Warning and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker) — Refused a video certificate in 1987 under the title The Evil Protege. No UK re-release.
- Possession — Released uncut in 1999.
- Pranks (also known as The Dorm That Dripped Blood and Death Dorm) — Released with 10 secs cut in 1992.
- Prisoner of the Cannibal God (original title: La montagna del dio cannibale, also known as Mountain of the Cannibal God and Slave of the Cannibal God) — Released with 2 mins 6 secs of animal cruelty cuts in 2001.
- Revenge of the Bogey Man (original title: Boogeyman II) — Released in re-edited form with additional footage in 2003.
- The Slayer — Released with 14 secs cut in 1992. Re-released uncut in 2001.
- Terror Eyes (also known as Night School) — Released with 1 min 16 secs cut in 1987.
- The Toolbox Murders — Released with 1 min 46 secs cut in 2000.
- Unhinged — Released uncut in 2004.
- Visiting Hours — Released with approximately 1 min cut in 1986.
- The Witch Who Came From the Sea — Released uncut in 2006.
- Women Behind Bars (original title: Des diamants pour l'enfer) — No UK re-release.
- Zombie Creeping Flesh (also known as Hell of the Living Dead and Virus) — Released uncut in 2002.
Films banned by the BBFC but not classed as video nasties
- Maniac — Banned for cinema in 1981 and again for video in 1998. Released with 58 secs of cuts in 2002.
- Mother's Day — Banned for cinema in 1980. No UK re-release since.
- The New York Ripper — Banned for cinema in 1982. Released with 29 secs of cuts in 2002.
- Straw Dogs — Withdrawn around the video nasty period but not actually included on the list. It was given an uncut theatrical re-release in 1995 but two subsequent attempts to pass the film for video in 1999 resulted in BBFC rejections. It was finally released uncut in 2002.
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre — Banned for cinema in 1975. Released uncut with an 18 certificate in 1999.
Shogun Assassin and Xtro have often been mistakenly listed as video nasties, though neither film ever appeared on any official DPP lists. Other films seized by police forces but never prosecuted or listed as video nasties included Basket Case, Blood for Dracula, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, Cannibal (also known as Last Cannibal World), City of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Mummy, Demented, I Drink Your Blood, Killer's Moon, Macabre, Madman, Night of the Seagulls, Rosemary's Killer (also known as The Prowler), Superstition (also known as The Witch), Terror Express, Werewolf Woman, and Zombie Holocaust. Memorably the 1982 musical comedy The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, was also seized by Slough police after it was mistakenly deemed to be a sex film.
Other films grouped with video nasties
- A Clockwork Orange — Often believed to have been banned by the BBFC, it was actually Stanley Kubrick himself who withdrew the film from exhibition in the UK in 1973 on police advice after receiving death threats toward himself and his family, as well as disliking reports found in the British Press that the film was responsible for copycat violence. Quoting Kubrick: "To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis, in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures." The film was eventually re-released uncut at cinemas in the UK - and thereafter on both VHS and DVD in the UK - in 2000.
- The Exorcist — Although never cut or banned in the UK, several attempts to release the film on video were thwarted by BBFC censor James Ferman, who cited both the age of the possessed girl (as she was under 12, the film might have had significant appeal to underaged viewers) and reports of incidents of hysteria involving young women (leading to concerns that the film might cause severe emotional problems for those who believed in demonic possession) as obstacles to a home release. Following a successful theatrical re-release in 1998 and Ferman's retirement as censor in January 1999, the film was submitted for home video release for the first time in February 1999, and was finally released uncut with an '18' certificate.
Republic of Ireland
The moral concern extended to the Republic of Ireland. In 1986, the Dáil Select Committee on Criminal Lawlessness and Vandalism issued a report "Controls on video nasties" recommending that the powers of the film censor's office be extended to videos. This was implemented by the Video Recordings Act, 1989.
- "Video Nasties". British Board of Film Classification. 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2013-12-23.
- "Cannibal Holocaust". British Board of Film Classification. 2011-10-05. Retrieved 2013-12-23.
- David Kerekes, David Slater, See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, 2000, ISBN 978-1-900486-10-1, Critical Vision, Manchester, Britain
- Stop this debasing film -Times Online
- Daily Express :: UK News :: Outrage at sick Nazi DVDs for sale
- Siegert, Paul (22 February 2008). "Dismember of Parliament". BBC News.
- MPs press for ban on SS camp ‘video nasty’
- MP's film censorship bid defeated
- Fisher, Frank (6 July 2007). "Get your tanks off our porn!". London: Guardian.
- Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: 8 Oct 2007: House of Commons debates (TheyWorkForYou.com)
- "Cannibal Holocaust". bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Driller Killer-Uncut (1979)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Drive In Classics". desertislandfilms.com. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- "Alternate versions". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
- Paul Duncan, Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films, page 136 (Taschen GmbH, 2003) ISBN 3-8228-1592-6
- Dáil Select Committee on Criminal Lawlessness and Vandalism (1986). "Report No. 10 - Controls on video nasties". Oireachtas. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- "Video Recordings Act, 1989". Irish Statute Book. Attorney General. 1989. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- Collins, Gerry (10 November 1988). "Video Recordings Bill, 1987 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).". Dáil debates. Oireachtas. pp. Vol.384 No.1 p.19 c.202. Retrieved 11 December 2011. "The tenth report of that committee, dealing with controls on video nasties, provided some very important information, comment and proposals."
- Seduction of the Gullible: The Truth Behind the Video Nasty Scandal - John Martin (Book)
- See No Evil - David Kerekes & David Slater (Book)
- Shock! Horror! Astounding Artwork From the Video Nasty Era - Marc Morris, Harvey Fenton & Francis Brewster (Book)
- The Art of the Nasty - Marc Morris & Nigel Wingrove (Book)
- Ban The Sadist Videos Pt 1 (Documentary)
- Ban The Sadist Videos Pt 2 (Documentary)
- Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (Documentary)
- Kate Egan's article The Celebration of a "Proper Product": Exploring the Residual Collectible through the "Video Nasty" in, R. Acland (editor), Residual Media, pages 200-222 (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). ISBN 978-0-8166-4471-1
- Article, Something Nasty This Way Comes..., pages 13–32 (The Dark Side, Stray Cat Publishing Ltd, Issue 20, May 1992).
- John Martin, The Official "Video Nasties" and how they got that way..., pages 48–62 (The Dark Side, Stray Cat Publishing Ltd, Issue 58, July 1996).