Ten Video Nasties

Ten Video Nasties

My introduction, plus capsule contributions of ten video nasties, to a piece published by Little White Lies, on 13 May 2021, entitled Every Video Nasty Ranked From Worst to Best, and timed with the release of Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor

Includes capsules of: Absurd, The Boogeyman, Don’t Go In The House, I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses, Island of Death, The Killer Nun, Late Night Trains, Prisoner of the Cannibal God, The Werewolf and the Yeti, Zombie Creeping Flesh

In 1979, home video arrived – a new medium which, briefly, enjoyed a period beyond the legal purview of the British Board of Film Censors (as it was then known) whose influence was confined to public exhibition. For a time video stores – essentially cowboy operations – could rent anything to anyone, unexpurgated and unregulated, and the owners of these establishments were quick to realise that the films with lurid sleeve art and tawdry titles moved off the shelves fastest. 

This newfound freedom soon spawned a moral panic, spearheaded by a collection of sensation-seeking tabloids, god-bothering zealots, raid-happy coppers and pig-ignorant politicians. The police and Department of Public Prosecutions compiled an ever-changing list of titles deemed prosecutable, or at least potentially prosecutable, under the Obscene Publications Act 1964, for ‘tending to corrupt or deprave persons’. In all, 72 films – mostly horror titles – were proscribed on the ‘video nasties‘ list, although only 39 were ever successfully prosecuted. When the Video Recordings Act 1984 was passed, home releases came under the oversight of the BBFC (the ‘C’ now standing for ‘Classification’). Now, most ‘nasties’ are available uncut, even as the internet unleashes a new cowboy era of unregulated video materials.

Absurd (1981) 

Ever wondered how the killers in slasher films keep getting up again and again, no matter how many times they are mortally wounded? Joe D’Amato’s sort-of sequel to Anthropophagus has an answer: the incredible regenerative abilities of Mikos (George Eastman) are the result of biochemical experiments conducted on him by the Church, with homicidal insanity an unfortunate side effect. It doesn’t really make sense, but hey, the film is called Absurd. Using whatever tools (surgical drill, bandsaw, mattock, oven, scissors) are around, ‘boogeyman’ Mikos would earn himself a DPP prosecution, but has been available uncut since 2017.

The Boogeyman (1980)

“The least you can do is pick up the broken pieces,” says Uncle Ernest. He means specifically the fallen sherds of a shattered mirror, but his words double as a reference to the trauma and guilt afflicting siblings (played by actual siblings Suzanna and Nicholas Love) ever since, 20 years earlier, they were involved in the murder of their mother’s sadistic boyfriend. Ulli Lommel’s supernatural slasher may evoke both The Exorcist‘s possessions and The Amityville Horror‘s architecture, but its psychologically reflexive looking-glass horror is all its own. Never successfully prosecuted, this should also never have been on the nasty list. 

Don’t Go In The House (1979)

Coming out when the slasher subgenre was still in its infancy, when not every psychokiller was a silent heavy-breathing type, and when Psycho was still as much an influence as Halloween, Joseph Ellison‘s feature debut follows a mother-loving manchild on his misogynistic mission to incinerate women and keep their charred corpses – alongside mama’s – as his best and only friends. Donny (an intense, haunted Dan Grimaldi) is a product of both past abuse and his present environment, making him a monster to pity as much as fear, so that his murder spree comes with an element of tragedy. 

I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses (1978) 

Certainly one of the odder entries on the Video Nasties list, Murray Markowitz’s Canuxploitationer was ripped right from the headlines, freely adapting the Peter Demeter murder case of 1974. It may begin with model Magdalene Kruschen (Elke Sommer) being bloodily bludgeoned to death, but the rest is sober courtroom drama. As Magdalene’s husband, the Hungarian refugee and self-made construction mogul Charles (Donald Pilon), faces trial for murder, flashbacks muddy the waters with a web of softcore adultery, blackmail, gold digging, hired muscle, an escaped maniac and unprofessional policing. Perhaps best known for being Howard Shore’s first gig as composer.

Island of Death (1976)

In Nico Mastorakis’s shocker, British fugitives Christopher and Celia Lambert (Bob Behling and Jane Lyle) go on a killing spree in Mykonos against those they perceive as sinful. The irony of this being condemned as a video nasty is that the murderous couple at its centre are also self-appointed moral arbiters, “punishing perversion” in others, while themselves engaging in acts of voyeurism, adultery, sadism, urolagnia, bestiality, incest, rape and of course serial homicide. “We do everything vice versa,” as Celia points out, even as she and Christopher embody the topsy-turvy hypocrisy of our censorious guardians.

The Killer Nun (1979) 

At the heart of Giulio Berruti’s nunsploitationer is a misandrist Sister maddened by the trauma of childhood abuse, as Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) suffers a mental breakdown after brain surgery, turning to prostitution, morphine and worse, while her besotted lesbian roommate Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra) hides her transgressions. It’s a slow-paced affair – although it certainly escalates – but the conjunction of nuns, sex and murder was bound to raise the prudish hackles of Mary Whitehouse and her Nationwide Festival of Light. Even more goading, perhaps, was the cynical final sequence in which the Church covers up its in-house wrongdoings.

Late Night Trains (1975) 

Ten Video Nasties

If Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left transposed the Swedish medieval rape-revenge of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring to early-Seventies New York, then Aldo Lado’s film puts it on board a Christmas Eve train from Munich to Italy. As two teens get raped and killed by a pair of thugs, Lado throws in a bourgeois sociopathic libertine (Macha Méril, extraordinary) to spur the young men on while avoiding the consequences. Lacking Craven’s tone-deaf use of comedy cops and silly music, this is a sober, bleakly mean-spirited affair about class, violence and civilisation’s terminus.

Prisoner of the Cannibal God (1978)

With its big-name cast (Stacy Keach! Ursula Andress!!) and slick production, Sergio Martino‘s jungle adventure is the glossiest feature to radiate from a run of Italian pseudo-ethnographic cannibal gorefests. As an expedition searches for a missing academic in Papua New Guinea and finds its own primitive heart of darkness, the film retains the subgenre’s cruel fixation with real critters being killed on camera. “Animals only follow their instincts…killing and eating:” as one character puts it. “Man too has the same instincts.” Perhaps, though, all the bestial snuff here over-literalises the Darwinian dog-eat-dog message.

The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975)

Traveling from civilised London (scored with bagpipes, for some reason) to exotic Tibet, Miguel Iglesias’ psychedelically lit, absurdly po-faced fantasy action adventure is a monster mash of demonic vampiresses, charlatan witch, wolfman and abominable snowman (with the latter two having a climactic punch-up in the snow). The eighth in a series of films featuring Count Waldemar Daninsky (played by its screenwriter Paul Naschy), and also the one with easily the greatest amount of sadism and nudity, this was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, and has – for all its daftness – never been released in the UK.

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980) 

Nobody stole from other films quite like director Bruno Mattei, who here adopts the pseudonym Vincent Dawn perhaps as sly acknowledgement that he is ripping off Romero’s Dawn of the Dead – from the SWAT team and television reporters caught up in a zombie outbreak, to the shameless appropriations of Goblin’s score. He even borrows stock footage of elephants – in a film set in pachyderm-less Papua New Guinea! Mattei positively revels in splattery gore, misogynistic machismo and othering Orientalism – although it was probably only the first of these that saw it banned in the UK. 

Anton Bitel