Video nasty is a colloquial term in the United Kingdom to refer to a number of films distributed on video cassette that were criticised for their violent content by the press, social commentators and various religious organisations. The term was popularised by the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA) in the UK in the early 1980s.
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 and another list of 82 titles which they felt may not achieve successful prosecutions but could nonetheless be forfeited under the lesser 'Section 3' obscenity charge. 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 Due to a legislative mistake discovered in August 2009, the Video Recordings Act 1984 was repealed and re-enacted without change by the Video Recordings Act 2010.
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 which effectively banned them. 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 recognised 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 prosecution 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, essentially as an unintended consequence of the Cinematograph Act 1909, 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.
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 splatter 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.
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".
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 worst 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, possibly prompting the 1992 film Mikey to be prohibited in the UK), 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 video certificate on 25 February 1999, followed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in August, 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, 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.
The DPP list is divided into two sections: Section 2 and Section 3. Any title seized under Section 2 would make the dealer or distributor liable to prosecution for disseminating obscene materials. Dealers could be fined or jailed and the film itself would be declared obscene if the prosecution was successful, meaning it could not be distributed or sold in the UK until the obscenity was quashed. 39 of the Section 2 films were successfully prosecuted and remained banned. 33 of the Section 2 films had unsuccessful prosecutions and were subsequently dropped from the list and placed onto Section 3.
Section 3 titles were liable to be confiscated under a 'less obscene' charge, which allowed the police to seize a film they considered obscene and as long as the dealer cooperated, they legally admit that the articles are obscene and therefore escape any personal prosecution. The 33 films that couldn't be prosecuted under Section 2 automatically became Section 3 titles and were still seized by the police. The main difference between Section 2 and 3 is that video dealers or distributors could be personally prosecuted in court for holding the film under Section 2 but not under Section 3, where the obscenity is admitted through forfeiting the material.
A supplementary list was issued along with the official list which featured a list of so-called "Section 3 Video Nasties". Titles on the Section 3 list could not be prosecuted for obscenity but were liable to seizure and confiscation under a 'less obscene' charge. Tapes seized under Section 3 could be destroyed after distributors or merchants forfeited them.
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.
The tenth report of that committee, dealing with controls on video nasties, provided some very important information, comment and proposals.
Boogeyman II is a 1983 horror film directed by Ulli Lommel, and is a sequel to the 1980 film The Boogeyman. Like its predecessor, it was banned in the UK as a "video nasty" during the 1980s under the title Revenge of the Bogey Man.Cannibal film
Cannibal films, alternatively known as the cannibal genre or the cannibal boom, are a subgenre of exploitation films made predominantly by Italian filmmakers during the 1970s and 1980s. This subgenre is a collection of graphically violent movies that usually depict cannibalism by primitive, Stone-age natives deep within the Asian or South American rainforests. While cannibalism is the uniting feature of these films, the general emphasis focuses on various forms of shocking, realistic and graphic violence, typically including torture, rape and genuine cruelty to animals. This subject matter was often used as the main advertising draw of cannibal films in combination with exaggerated or sensational claims regarding the films' reputations.
The genre evolved in the early 1970s from a similar subgenre known as Mondo films, exploitation documentaries which claimed to present genuine taboo behaviors from around the world. Umberto Lenzi is often cited as originating the cannibal genre with his 1972 film Man from Deep River, while Antonio Climati's Natura contro from 1988 is similarly regarded to have brought the trend to a close. Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust, released in 1980, is often considered to be the most well-known film of the genre due to the significant controversy surrounding its release, and is one of the few films of the genre to garner mainstream attention. In recent years, the genre has experienced a cult following and revival, as new productions influenced by the original wave of films have been released.
Due to their graphic content, the films of this subgenre are often the center of controversy, and many have been censored or banned in countries around the world. The animal cruelty featured in many of the films is often the focal point of the controversy, and these scenes have been targeted by certain countries' film boards. Several cannibal films also appeared on the video nasty list released by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983 in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the genre has occasionally fallen under critical interpretation, and certain films have been noted for containing themes of anti-imperialism and third world oppression.Exposé (film)
Exposé (also known as House on Straw Hill) is a 1976 video nasty starring Udo Kier, Linda Hayden and 1970s sex symbol Fiona Richmond. For its original 1976 theatrical release it received heavy cuts due to graphic scenes of sex and violence, and both the 1997 UK video and current DVD re-release contain around 50 seconds of cuts.Human Experiments
Human Experiments (also known as Beyond the Gate) is a 1979 American horror film directed and co-produced by Gregory Goodell. It stars Linda Haynes, Geoffrey Lewis, Ellen Travolta, Aldo Ray,
Jackie Coogan and Lurene Tuttle. This film earned its notoriety for being targeted by England's Director of Public Prosecutions during the video nasty furore in the early 1980s. Although it was listed on the first "video nasty" list issued by the DPP on July 4, 1983, the film was never prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act and had originally been given an uncut (now defunct) X rating by the BBFC for theatrical release in 1979.Killer Nun
Killer Nun (also known as Suor Omicidi, or Deadly Habits) is a 1979 Italian nunsploitation film directed and co-written by Giulio Berruti and co-written by Alberto Tarallo.
The film was originally banned in Britain as a 'video nasty' and released with cuts in 1993, but was finally released uncut on DVD in the UK during 2006, after changes in British censorship policy.Maniac (1980 film)
Maniac is a 1980 American psychological slasher film directed by William Lustig and written by C. A. Rosenberg. It stars Joe Spinell as Frank Zito, an Italian-American serial killer residing in New York City who murders and scalps young women. Spinell was also co-writer of the film.
With a minuscule budget, many scenes in the film were shot guerrilla style. Originally considered an exploitation film, Maniac has since attained a cult following despite receiving polarized reviews and being released in limited theaters by Analysis Film Releasing Corp. The film was remade in 2012 by director Franck Khalfoun and produced by Alexandre Aja, starring Elijah Wood in the lead role.
While not prosecuted for obscenity nor officially listed as a video nasty, Maniac was seized by various police forces across Greater Manchester and Lancashire during the video nasty panic, presumably based on the film's notorious reputation overseas.Mansion of the Doomed
Mansion of the Doomed (UK theatrical title: The Terror of Dr. Chaney; also known as Massacre Mansion, Eyes of Dr. Chaney and House of Blood) is a 1976 American horror film directed by Michael Pataki and starring Richard Basehart and Gloria Grahame.While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.Mickey Pearce
Michael "Mickey" Pearce is a recurring fictional character in the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses. The character was played by Patrick Murray. Mickey was a young unnerving man, always wearing a Trilby hat and boasting about some imagined business successes of his. He was ostensibly a friend of Rodney's, although he stole Rodney's girlfriend in Happy Returns and went on holiday to Spain with all their company's money in Healthy Competition. Another recurring joke around Mickey was his long list of jobs. According to Del, Mickey has been on the dole for so long they even invite him to the staff dance. He also used Rodney's council film grant to make pornographic movies (Video Nasty) and was beaten up by the Driscoll Brothers for failing to repay them their money for their dodgy mobile phones.Mondo Cannibale
Mondo Cannibale (English: Cannibal World ; also known as The Cannibals, Die Blonde Gottin, White Cannibal Queen, A Woman for the Cannibals and Barbarian Goddess) is a 1980 cannibal exploitation film directed by Jesús Franco. It stars a then-17 year old Sabrina Siani and Al Cliver. It is one of two cannibal films directed by Franco starring Cliver, the other being Devil Hunter.
Franco's original shooting title for the film was Rio Salvaje, but it was changed to Mondo Cannibale before its release. While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.Nightmare (1981 film)
Nightmare (also known as Nightmares in a Damaged Brain) is a 1981 American slasher film written and directed by Romano Scavolini, and starring Baird Stafford and Sharon Smith. Its plot follows a deranged man, subject to a medical experiment, who leaves his New York City psychiatric institute to murder his ex-wife and child in Florida.
Nightmare gained instant notoriety among horror fans when it was banned in the UK as a video nasty and its distributor was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to edit one second of violent footage. The film also garnered controversy for claiming in its press material that Tom Savini had provided the film's special effects, which Savini vehemently denied.Strange Behavior
Strange Behavior (also titled Dead Kids) is a 1981 mystery horror film directed by Michael Laughlin, written by Laughlin and Bill Condon, and starring Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, and Dan Shor. It is a homage to the pulp horror films of the 1950s.
An international co-production between the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, the film was intended as the first installment of the Strange Trilogy which was cancelled after the second installment, Strange Invaders, failed to attract a large enough audience. It is considered a seminal work of New Zealand cinema, being the first horror film produced in the country. It has since become a cult hit.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.The Aftermath (1982 film)
The Aftermath (also known as Zombie Aftermath) is a 1982 science fiction, horror, and action independent film.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panicThe Funhouse
The Funhouse (also released as Carnival of Terror) is a 1981 American slasher film directed by Tobe Hooper, written by Larry Block and starring Elizabeth Berridge, Kevin Conway, William Finley, Cooper Huckabee, Miles Chapin, and Sylvia Miles. The film's plot concerns four teenagers who become trapped in a dark ride at a local carnival and are stalked by a deformed killer inside.
Released by Universal Pictures, the film was director Hooper's first major studio production after Eaten Alive (1977) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Upon its release on March 13, 1981, it has grossed $7.8 million and received mixed-positive reviews from critics.The Last Hunter
The Last Hunter (Italian: L'ultimo cacciatore) is a 1980 Italian "macaroni combat" war film directed by Antonio Margheriti and starring David Warbeck and Tony King. Initially made to capitalize on the success of The Deer Hunter, The Last Hunter marked the first Euro War set during the Vietnam War, as opposed to World War II like all previous entries in the subgenre.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panicThe Mountain of the Cannibal God
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (Italian title: La montagna del dio cannibale) is 1978 Italian horror film starring Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach with English dialogue that was filmed in Sri Lanka. The film was also widely released in the US in 1979 as Slave of the Cannibal God from New Line Cinema and released in the UK as Prisoner of the Cannibal God with a poster designed by Sam Peffer. The film was banned in the UK until 2001 for its graphic violence and considered a "video nasty".Toxic Zombies
Toxic Zombies (also known as Bloodeaters and Forest of Fear) is a 1980 horror film directed by Charles McCrann, who also acted in the film. It was classified as a video nasty in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.Ultimo mondo cannibale
Ultimo mondo cannibale (English: Last Cannibal World; also known as Cannibal The Last Survivor and Jungle Holocaust) is a 1977 Italian cannibal exploitation film directed by Ruggero Deodato. The film stars Massimo Foschi, Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov. The screenplay was written by Tito Carpi, Gianfranco Clerici and Renzo Genta, and tells the story of a man trying to escape from a jungle island inhabited by a native cannibal tribe.It is the precursor to Deodato's notoriously controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980), but was originally slated to be directed by Umberto Lenzi as a follow-up to his prototypical 1972 cannibal film Man from Deep River.
While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.Video Nasty (Only Fools and Horses)
"Video Nasty" is the fifth episode of series 5 of the BBC sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, first broadcast on 28 September 1986. In the episode, Rodney receives a grant to make a local film, but Del sees it as an opportunity to make money.Zombi 2
Zombi 2 is a 1979 Italian zombie film directed by Lucio Fulci. It was adapted from an original screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti to serve as a sequel to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), which was released in Italy with the title Zombi. It stars Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, and Richard Johnson, and features a score by frequent Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi. Frizzi's score has been released independently of the film, and he has performed it live on tour.
The film tells the story of a Caribbean island cursed by voodoo, whose dead residents rise as zombies to attack the living. A scientist's daughter journeys to the island after her father's boat turns up abandoned in New York City. Intended by its writer as a return to "classic zombie tales", Zombi 2 was filmed in Italy, with further location shooting in New York and Santo Domingo.
Produced on a small budget of ₤410 million, the film earned several times its production costs back in international gross. It attracted controversy upon its release in the United Kingdom, where it became listed as a "video nasty".
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