Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape

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"They got away with deceiving people "

Nov 7th, 2011

I have always been fascinated by the way that movie's are used as a scapegoat whenever something atrocious happens in the world. The censorship of films is not something that I agree with (unless they include real violence, real paedophilia or animal cruelty) and I believe that something someone created deserves to be seen the way it was intended whether it has artistic value or not. There was no greater attack on films than when the UK government abused its power in the 80's. Jake West produced a documentary which covered the period of insanity that allowed films to be classed video nasty.

I wasn't old enough to know why the video nasty craze began or what motivated people to blame movies for society's ills. I grew up and found an interest in movies after the video nasty list had been compiled so the majority of movies had already been withdrawn from video rental stores. Even so being a child in the 80's meant I had heard the term and like all other curious kids I eventually sought them out banned or not. Everyone at my school tended to have one copy lying around or owned by a distant family member which meant they got passed around quite a bit.

Even though there was always nervous fun to be had watching the flicks they normally turned out to be a bit pants (aside from the likes of Evil Dead). As I grew up I never understood the panic adults had about films influencing our behaviour with their naughty language, nudity and violence. Everyone I knew understood that the people in the films were just pretending and everything was artificial. We had responsible parents who allowed us to watch film and TV progressively (prior to our school days) until we understood the difference between fantasy and reality.

Since then I have always despised the idea of censorship in the home video market (screenings on TV is a different matter) and relished the advent of the internet allowing me to acquire import copies of films which still to this day lack a release in the UK (or heavily cut).

I discovered this documentary on the video nasty period quite by accident as I was browsing an online dvd seller. At the time I thought the asking price was a little steep so I gave it a pass and unfortunately forgot it existed. Luckily the Horror channel decided to have a season of banned flicks beginning by screening this fantastic doc which oddly is actually better than a lot of the films that were classified nasties.

Rather than being just a countdown of the 72 movies that made the cut Moral Panic delves into the background and political climate that led to restrictions on what movies could be sold within the home market. I knew my knowledge of the video nasty era was vague but this documentary filled me in on the reasoning behind the panic and the downright appalling measures the UK government went to restrict peoples freedom of speech.

Watching the outlandish claims made by those in favour of censorship I had to pick my jaw from the floor as I realised these people still stand by their claims today. From classing movies as a bigger threat to society than drug dealers and actually considering the shoddy effects work to be potential snuff work I was surprised that our government still manages (some what) to get anything done.

Being created by Jake West, a known British horror director (I'm not his biggest fan but respect his body of work) it's not hard to conclude that the documentary was going to be biased. Fortunately though rather than using Michael Moore's one sided approach West collects together scholars and those directly involved in events on both sides of the fence. Allowing each side to voice their opinions without interruption or questioning reasoning (unlike certain parties which you'll learn about if you watch this doc) it allows us to witness the errors in judgement people made (and what side you personally agree with) for ourselves.

Along with the history of the period what sets this aside from the numerous docs you can find online and regular TV Moral Panic attempts to inject a bit of fun on top of the talking heads. With a couple of humorous skits (one involving the fabulous Emily Booth) and at times VHS transitions and filters it stops you from glazing over as can happen when you spend long amounts of time watching people talk (just like in school). This also brought back a bit of nostalgia when watching and owning a movie was an exciting and fun period regardless of quality. It's a shame that with the pristine quality and variety available today we don't appreciate film the way we used to.

Along with the above we also get various clips of the 72 nasties (usually the most extreme and violent sections). What fascinated me was that I got to see clips from movies I had never seen before (and which are still technically unavailable in the UK) and how they pale in comparison to extreme cinema today. I also found it amusing that a lot of the sequences shown were uncut moments of terror from films such as the eye gouging scene from Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombie 2 in the USA). My copy of that film on dvd is censored and it was great to see the scene finally in its entirety.

What this documentary did for me was fill in numerous gaps in my knowledge surrounding a period I find fascinating but have failed to discover from various sources. Its great to finally have a rounded perspective which now allows me to voice my own opinion on the situation clearly. Unlike those who judged the movies without seeing them I know have a better knowledge base, its ignorance of a topic that breeds panic.

Moral Panic is a brilliant piece of media covering a dark period for film within the UK and really is an entertaining watch. For those who lived through the unjust fear of film or those who are interested in cinema in general this is well worth your attention. I just wish I'd picked this up when I first saw it online.

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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here
Director: Jake West
Released: 2010 (V)
Rating: 18
Appearing: Julian Petley
Marc Morris
Andy Nyman