Film & TV

Review – Video Nasties: Draconian days

Filmmaker Jake West came to Nottingham to show us Part II of his Video Nasties documentary series –  entitled Draconian Days. The first part, ‘Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotapes’, was released back in 2010 and began by running through the 72 controversial classics, ranging from the infamous I Spit on Your Grave, The Evil Dead and Cannibal Holocaust, to less well-known titles such as the dramatically nuanced Gestapo’s Last Orgy and the subtly named Don’t Go Near The Park.

The documentary chronicled the years in the 70s and 80s where fear of the so-called ‘Video Nasty’ was rife and social activists like Mary Whitehouse took great pleasure in trying to ban these films and punish those who bought or stocked them. Think of the children.

Draconian Days begins just after the establishment of the Video Recording Act by the BBFC, a voluntary scheme whereby, for a fee, companies could submit their films for certification (similar to the gradings we have now). This meant that smaller companies who couldn’t afford this process weren’t able to have their films stocked in any major retailers. It also meant that a list was drawn up containing films that were believed to be in breach of the Obscene Publications Act; dubbed the Video Nasties. Draconian Days follows the BBFC’s James Ferman, whose aversion for anything that featured dangerous weapons or sexual violence meant that films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Spit on Your Grave and even Enter the Dragon had very little chance of an uncut release.

Amongst others, horror titan (and sometimes journalist) Kim Newman and directors Neil Marshall and Marc Morris harken back to the good old days where Video Nasties were things to be treasured, hoarded and kept hidden from the authorities. Local author Dave Flint (for which this evening also acted as a sort of launch/signing for his book ‘Sheer Filth’) even details how his vast collection of Nasties and hardcore porn was discovered after a police raid on his house.

It’s fascinating stuff – and West obviously did his research – but you get the feeling that he only really skimmed the surface in its 80 minute running time. The more interesting sections, such as archive footage debating whether Child’s Play 3 had been an influence in the James Bulger murder, felt significantly shortened and could have benefited from some extra analysis. Draconian Days is a great introduction to the Video Nasties period, but for the die-hard fans you’ll just have to hope that the 3 hour uncut version is released at some point.

Felix Taylor



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