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Video Nasty Era and the Censorship that almost 'Killed' the Horror Movie for a Generation...

As promised, my second blog of the week... and this one is solely in relation to the horror movie. It is that time of year again folks... the Autumnal colours surround us; Amazon and Netflix are pushing horror movies at us, and children slamming conkers against one another with shouts of "Jinx" and "Tips" prevalent throughout the school yard. OK so that last one may be stretching it a little, and I am clearly showing my age here, but you, I am sure, are getting the point of which I am alluding to.

It is hard to believe that there are some horror and exploitation movies that have been given the shiny limited edition Blu-Ray treatment that three decades ago (Crikey, time does fly) one would potentially be at risk of imprisonment at the worst, or a hefty fine at the least, if it was stocked on your shelves in lieu of purchase or rental. Believe it or not, the last person to be imprisoned on the obscene publications act in the UK was because of this very act implemented by the Thatcher Government. As quoted by Scotland Yard at the time, the Police would literally seize any movie with a lurid cover or controversial title which is why such classics as "Apocalypse Now" were mistakenly confiscated in heavy-handed bureaucratic mishandling by eager Police forces around the UK. Either that, or as confirmed by Scotland Yard, as opposed to being out on the beat, catching burglars, rapists, and other miscreants, they would be at the Station's watching the full length of the movies - yes, right to the last turn of the reel; even films such as 'Bambi' were confiscated if in the same warehouse stocking the likes of 'Driller Killer' and 'Cannibal Holocaust'. "We had to make sure they had not switched the labels" was the quoted excuse. I am not kidding...

And here we find ourselves today. A much more informed society one hopes, but the censorship does continue, albeit in a much more scaled down approach. The history of these movies has always fascinated me. There is so much literature on the 'Video-nasty" era by people with a heck more expertise than myself but believe me, I lived it and I don't mind admitting that I would go to the stockists without care or consideration for this ill-thought inept and ludicrous law.

The Corn-Exchange in Manchester was always a great place to collect these 'must-have' movies; until it was bombed by the IRA on 15th June 1996. I was in Manchester that day; I worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers at the time and I had managed to get a (many-times over-copied version - anyone of the VHS era will testify to these awful, pirated bootlegs, but they really added a certain authenticity to the likes of Devil Hunter and Cannibal Ferox - albeit, the number of kids fast-forwarding to a certain part of the film they favoured often gave the game away, to when a suspiciously nasty part was about to appear on screen, but this was all a part of the charm). Anyway, back to the point; I had managed to get a hold of what is for me, the greatest movie - not just horror movie, the greatest MOVIE ever made: "The Exorcist". Not officially banned of course, but refused a license by the BBFC. The same can be said for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" another classic, which had found itself the subject of the same aforementioned heavy-handed tactics. The director, Tobe Hooper, had already been brought to the DPP and BBFC attention with his movies "Eaten Alive" and "Funhouse" (there is a very humorous story in relation to 'Funhouse' which is worth 'Google-searching if you are inclined). So, there I was, in the office of PWC, a large stark building at the time, on York Street in the heart of Manchester. Next door was a Salvation Army and old Army building; due to this, I am told, historically, the building was insured with safety glass. The window arched and sucked out like one would expect to witness in a disaster movie; it returned to the correct status within seconds and as the building wobbled, and the alarms and sirens rang out, I grabbed my hard-earned copy of 'The Exorcist' and left the area. It was a Saturday and there was unimaginable panic but thankfully nobody was killed, and from a personal point of view, I returned unscathed and home with the movie for the evening with my friends.

I look back rather fondly now at those bygone times. VHS ruled the planet and in the UK one would potentially get a rental copy of 'Don't look in the Basement' along with a roll of wool; or their morning papers... Basically every shop that had a few inches of space would stock video's. The video-recorder had brought 'Hollywood' into the home and my school-friends and I would often sneak out at lunchtime to watch the latest nasty available. Corrupt us? Hell No! Inspire us? Maybe. They inspired me without question. They were fun, mostly badly-acted, and splatter-fests not to be taken seriously; unless of course you were a Tory minister who albeit was unlikely to ever watch it (and most admitted to never having viewed the material) and they would deem these pieces of horror history as something to be warned off; like some plague-ridden creature one would expect to find within these movies.

Mary Whitehouse, the real force behind the movement and a great friend of Thatcher openly admitted to never having viewed any of the material and indicated "I don't have to watch it to know it will cause offence and issues to the general public". I still struggle to define what is more galling; the arrogance of the upper-class deeming what the 'un-educated' lower and middle-class should be able to view in the privacy of their own home, or the sheer unadulterated arrogance to admit to having never watched something, that they should have the power to deny anyone else from viewing what is in essence, a piece of art. There was an amusing story of a certain Tory Minister who headed the bill to prosecute these movies and to reiterate his point, he and a senior Police officer took the time to create a montage of footage of the worst scenes imaginable from these movies - all in a loop together. This montage was then showed to the the Government and of course, it was deemed horrific and the calls grew louder for the outright banning of these horror films. What they failed to consider that no horror fan or enthusiast would ever consider viewing these movies in such a way. It would truly be sickening after all, you would be viewing graphic scenes and without context. Pure folly. The Evil Dead was another to go and despite reaching number one in the VHS charts, it quickly disappeared as did the stockists licenses. That was until the distributor fought back in court (again, another fantastic story to Google).

It is due to this, and my love of horror of course, that I decided at the beginning of Lockdown, considering I could not venture out to explore and gain experience with my trusty camera, that I would begin writing again. I also decided to create some homages in Oil colour of the entire video-nasty back catalogue. This project is ongoing and ever-expanding if the truth be told. I have been selling prints of which I only release 20 of the larger size which are all hand-signed and numbered for reference. I do still have a few remaining copies albeit the 'Cannibal Holocaust' image I created is almost down to the last one I believe. I will endeavour to make them available via my site but I have sold them on Ebay and Etsy without issue; the sole aim was to create them for myself, but having garnered some great responses and one or two buying one each week to complete 'the collection', it would be folly not to see this project through. Check out my releases each Friday on Instagram where my art and photography is under the Instagram name of 'thedarkarts2021' . The feedback received has been tremendous to be fair, and it seems there are numerous like-minded nostalgia-ridden folk akin to myself out there. Horror fans never fail to surprise me. I have included the very first that I completed of the DPP Video nasty list and eagle-eyed viewers will surely recognise the person behind the balaclava...

Finally, earlier in my blog I did indicate that the banning of horror movies is not moribund as one would assume. Movies such as 'The Bunny Game', 'Mikey', and 'Grotesque' still remain banned. I cannot confirm or deny if these titles are part of my collection of course but I can attest to viewing them (and multiple others, such as the infamous 'Guinea Pig' series) and I do believe I remain in good spirits and as less likely to commit an atrocity as the next sane and rational human-being.

Anyway, I seem to have yet again waffled on for too long. I am sure you will be hoping that at this rate, I disappear for another few years! However, tonight (as always) is my Cinema night. Have a nice evening, whatever you are doing folks x

Stay Scared,



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