UKHS Does the Nasty! The End… For Now.

DailymailvideonastyheadlineUKHS Does the Nasty!
The End… For Now.

It’s been a fun week but sadly our Video Nasty series has come to an end… Well, for now anyway. With such a huge wealth of titles (a massive ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR in total, thanks to the original seventy-two and the newly discovered, eighty-two flick strong Section 3 list), we’ve barely even scratched the surface with our little run of detail-packed profiles. Over time, you can be sure that we’re going to be adding to this terrific stretch of features – it’s going to be one hell of huge, ongoing UK Horror Scene project. Right now though, we’re going to be taking a breather from such sordid shocks, probably with something lighter and easier going like the Guinea Pig series instead. Until then though, you can chow down on the personal musings from a few of the UKHS team members as they discuss just what, exactly, the Nasties mean to them…

CF1Dave Wain
Someone rented a film from my joint the other day. It was a fairly uneventful transaction: the guy paid cash, he was fairly middle-class, he was walking his dog and there was certainly no stigma surrounding his choice of evening’s entertainment. One thing WAS notable though, and that’s the fact that if the rental purchase took place thirty years ago I’d be liable for arrest.

If I had held that film in my catalogue the store would face a raid by the police and a portion of my library would be seized and destroyed. You see, thirty years ago in the democratic, civilised and enlightened confines of our fair isle, those in power decided that us – the pitiful proletariat – needed protecting from things like middle-aged Italian film directors and Wes Craven. They banned Milton in the seventeenth century, Thomas Paine in the eighteenth century and they banned D.H Lawrence eighty-five years ago. It will keep happening, and it’s vital that instead of viewing the nasties era as a comedic Mary Whitehouse led debacle, we view this period as a severe infringement on our right to view art the way it was intended, and fight to prevent any future Daily Mail led fascist restriction of our culture.

That man’s rental, by the way, was Zombie Flesh Eaters. Three days have since passed and his dog shows no visible signs of trauma.

Read Dave’s CANNIBAL FEROX analysis HERE
Read Dave’s Section 3 title analysis, NIGHTBEAST, HERE

nightmare_1981_poster_01Matty Budrewicz
I’m second generational: I missed the Nasties themselves (I wasn’t even a twinkle in my dear ol’ Dad’s eye when the schlocky shit hit the fan), but I was brought up in the aftermath. All the Van Damme movies with the nunchuks and double ear-claps cut… All the key moments of gore snipped from re-issued slasher movies… Thanks to the discovery of pocket money friendly DVD labels like Vipco though, I was able to dive head first into Nasty-dom in my early teens; the once contraband likes of Cannibal Holocaust, Toolbox Murders and a brain-frying medley of Fulci joints suitably exposing me to a realm of gratuitous horror that Freddy and Pinhead only hinted at. Even if they were still bloody cut (it took a few more years to discover the joys of importing), they were an important part of my horror education, and they’re still just as relevant today; a gateway to a whole new world of extreme horror and a sobering reminder that, given half the chance, those in power can and will try and control us…

Read Matty’s NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN analysis (part one) HERE
Read Matty’s Section 3 title analysis, THE BLACK ROOM, HERE

KN1Mark Pidgeon
They were a gateway into a world of horror for many fans growing up, myself included. I was always more interested in offerings from the far east, mainly Anime, but the association of films like Vampire Hunter D and Wicked City with splatter movies like The Evil Dead allowed me to devour a whole new slew of movies which, if I am honest, I could’ve overlooked in the grand scheme of things.
Working in a video store I would also come across lots of titles emblazoned with ‘Previously Banned’ and ‘Video Nasty’ stamped all over the cases like a badge of honour. These took me on a glorious discovery of Italian cinema which I still hold very close to me to this day and without that Video Nasty list my experiences as a horror film fan would be very different than they are now.

Read Mark’s KILLER NUN analysis HERE

DT 1Joey Keogh
As someone who was too young to appreciate what Video Nasties were, and who then grew up obsessing over slashers as opposed to films that were banned by the BBFC because of some nosey old lady who’d never even watched one, my experience of the infamous flicks has been fairly limited. My most vivid memory – aside from being forced to watch Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left in some sort of bizarre, triple-bill at a “party” – was catching The Evil Dead for the very first time, on a battered VHS tape in someone’s attic.

It was the perfect setting in which to appreciate the seminal flick – rain battering against the windows, winds howling, three of us snuggled under a blanket, and an ancient TV transmitting more static than anything else. My love affair with Sam Raimi’s cult classic began that night, and it’s grown significantly in the intervening years. I never found the film as scary as some of my friends did (and indeed still do), but I was fascinated by it and of course, Bruce Campbell instantly became my hero. The Evil Dead still holds a proud place in my DVD collection, and it’s a film that gets better on each viewing – the VHS tape, on the other hand, is, sadly, long since passed after being completely worn out.

Read Joey’s DEATH TRAP analysis HERE

House 1Luke Green
As a kid, getting into horror in the eighties/nineties, it was all about tasting forbidden fruit, watching things you shouldn’t and seeing if it was really all that nasty and scary. Of course, the darkest, most elusive movies of all, indeed, the collective holy grail for an eighties schoolboy, were the Video Nasties – and man, were they tough to get hold of. So, somewhat ironically, the DPP list probably corrupted the mind of many a British innocent more than any film ever could, simply by forcing them to imagine the content of these movies, resulting in them conjuring up scenes far grosser than the reality.

I vividly remember playground encounters, where random kids would pluck a title from the list out of thin air and describe a (often fabricated) bit where a girl got her tits chopped off. It was always a bit with tits getting chopped off; don’t ask me why. I went to an all boys school, maybe that explains it… As an adult, it seems so ridiculous now – sure, once seen, Cannibal Holocaust can never be forgotten, but the list also included stuff as innocuous as Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse and as silly as Mardi Gras Massacre, testimony to the stupidity of the whole saga.

Layout 1 (Page 1)Dean Sills
They had a huge impact on the world of horror with their excessive gore and pure violence, each one exposing adult themes to a young audience. Back in the eighties, my parents got me a Betamax video recorder as a present one Christmas and trips to our local video library got me more excited than a kid in a sweet shop. My Dad introduced me to some great horror classics, and I remember that all the video nasties were hidden under the counter; sitting there waiting for people to view in all their glory.

The campaigning against the worst video nasties just increased their popularity and helped make horror what it is today. The press even campaigned, blaming the exposure of nasties for the increase in violent amongst the youths. I watched a dozen of these gory flicks and never had a desire to strip naked and run around the woods, chasing women with a hard-on and a chainsaw, ready to rape and decapitate them in true bloody style. Instead it just got me hooked and curious to watch more!

NB 1James Simpson
Being a young lad at school in the early nineties I missed the Video Nasties scandal, but I was aware of it. In the playground myself and some friends would often talk about trying to see horror movies and one boy, Carl, claimed his older brother had ALL the Video Nasties. Just hearing about some of the titles and artwork, Carl never sneaked any tapes in like he had been asked to do, stayed with me from that age.

Now, as an adult and knowing more of the context and history of the Nasties, these memories come to mind whenever I watch one of the titles on the banned list. Most of them are available on home video uncut, if these films are deemed suitable for release now then it only highlights how frivolous it was that they were banned to begin with. But as I watch Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Beyond for the twentieth time I recall all the fuss surrounding them, the Video Nasties legacy will stay with horror fans (new and old) forever.

TBR 1Oli Ryder
It seems hard and nigh on impossible to comprehend today how the simple ownership (with intent to supply) of one of the infamous ‘Big 72’ could result in a prison sentence. We can be guilty of forgetting how spoilt we are now, with horror being one of the most prolific and lucrative of genres, that we can’t imagine what it must have been like to see our beloved genre run out of town by the lynch mob of the moral masses.

Of course from my own perspective, the bête-noir of the Nasties campaign in Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, The Evil Dead is my all time favourite horror film. Without the notoriety surrounding the film, it could have just slipped away into the void and much like the superb and still troubling Last House on the Left, the horror world is a better place now that the ban has been lifted. I feel it is unlikely such a hysteria-driven nationwide witch hunt will ever happen again and whilst the quality of the films that came under the ban varies to say the least, the Video Nasties should be remembered as a dark period in horror history and one we should be eternally thankful for being long dead.

DK 1James Pemberton
I was too young then to really know about the Nasty period, but I certainly felt the after effects of it: the time when the BBFC was under the rule of James Ferman, and the only way for me to get banned films in 1992 was to order them through Dark Side magazine classifieds and get third or fourth generation VHS copies from a guy in Northumberland.

Nasties for me represent a time similar to the grindhouse tradition, where people were selling films that had lurid titles and built on shock and gore – as humans, we’re always fascinated by the grotesque and disturbing. It both amuses and shocks thinking about it; amuses me as people were outraged by these films, and shocks me due to some of the abhorrent and misguided nature of people who seemed fit to campaign against them.

MP Graham Bright’s amusing comment that nasties affect not just children but dogs, is both hilarious and a stunning indictment of the stupidity of politicians; it sounds like something you would hear on Brass Eye. In the end it’s ironic that one time nasties such as Driller Killer can now be viewed fully uncut on YouTube. Technology has advanced so fast, we can now see these once forbidden films easily on our own smart phones…

anthropophagousLauren Harrison
Original. Extreme. Outrageous. Visceral. Misunderstood. The Video Nasties showcase an era of cinema that exposed the true, gruesome brilliance of the horror genre. A genre that will always be condemned and will always face controversy.: but never quite so harshly as it did during the early 1980’s.

I wasn’t conceived until the late eighties, so wasn’t around to witness this fiasco as it was happening. My parents were though, obviously. And as I grew, I learnt of the bannings and of the gross shame that surrounded the genre. Naturally, my interest peaked and I began to watch, re-watch and own many of the titles within the list of nasties.
What I love most about these films is the fact they push buttons.

Be it to a condemning Tory journalist, an unsuspecting movie renter or even a horror fanatic. Bloodshed and exploitation aside, stripped back, there is something that really hits a nerve with a viewer within these titles. Some see this as negative. I choose to see this as a positive trait. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this.
Long live the nasties!

Cannibal-Holocaust-a-draw-001Andy Deen

In 1982 I was 11 years old. I was walking into my local video rental store and walking out with a per-cert copy of Cannibal Ferox. We were one of the first families on our street to own a video player. When I say own , it was rented from Radio Rentals and the remote control wasn’t even infrared , you plugged it into the machine and the wire stretched an impressive 2 metres. Halycon Days indeed.

With my Mum’s video card I was quite the popular kid at school, and probably twice-weekly would make the trip and peruse the horror section for the best (or worst) cover art. With this began my life-long adoration of horror cinema.

But then it changed, there were laws passed and I was unable to rent films. Also the films I wanted to watch were now unavailable ? I remember it vaguely (as I had discovered girls and cider) but gone were the horror films and my friends were back watching Lemon Popsicle, Animal House and Porky’s.

I did trade tapes in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and did often worry about a knock on the door after posting a copy of Nekromantik or receiving Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it never happened. Those days now seem like a lifetime ago , especially with the internet age but for me there will never such a huge thrill again as when I would sit and watch a grainy 5th gen copy of Cannibal Holocaust !!

 

blwitStuart Anderson
I have three overriding memories of the era in which the video nasty furore erupted. Firstly, the rank hypocrisy of the press and establishment lecturing us yet again in what they believe was in our best interests – poor us, we need our hands holding, you know. I say hypocrisy, because if the latest revelations about an establishment cover-up of sexual abuse, by many in the same era within that very same echelon of British Society, is anything to go by – well, you know, throwing stones in glass houses and all that.

The second thing that comes to mind about the whole controversy was that it actually hid the fact that many (though not all) of the films that were seized and banned were in fact pretty rubbish in terms of cinematic quality. They were often cheaply made, badly acted, flimsily plotted pieces of horror with an over reliance on gore and blood over style and chills. What the furore actually did was to provide many films, that actually should have died a quiet death on the video rental shelves, eternal fame and notoriety.

The third factor that came as a consequence of banning orders was the knock on effect it had to other works as the BFFC went into panic mode in an effort to placate the feverish press and preaching politicians. Not only did it foresee the introduction of Video censorship, no movie it seemed was safe from seizure, examination and potential banning. Perhaps the most bizarre example that typifies the feverish mentality if the time was the seizure of copies of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Dolly Parton. It was mistakenly assumed by the title to be some extreme sex film. Actually, on reflection, I did see it once (not by choice) and it’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. That’s one movie that actually should have been banned…

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#UKHSNasty

 

UKHS Does the Nasty! The Section 3 List Part Two: THE BLACK ROOM (1982)

TBR 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
The Section 3 List Part Two: THE BLACK ROOM (1982)

Following Dave Wain’s lowdown on Nightbeast in part one [which you can read HERE], Matty Budrewicz sinks his teeth into steamy fellow Section 3 title THE BLACK ROOM…

Even some thirty-odd years on, the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Video Nasty list remains a potent selection of must-see movies: the ultimate chopping – sorry – shopping list for grue lovers and the quintessential rite of passage for all of us British horror nuts. A seventy-two title strong gonzo fear flick extravaganza, it’s a vital part of our genre make up and education; and now, thanks to its discovery by filmmakers Jake West and Marc Morris whilst prepping their stupendous Video Nasties documentaries [read the UKHS lowdown of part 2, Draconian Days, HERE], a whopping eighty-two more movies caught up in the furore can be added to our own personal scare school curriculum.

According to West and Morris, these Section 3 titles were “liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police and removed from sale or hire, though they were ultimately not prosecuted”. As Dave noted in his assessment of director Don Dohler’s cheapie Nightbeast (1982), looking at this newly unearthed DPP dossier certainly reveals why the likes of Dawn of the Mummy (1981) and Zombie Holocaust (1980) – stuff lumped amongst the Nasteis for years – were also stigmatised. It’s a wild list for sure; one that was, as Morris said in our UKHS interview with him [read it HERE], “just a case of the people in power not being in any way film literate”.

There’s a buck-load of big guns on there: heavy hitting, recognised classics like Night of the Living Dead (1968), Phantasm (1978) and Scanners (1980). There’s a slew of beloved cult favourites present too, from Shogun Assassin (1972) and Mausoleum (1980), to Dead Kids (1981) and Happy Birthday to Me (1980). Hell, even Jack Hill’s landmark blaxploitation pic Foxy Brown (1974) is on there! However, it’s the other stuff that gives cause for celebration: the long forgotten bumf that peppers the rest of the list that now, hopefully, will be sought out and reappraised, people inspired to do so because of the enduring popularity of Nastydom. And, with a bit of luck, it’ll lead a few more people to seeing the wonderful 1982 creeper The Black Room (1982); a marvellous, neglected slice of independent horror.

TBR 2An evocative and beguiling chiller, The Black Room is a playfully kinky and consummate modern reinterpretation of the vampire myth. Just as George A Romero used vampirism as a metaphor for teenage despondence in his 1976 gem Martin, here co-director’s Elly Kenner and Norman Thaddeus Vane – who also scripted – use it as a way to explore matrimonial problems and pre-AIDS attitudes to decadent sexuality. Something of a legendary swordsman, Vane (whose other main genre credit is the endearingly naff Theatre of Blood (1973)-aping slasher Frightmare (1983), starring a pre-Re-Animator (1985) Jeffrey Combs) was a regular on the party scene throughout swinging sixties and seventies London, New York and Los Angeles.

His playboy lifestyle as, at various times, a nightclub owner and editor of Penthouse Magazine served as his inspiration when piecing The Black Room together: as noted by author Stephen Thrower in is mighty Nightmare USA tome, and by blogger Sam Weisberg of hidden-films.com, it was during Vane’s stint at Bob Gucione’s notorious men’s rag that he repeatedly cheated on his then-wife, sixteen year old model Sarah Caldwell, with numerous centrefolds at a similarly voyeuristic venue to the eponymous room of the title.

Upping the already sizzling sexual undercurrent inherent in the blood-sucker sub genre and making it far more explicit – yet never exploitatively – The Black Room also switches fangs for a blood transfusion machine and swaps the usual Transylvanian castle for a swanky Hollywood Hills mansion; a locale used to similar eerie effect in David Lynch’s later Hollywood horror story Mulholland Drive (2001). Our Dracula is Jason (Stephen Knight), a handsome and charismatic photographer – think Lugosi, Lee and Langella all rolled into one – stricken with a rare blood disease, manageable only through fatally draining others of their plasma. “Jason’s been sick his whole life, ever since he was a child… He had to constantly replenish his blood; every sixty days. Then once a month. Now, it’s twice weekly,” explains his sister Bridget, the film’s singular answer to the old Count’s buxom brides. Played by the stunning Cassandra Gava (the Fillipino-American actress perhaps best known as the sexy witch in Conan the Barbarian (1982), and credited here under her real name Cassandra Gaviola), Bridget is Jason’s carer, muse and, it is hinted at, his incestuous lover. She’s also his accomplice, helping Jason lure in, kill and dispose of his potential blood donors.

TBR 3Like Paul and Mary Bland, who murdered and robbed an assortment of “perverts” to bankroll their dream of owning a restaurant in Paul Bartel’s released-the-same-year black comedy Eating Raoul, Jason and Bridget too have found the sexually promiscuous to be a particularly rich vein (boom-boom) for victims. Renting out the titular space in their home, they’ve been taking their pick from the randy denizens who come, quite literally, to occupy it: “Restrictions? None. This isn’t the YMCA,” says Jason. “What the former tenants usually did was phone first – I’m always working in my studio. If you like, I can just pop in, light the candles, pour the wine; the rest is up to you.”

Thrust into this scenario is Larry (Jimmy Stathis) and Robin (Clara Perryman); a couple whose marriage is growing a little stale. Though still in love with each other emotionally, their physical relationship has taken something of a beating, thanks to a mixture of boredom and the frequent interruptions of their attempted bedroom gymnastics by their two hyperactive children. Sexually frustrated, Larry soon finds himself Jason and Bridget’s latest tenant, using the room as his basecamp for a bit of afternoon slap and tickle.

Whilst it would be easy to condemn Larry as simply a sleazeball letch, Vane instead throws in a curveball: suddenly Larry’s illicit dalliances are being used to stoke the fires of wedded passion once more. Relaying his black room visits back to Robin, she – at Larry’s insistence – treats them as nothing but fantasy; they’re dirty talk, they’re foreplay.

TBR 4Seemingly as sexually unsatisfied with Larry as he is frustrated with her, Robin’s inner fox is repeatedly quelled by her husband’s strange sense of coital morals: it’s OK for him to indulge his appetite for exotic sex with strangers in the confines of his baroque hired hump den, but anything other than missionary on the marital mattress is strictly off limits with the Mrs. “Why aren’t you ever [kinky] with me?” she asks. “Because,” says Larry, “I love you”.

Though the probing of Larry’s attitudes to sex and fidelity is the meat of the narrative, it’s his handling (or not) of his marital repressions that results in Robin having the most interesting arc of the film. “Why don’t you do to me what you said you did to that girl that you took to that black room?” she questions, upon her quiet discovery that her man’s frisky fairytale shag pad is actually quite real. “I couldn’t do that to you, it wouldn’t be right. You’re my wife,” an oblivious Larry responds, dragging on a cigarette in bed. Barely masking her hurt and – more importantly – her disappointment, she pushes further, “I don’t want to be your wife when we make love. I want to be your whore.” Larry, of course, makes his excuses once again, “I don’t see you in that room. You don’t belong there, Robin.” However, before long she’s checking the place out for herself, with both her vulnerability and her own desires brought into question by a calculating Jason; one vampire who seems to really enjoy playing with his food…

In a contemporary context, The Black Room is akin to the offbeat oeuvre of House of the Devil (2009) director Ti West. It’s character focused and slow-burn, reliant more on sustained mood and powerful suggestion than graphic splatter; more arthouse than grindhouse. Of course, when the blood does flow – in an early sangre-squirting gig for eighties gloop and latex specialist Mark Shostrom (From Beyond (1986), Evil Dead II (1987) – it’s thrilling stuff. The Black Room certainly doesn’t skimp on the horror side of things, with the five minute blood draining sequence being the undoubted, palm sweat-inducing highlight.

TBR 5The first and only time we actually see Jason’s full ritualistic process, it’s a perfect and grotesquely poetic terror moment. It’s a heavily eroticised set-piece, fizzing with sexual energy and every bit as perversely titillating and as sensual as the entwined naked bodies on display throughout the rest of The Black Room. Constructed along the same edgy lines as the pre-sex shivers present during Larry’s earlier initial encounter in his then newly acquired room – that simmer of nervous excitement, the feeling you get just before you rip someone’s clothes off, is palpable in both instances – a heartbeat starts to pulse on the soundtrack, accompanied by composers James Ackley and Art Podell’s throbbing, low synth score. Bridget and Jason smile at one another, their eyes meeting as his and drugged prostitute Sandy’s (Geanne Frank) flesh is penetrated with prongs and syringes, hooking them up to the transfusion machine.

Editor David Kern’s cutting is rhythmic, emphasising fetishistic glides over the machine and Sandy’s surprising moans of ecstasy as her life-juice is sucked from her; the lines between pleasure and pain, and sex and death blurred. Jason, meanwhile, is also in the throes of orgasmic posturing; sweat cascading over his brow, him squeezing Bridget’s hand as, for all intents and purposes, he climaxes with Sandy’s claret filling him. It’s the most beautifully deranged menage-a-trois ever committed to celluloid.

Introduced in a striking double murder sequence during the film’s opening credits, the actual black room itself is also impressively realised, with cinematographer Robert Harmon’s simple but effective use of a strange glowing coffee table, candlelight and inky black shadow conjuring up a rich air of genuine eroticism and danger. It’s an intoxicating experience each time we’re inside it; seductive and scary, flesh and fear dripping from its walls. A former on-set stills photographer, Harmon would later put his keen eye and unique sense of alluring unease to good use in his subsequent career as a director, with the gorgeously shot pair of brooding road-horror movies The Hitcher (1986) and Highwaymen (2004) but two of his credits.

TBR 6 SCam Jeff Mart

Steadicam Jeff Mart

Adding further ethereal elegance is the superb Steadicam work of the late Andrew “Jeff” Mart; as immersive and hypnotic here as Larry McConkey’s use of it is in Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987). Mart was the first person in the world to own such a rig privately and, according to IMDb, famously had a one handle barred bicycle that he would use for daredevil Steadicam shots. Throughout his career he’d work on several other great genre projects, like the fright fan favourite Pumpkinhead (1988), Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991) and the cops-and-werewolves TV movie Full Eclipse (1994), before his death at the age of sixty-six in 2009.

For connoisseurs of the more trashier end of the eighties horror spectrum, The Black Room is notable as one of the early features of delectable Scream Queen Linnea Quigley; popping up in a thankless and very minor role as somewhat doomed babysitter Milly. Though still a while off hitting schlock paydirt thanks to her iconic turns in The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Night of the Demons (1988), it’s an interesting echo of her earlier-still gig as Bondi’s Mother in another sideways vampire flick, Don’t Go Near the Park (1979). A woeful dud of a picture, Don’t Go Near the Park is nowhere near the thoughtful, charismatic excellence of The Black Room but nonetheless would be a solid selection for an intriguing thematically similar double feature. The fact Don’t Go Near the Park was actually one of the DPP’s ‘proper’ Nasties too just sweetens the deal.

Passed uncut for theatrical release with an X rating by the BBFC in November 1982, The Black Room found itself on the Intervision roster. The video tape subsidiary of its distributor Alpha Films, the Intervision label also included in its line up such seminal shock as Tourist Trap (1979), Carrie (1976) and the early David Cronenberg triptych of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979). Whilst they have all found their audience over the years thanks to multiple disc reissues and positive, sustained critical recognition, The Black Room has had neither – something that looks unlikely to change any time soon.

TBR 8Supposedly available in one of those Stateside bargain-bin multipack DVD bundles (though actually finding one with the film in it on the import market seems to be rarer than rocking horse poop), its fifth generation public domain transfer aside there’ll be no Arrow blu-ray special edition or even a no-frills 88-type disc: The Black Room’s original negative is long rumoured to be lost, and the rights to it anyway are tangled up in a mother load of unspecified legal hell. It’s a damn shame and – if true – the most depressing end for a remarkable little picture that should get a hell of a lot more love. Find the long out of print tape or pirate the thing – just make sure you see it before it’s gone for good.

To go back to part one click HERE

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UKHS Does the Nasty! The Section 3 List Part One: NIGHTBEAST (1982)

NB 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
The Section 3 List Part One: NIGHTBEAST (1982)

As the end of our sensational seven day Nasty series approaches, Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz team up to each examine a film from the newly discovered Section 3 list. First up, it’s Dave and the mighty sci-schlock cheapie NIGHTBEAST…

If you speak to most casual horror fans whilst armed with a list of fabled video nasty titles, and ask them to pick out the ones that belonged in the original list, you’ll find that many will point to movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). The fact is of course that until recently these movies carried the stigma of being associated with the original Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of seventy-two titles.

In researching the legal paperwork for Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, Marc Morris managed to discover the previously unpublished third list. In it there were eighty-two titles that were designated under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act by the DPP. These films were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed for sale or hire and then destroyed although they were not ultimately prosecuted. The discovery of this list certainly goes some way into revealing just why certain other titles carried a video nasty association.

If you read the list [you can check it out at the bottom of our Marc Morris interview HERE] it has some truly bizarre entries. The ones that stand out to me are iconic films like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Profondo Rosso (1975) by Dario Argento, both of which are now considered to be the pinnacle of horror filmmaking; the idea of them being seized by the boys in blue beggars belief. Others that wave at me in mock indignation are cheese-fest’s like Charles Band’s Parasite (1982) and Xtro (1982) by Harry Bromley Davenport – films whose only crime is surely to have been made at all.

NB 4 Director Don Dohler

Director Don Dohler

Such loveable yet undeniably bad film-making brings me to my choice of movie to highlight in this Section 3 analysis: Nightbeast. The concept that this 1982 Don Dohler movie could feature on such fascist documentation alleging potential moral corruption of the population should they view is absurd. The idea that if this was 1984 and a policeman could come into my video store and seize my copy of Nightbeast as it would be deemed an obscene publication is jaw-droppingly insane and misguided to the point of ridicule.

Let me tell you a little about Don Dohler, the film-maker with the demeanour of a tired accountant, and a resigned reluctant acceptance of his cult status. Dohler’s career could best be summed up as a handful of low budget films, all made with a great amount of heart and a whole lot of passion. Born in Baltimore in 1946, Dohler was a fan of the genre from an early age being an avid reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland. By 1972 he had launched his own magazine called Cinemagic which featured illustrated step-by-step guides to create your own amateur special effects. The magazine ran for eleven issues before being purchased by Starlog in 1979, but its legacy was lasting with many contemporary Hollywood filmmakers such as JJ Abrams citing it as an influence.

His first foray into making his own films came with The Alien Factor in 1978. It was a fairly simple idea with a crashed alien spaceship leading to a horde of extra-terrestrials invading small town USA and mutilating the townsfolk. Despite its meagre budget it was surprisingly a notable success due to the popularity of Star Wars. With George Lucas’ film raking in big bucks in the cinemas, the American public found themselves with an insatiable desire for anything sci-fi orientated and Dohler’s film quenched that thirst just fine. The Alien Factor went on to appear at selected cinemas, not to mention a stint on that famed Grindhouse strip of 42nd Street, while a healthy TV syndication ensured that Don received some much needed coin in his direction.

NB 2With the general consensus that there was always a core audience for horror, Dohler then went into production on Fiend (1980). Little was changed by way of production, he still used friends, family and familiar locations and with the finished product and he decided it might be worth his time seeking out Lloyd Kaufman to seal a nationwide video distribution deal with Troma. Kaufman, despite being impressed with what Dohler brought to him, opted to pass on Fiend saying that his audience demanded more nudity and explicit content – something Dohler himself wasn’t too keen on integrating into his films. However, having decided if that’s what it’ll take he set about creating his next project, Nightbeast.

Nightbeast actually turned out to be pretty much a more polished and professional looking version of The Alien Factor. With many of the original cast of that movie reprising their roles there are a lot of similarities, especially in the narrative which shares many a same plot point; not least the alien spacecraft crash landing in a small town. From here we meet the heroic Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith) who arrives on scene with the local militia to investigate the disturbance only to be attacked by the alien. Cinder decides to make a stand, and along with the lovely Deputy Lisa (Karin Kardian) and a handful of townsfolk, the battle is on to defeat this extra-terrestrial invader.

While the plot doesn’t exactly feature much in the way of originality, the charm of Nightbeast lies firmly in its homemade nature. We have a spaceship crafted from polystyrene and paper, with much of the film being shot in a patch of woodland adjacent to Dohler’s back garden so they could run the power lines for the lights into his house! The supporting cast are largely made up of neighbours, friends, his aunt’s hairdresser and, let’s not forget, his children as well. The film is bursting with Ed Wood-style moments such as the scenes he had to extend to pad the film out that show his kids with a six month age difference looking noticeably different in terms of height and weight.

NB 3One of the most talked about scenes in the film though is undoubtedly that sex scene that Lloyd Kaufman suggested Dohler put into his film as “that’s what people want”. I implore you to watch this moment of insatiable erotica and tell me that it’s quite possibly the most anti-erotic sex scene ever filmed. Sheriff Jack, whilst running for cover from the marauding alien happens to sustain a mild injury to his leg. It needs attention though and Deputy Lisa suggests they stop off at a nearby cabin to get it cleaned up and bandaged.

For whatever reason Tom Griffith dispatched with the dated but functional long hair he sported in The Alien Factor for the most ridiculous prematurely greying perm you are ever likely to see. We’re talking aged Napoleon Dynamite here. During this first aid session Deputy Lisa gets ravenously horny and reveals her tan lines whilst off comes the Sheriff’s ill-fitting y-fronts. With his beer gut and handlebar moustache, this steamy lovemaking session is about as erotic as watching your Mum and Dad having sex – yet oddly all it does is solidify your appreciation of what Dohler managed to pull together.

Nightbeast was released in the UK by Vipco having been passed with no cuts made in 1983. Why would they make cuts though? It is virtually a blood free zone apart from a few incidents of very tame low budget gore. I can only think that its remarkably iconic sleeve featuring the John Dods (Ghostbusters II, Alien Resurrection) designed creature conjured up the idea that the film might contain something more ‘corrupting’ than it actually does. It was reclassified (again without cuts) in 1996 for a release on retail VHS in Troma’s brief sojourn into the UK home entertainment industry. Troma’s US release of it is well worth picking up as you can get it on a cool double feature alongside John Paul Kinhart’s excellent Blood, Boobs and Beast documentary which examines Dohler’s career.

NB precert betaDespite its low budget nature, Nightbeast is looked back on as the pinnacle in of Don Dohler’s career. Granted, that may be akin to saying that Glen or Glenda is the pinnacle of Ed Wood’s career but nevertheless, for a guy that made movies in his own town, with his friends and family and DIY special effects, Nightbeast represents quite an achievement. Dohler only made seven films in his career, and after having production problems on Blood Massacre (1991) which found the film land in other people’s hands for completion, he decided to back out of the industry with only the occasional return. Harvesters (2001) which he co-wrote is certainly worth a look for those low budget aficionados amongst you.

Dohler died of cancer aged sixty in late 2006, and it’s only since his death that I became aware of the legacy he left. The fact that legacy includes a position on a Section 3 DPP list is a genuinely surprising one. It’s such an inoffensive little film that the average viewer would more likely mock and disparage as opposed to question its morality. However, if the recognition it gets from this infamy creates a few more Don Dohler fans then it might just be worth the attention.

For Part Two of this feature, click HERE

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Follow Dave on twitter @thedavewain
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UKHS Does The Nasty: THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)

DK 1UKHS Does The Nasty:

THE DRILLER KILLER (1979)

Dir: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Nicholas St. John (credited as N. G. St. John)

Starring: Abel Ferrara (credited as Jimmy Laine), Carolyn Manz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz.

Running Time: 96 minutes

After our previous encounters with Euro-sleaze psychos, third world cannibals and one hungry crocodile, UKHS’ newest member Daniel Stillings steps up for a look at controversial auteur Abel Ferrara’s Black & Decker-loving Nasty…

Though The Driller Killer is not director Abel Ferrara’s début (the porno movie 9 Lives Of A Wet Pussy (1976) has that dubious distinction) it is still the film he is best known for. The project was initially planned as an experimental short – Ferrara made several in the early seventies in association with his long time collaborator Nicolas St. John – but was later expanded to feature length when Rochelle Weisberg, producer of Drive-In Massacre (1976) put up the extra money needed. The Driller Killer sets out many of the themes and concerns Ferrara would explore throughout his directorial career.

Reno (Ferrara himself) is a struggling artist living in a run down New York apartment with two girlfriends, Carol (Carolyn Marz) and Pamela (Baybi Day). With money in short supply, he is desperately trying to finish the painting of a buffalo he is working on to sell and finally dig himself out of the financial hole he has got himself into, but Carol who is receiving letters with money from her ex-husband is beginning to tire of the situation. When a rock band moves in to an adjacent apartment and begins practising around the clock and Reno’s protestations to the building super about the noise are met with disinterest, he begins to crack under the strain.

DK 2Seeing an advertisement on television for Porto-Pack – a handy mobile power supply – he buys one to power an electric drill that he then uses to casually murder a derelict in a doorway, an act that triggers a murderous killing spree of local down and outs. Eventually he completes his painting and invites his art dealer (Harry Schultz) to view the finished work, but on seeing it Briggs does not hold back his disdain for Reno’s new work, calling it simply “Shit.” This rejection of their last hope for financial security is the final straw for Carol who leaves Reno and Pamela to return to her ex-husband, after which Reno begins to turn his violent frustration inwards on those he cares for.

With its themes of urban alienation and madness and a central protagonist seeing himself in conflict with the city, it is pretty clear that the model for Ferrara’s film is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), but though thematically similar, their approaches are completely different. Whereas Scorsese’s neon drenched view of New York often resembles a science fiction movie, Ferrara’s New York is a murky, run-down hell hole captured in all its sordid glory by cinematographer Ken Kelsch. The more useful comparison is with Roman Polanski’s classic psychological drama Repulsion (1965), a point made even more explicit with the direct reference to the decomposing rabbit in Polanski’s film. A more solid Scorsese influence is the religious imagery that permeates the film from the church set opening to the mock crucifixion of a vagrant towards the end of the film, themes Ferrara would return to throughout his career climaxing in the controversial Bad Lieutenant (1992).

Despite its lurid title, The Driller Killer is not really an exploitation film. All Reno’s victims are unattractive male vagrants and only one of the killings is presented in a graphic manner, the violence of the other murders often being indistinct or off camera. The lesbian relationship between Carol and Pamela sensitively depicted (they are never the focus of Reno’s violence), and Joe Delia’s score made up of vibraphone re-workings of music by J. S. Bach offer respite from the muddy grumbling of Tony Coca-Cola & The Roosters.

DK 4Reno’s motivation for the series of killings occurs very early on. Though it is never stated explicitly, it is heavily suggested that the old vagrant that he meets in the church at the start of the film is his father. Homeless and seeking his son’s help, he embodies all Reno’s fears of failure, suggesting Reno is killing the derelicts out fear that he will lose his precarious position in society and join them. The film ends ambiguously. When the credits roll, nothing has been resolved.

The censorship history of The Driller Killer is complicated. The title was initially released by VIPCO in April 1982, and immediately caught the attention of renters on account of the graphic picture of the wino having his head drilled that graced the cover. Though it was a misrepresentation of the film, such practices were not uncommon during the early years of the video boom. While all the violence was intact, VIPCO’s release was missing an entire sequence lasting 6 minutes 35 seconds thought to be the result of a botched reel change during the film to tape transfer. It was a popular title, even more so when the Director of Public Prosecutions named it as one of the key “video nasties.” Prosecutions followed and the film was eventually outlawed, but thanks to the Scala Cinema Club in London, the public was still able to see it, but when the DPP turned up prior to a Scala screening and threatened to prosecute, they also withdrew the film.

The fact that The Driller Killer is nowhere near as graphic as its reputation suggests was something the BBFC themselves recognised very early on. James Ferman’s deputy Ken Penry told Tom Dewe Matthews in his book Censored that the film, “was cuttable,” but when VIPCO were told they would have to remove the wino killing, they lost interest in continuing the classification process. Meanwhile, an American Label called Cult Epics announced that it was striking a new print of the film for release as a special edition DVD, but as preparation for the new transfer took longer than expected, they were forced to use the same old murky print. This release restores the sequence missing from the VIPCO release, and includes a scary commentary track by Ferrara himself that gives a whole new meaning to the word “informal”, but is missing the final 1 minute 20 seconds of credits that VIPCO’s release did include!

DK 5In light of the policy change at the BBFC in the late nineties, Visual Entertainment decided to submit The Driller Killer for a certificate, but they opted to play safe and edit the film themselves before submission making cuts totalling 54 seconds to first murder, the killing at the bus stop and the graphic drilling of the wino’s head (much of this was substituted with alternate footage). This version was passed by the board with an “18” certificate and no further cuts. The final act in the censorship saga of The Driller Killer came on 19th November 2002 when ILC Prime Ltd. resubmitted the full, newly remastered version to the BBFC by who having now officially set out their post shake up guidelines passed the film uncut with and “18” certificate. The fact a film that caused such controversy just thirty years ago can now be screened intact on TV without any fuss at all seems incredible to anyone who lived through that time.

Rating: 8 / 10

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UKHS Does the Nasty! DEATH TRAP (1977)

DT 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
DEATH TRAP (1977)

In today’s bonkers instalment in our gruesome Video Nasty week, Joey Keogh turns her attentions to horror master Tobe Hooper’s naff redneck crocodile curio DEATH TRAP…

Also known as: Eaten Alive, Horror Hotel, Starlight Slaughter, Murder on the Bayou

The name Tobe Hooper has become synonymous with blood-curdling shocks and gut-wrenching gore, so it’s easy to forget that his first feature – the inimitable Texas Chain Saw Massacre – was a largely bloodless affair. Not so with his sophomore offering, Death Trap AKA Eaten Alive AKA Horror Hotel AKA Starlight Slaughter AKA Crocodile Conundrum (at least one of those is made up).

As so-called video nasties go – a term infamously coined by someone who’d never watched one – Death Trap is pretty rough. Adapting a grainy, lurid quality akin to Texas Chain Saw, the film takes place in a dilapidated motel in the middle of nowhere, which is operated by the clearly mental Judd (played with wild-eyed abandon by Neville Brand). Of course, why anyone would want to stay there is beyond comprehension, especially as there is a giant crocodile lurking in the adjoining swamp.

Currently holding an 18% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 5.4/10 on IMDb, Death Trap wasn’t received particularly well upon its release and has since faded into obscurity (aside from a particular group of cult followers). It’s easy to understand why. A nasty, relentlessly loud, very tough watch, in spite of its relatively short running time, the film features a shitload of violence towards its female characters, litres of joke-shop blood and some seriously dodgy wigs.

DT 1Arguably the biggest talking point nowadays is the addition of one Robert Englund, in one of his earliest roles. He stars as a horny young buck named, er, Buck, who as Tarantino “paid homage to” in Kill Bill, really likes to fuck. Funnily enough, Buck is the most likeable character and his death – also the most lengthy and gruesome – is the only one that elicits any kind of sympathy. Go figure.

Texas Chain Saw alum Marilyn Burns returns as a girl who, once again, runs around screaming a lot, but considering she doesn’t have woodland to get lost in this time around, she mostly goes around in circles. Halloween’s Kyle Richards – currently a Real Housewife and perpetuator of too-long hair – features as a resourceful little girl who cries too much and sadly does not perish when really she should.

The croc itself doesn’t get much of a starring role, popping its unconvincing head in and out of the frame here and there, before slinking back under the murky surface. Hooper may have been trying to recreate the Jaws effect but an abundance of dry ice, some screeching violins and a clearly intentional lack of lighting do not an ambience make – nor do they compensate for a lack of believable creature SFX.

Hooper takes part credit for the intrusive, headache-inducing score, alongside William Bell who was also responsible for that of Texas Chain Saw 1 and 2. Here, Bell throws caution to the wind, undercutting every attempt at tension. It almost sounds like the score to a low-budget sci-fi flick, with a weird organ pummelling away underneath everything. Brand’s performance as Judd caters to this quite well, even though his hair does most of the acting. Constantly muttering to himself, with his face shrouded in darkness throughout, the hotel owner/operator is the definition of a creepy old man – he even has a big ol’ swastika draped over his favourite chair, just to drive the point home.

DT 2He has a gumball machine on his reception desk though, so he can’t be all bad. Also, he seems shocked by his own murders so perhaps there were originally layers to the character that were left on the cutting room floor in favour of more scythe-swinging action. The farming tool is his weapon of choice, because this is Texas. The entire film is set at night, but the hotel is bathed in an eerie, red glow which only further serves to highlight the fact that nobody would stay there. Characters go missing for long periods of time, but nobody worries until it’s too late. Women are consistently left alone, before being revealed as utterly unable to take care of themselves when things go to hell.

Although everyone screams themselves hoarse throughout – aside from when delivering the painfully bad dialogue – nobody makes a noise while being, as the title suggests, eaten alive apart from Buck. Constant radio noise in the background alludes to Texas Chain Saw, but here it’s more jarring than creepy. Suffice to say, there isn’t much atmosphere, and the “scares” are created mostly by the unconvincing croc, whose appetite is damn near insatiable, or Judd being, well, Judd.

Death Trap wasn’t prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, but it didn’t receive an uncut release until 2000 (it was originally released with 25 seconds cut in 1992). Considering the film utilises, among other things, drug use, nudity, attempted anal rape, a significant amount of violence against women, swearing, and a shit tonne of bloody violence, it’s bizarre that it was considered tamer than almost forty other films.

DT 3This is especially interesting given that The Funhouse, also by Hooper, was wrongfully prosecuted as a video nasty a few years after its release. Most claim that the film was mistaken for The Last House On Dead End Street, which also went by the title The Fun House, while The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was itself banned from theatrical release in 1975, in spite of the fact it contains very little gore.

Considering that, nowadays, films such as Hostel and the stomach-churning Saw series have passed through the BBFC’s filter to enjoy massive box office success, it’s almost unthinkable that something as tame as Death Trap could be regarded as having the potential to “deprave and corrupt” an unsuspecting audience.

In fact, the only recent horror films to have fallen foul of modern “censorship”, for want of a better word, are those that really straddle the exploitation line. For example, the often unfairly derided A Serbian Film – widely denounced because of one, particularly gruesome sequence – or The Human Centipede 2, which is laughably rubbish and not nearly as clever or as disturbing as its predecessor, and which found its audience in the home viewing market (it had two minutes and thirty-seven seconds cut by order of the BBFC).

Similarly, and somewhat bizarrely, Hostel Part II was once cited in the House Of Commons as an example of a film where screenshots could become illegal to possess. This was in reference to a recently-passed law criminalising possession of extreme pornography – what this has to do with Eli Roth’s gory, yet otherwise restrained, sequel to his hit torture porn flick is unclear. Surely a screenshot of three people attached mouth-to-anus is more demoralising and offensive, not to mention arguably more pornographic?

DT 6Although the legacy of video nasties is evident, Death Trap is one of the least noteworthy of its kind, and for good reason. In a modern context, the most obvious comparisons could be made to big budget creature features such as the Lake Placid series – which thankfully utilised a more authentic-looking croc, at least at first – or Adam Green’s Hatchet trilogy, which set the action in a swamp that looked, somewhat purposefully, like a set.

It’s easy to speculate as to why the idea of video nasties, and their impact on an easily-compromised youth, became such a cause for concern when it did. The video market was still an unregulated, burgeoning, area and one which the powers that be didn’t quite understand yet. The so-called nasties were also an easy target. The press noticed early on that the growth of such features, and the independent market which catered to, and often created, them, could have a negative impact on mainstream establishments, such as Sky, which was still in its infancy. Whatever the reasoning behind it, in most cases – particularly with the most famous video nasty, The Evil Dead – the level of scorn aimed at these features was utterly unjustified.

More often than not, the films were being judged almost as propaganda, meant to incite hatred and violence. At one point, the infamous Mary Whitehouse even described video as the “biggest threat” to life in the UK, which is ludicrous even considering how many terrible things have happened in the wake of such protestations, many of which are unfairly attributed to video games/horror movies/Marilyn Manson. Death Trap is perhaps one of the best examples of this misunderstanding as, although it’s a nasty film and it looks like shit, it isn’t particularly gruesome or disturbing. It’s also unlikely that it’ll encourage anyone to pick up a scythe and lay waste to those around them, before feeding victims to a giant crocodile.

DT 8The majority of cuts were made to video nasties because of real-life animal cruelty or excessive violence to women – Death Trap boasts plenty of the latter, but the term “excessive” is of course open to interpretation. Nasty, rough and very odd, Death Trap is a schlocky affair, which tries desperately to pass itself off as a Southern Gothic nightmare. It thinks of itself as far worse than it actually is, and in a lot of ways, that’s why it was considered to be part of this most illustrious group. Nasty it most definitely is, but as video nasties go, Death Trap is probably lucky to even get a mention alongside so much other “filth”. If it wasn’t on the infamous List, or if Hooper and Englund’s names weren’t stamped on it, it’s doubtful we’d even still discuss it nowadays.

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Follow Joey on twitter @JoeyLDG

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UKHS Does the Nasty! Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

Layout 1 (Page 1)UKHS Does the Nasty!
Video Nasties: Draconian Days – An Interview with Producer MARC MORRIS

After founding Nucleus Films with director Jake West a little over ten years ago, Marc Morris (along with West) is renowned for producing a number of acclaimed supplementary features for DVD releases; perhaps most notably the outstanding Phantasm Phantasmagoria documentary. In 2005 Nucleus branched out into DVD distribution with the release of Pereira’s Between Your Legs (1999), before notching up a fine catalogue of niche titles for UK distribution such as Death Ship (1980) and the one-time video nasty Night of the Bloody Apes (1969).

Having had a hand in the worthy documentary Ban the Sadist Videos! (2005), Morris and West teamed up for a more in depth look at the video nasties panic and released the highly acclaimed Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide in 2010. Now, a few years on and with much more on the story of the BBFC’s role in the UK film industry to be told, Marc and Jake have made a sensational sequel [read our official lowdown HERE] about which Marc took some time out to speak to UKHS…

UKHS: Marc, thirty years on, what do you think it is that makes the Nasties still so appealing after all this time?

Marc Morris: I think it’s just simply the banned aspect and the fact that people always want what they can’t have. I was watching them prior to them being banned and I remember seeing that Nightmares in a Damaged Brain was one of the titles. I thought “wow – I’ve just hired that”, and I managed to go and buy myself a copy for five quid before it was outlawed. I just collected everything I could before they disappeared. I’d get the train every weekend and go off all over the place. Funnily enough some of the most notorious films I’d get from video shops that were right by police stations and you’d actually find out the police were renting them.

mm2

Draconian Days director Jake West (left) and Marc Morris (right)

UKHS: Draconian Days: How did it come about? Did you plan to make a sequel after you guys did the first one or did it just seem to happen?

MM: We really had no plans for a sequel. The first one was so much hard work, but after its release and after gauging the interest, then Jake suggested that it could be a good idea. There was also the aspect of the black market that came into play – especially the fanzines. In part 2 I’ve got scans of three-hundred fanzine covers, they were so important as it was the only way that you could find out about these movies. Initially I thought about doing a trailer reel of rejected titles but I gave up.

UKHS: Rejected titles?

MM: Yeah, just films that the BBFC refused to classify at all. I began it and got some way into it but I gave up. There’s no master for a lot of them; there’s nothing on the internet so it’s just a matter of trawling though VHS titles to find them.

UKHS: The DPP section 3 list [which you can read in full at the bottom of this interview]: It’s a bizarre selection of films they’ve drawn up isn’t it?

MM : Yeah, I think it’s just a case of the people in power not being in any way film literate. Obviously they had a certain number of things that were a no no, such as cannibalism…

mm3UKHS: You mentioned rather frighteningly at your Q&A at the Nottingham Broadway how during a recent meeting with the BBFC they alluded to some kind of internet restriction…

MM: They just want to tackle the internet next and put age restrictions on various sites – YouTube being one of them. I don’t know how far they are with it, but it’s what’s on their agenda.

UKHS: The most shocking parts of Draconian Days involved the raiding of and the seizing of stock from video stores. As the owner of an independent store myself, the thought of it happening to me is a little surreal and quite frightening…

MM: You used to have a video shop?

UKHS: No, I do now…

MM: Now? I thought everyone did Lovefilm and Netflix?!

UKHS: Yeah… There’s not many of us left! As an avid collector yourself though, what was it like living through that? Did it ever lead you to question your “horror fan lifestyle”?

MM: It was scary. I remember getting a phone call to say they’d raided one of my friends’ houses, and I knew that he had a copy of my list of films which listed my address on it! I just had to make sure I stashed them wherever I could – behind the bath panel, anywhere. There was always a chance you could have a knock on the door at five AM. It was certainly a climate of fear, but thrilling at the same time. It’s quite surreal to look back on it.

MM4UKHS: Just out of interest, what are your thoughts on the modern fascination with VHS? It’s really “in” again at the minute…

MM: Yeah, a lot of it I think is down to the artwork being so collectible. A lot of people I know don’t buy to watch they just buy to collect. It’s amazing – people create video rooms in their house with the old fixtures from video shops pinned to the walls for them to display the cases. It reminds them of their childhood I suppose.

UKHS: How about the prices though?

MM: Well they’ve got more money than me! It’s supply and demand though. I remember selling a title on eBay for £500 then a little while after that the same film went for £1500!

UKHS: Viewers in other countries have questioned whether the Video Nasties docs are mockumentaries or not (!). How do you think the Nasties era affected home entertainment in the UK?

MM: To be honest people were already hiring them anyway, and they were already being seen by the public. For me the annoying thing was the fact that the press questioned their legitimacy. It was a scary time, and when you look back with a sense of perspective it really opens your eyes as to what happened.

UKHS: Slipping into the realm of fantasy for a moment, what would you do if you were appointed head of the BBFC?

MM: I’d be pretty powerless to be honest, as of course the BBFC is governed by law and any changes would have to be lobbied to the government. The BBFC though has changed in its relationship with the public, and even today there are films coming out that only a couple of years ago would have been refused –Nekromantic, Bloodsucking Freaks, Island of Death…
For me though the frustration lies with a film like Axelle Carolyn’s Soulmate.

MM5UKHS: I’m not familiar?

MM: The one with the wrist cutting? The BBFC refused it an 18 certificate unless they removed the scene of a girl slashing her wrists. Apparently because it’s shown realistically instead of slashing across like you see in most films, they’re refusing it a certificate. It’s ridiculous! You see can see people committing suicide of TV by jumping in front of a bus, but you don’t suddenly see people copying that behavior.

UKHS: Nucleus have had some outstanding releases the last couple of years from Death Ship and the Grindhouse Trailer series, to Fantasm and Night of the Bloody Apes. Where do you think the future lies in what is becoming an increasingly difficult market?

MM: It’s just about finding the right films. We’ve got the materials to release Bloodbath in the House of Death on blu-ray, but I just don’t think that’s a title that suits that format. We get offered films all the time though – the Alain Robbe-Grillet box-set being one, but I just didn’t think it was right for Nucleus. It was more of a BFI type of release, so I phoned them up and said that this is something you should take a look at but they turned it down. Presumably they reconsidered at some point!
We’ve got a deal with Severin as well in the US recently too.

MM6UKHS: Yeah, Video Nasties Part 1 has just come out over there!

MM: Yes, and we’re releasing the first Grindhouse Trailer Classics over there as well. I’ve just re-mastered the whole thing into NTSC. We should be able to put out a Grindhouse Trailer Classics 5 as well back here. This afternoon I’m off to film some stuff for Odeon’s blu-ray of Whip and the Body.

UKHS: Really? Cool! Well on that note Marc I shan’t keep you any longer, and again thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak to UKHS.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part Two – Draconian Days is OUT NOW. It’s available at all well-known internet retailers but is perhaps best purchased from the Nucleus Films online store
http://www.nucleusfilms.com/video-nasties-the-definitive-guide-2.html

 
Video Nasties: THE SECTION 3 LIST

From the Nucleus press release:
This [list] presents the official additional 82 titles that were designated under “Section 3” of the Obscene Publications Act by the Director of Public Prosecutions. These titles were liable for seizure and forfeiture by the police, removed from sale or hire and then destroyed; although they were not ultimately prosecuted. This amazing list was discovered whilst researching legal paperwork for the original “VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE” and finally clears up why so many additional titles were historically considered to be “Video Nasties”.
The 82 “DPP Section 3” Videos were:

MM DPP Sec 3 1Abducted (Don Jones, 1973)
Aftermath, The (Steve Barkett, 1980)
Black Room, The (Elly Kenner & Norman Thaddeus Vane, 1981)
Blood Lust (Marijan Vajda, 1976)
Blood Song (Alan J. Levi, 1974)
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, The (Carlos Aured, 1973)
Brutes and Savages (Arthur Davis, 1977)
Cannibal (Ruggero Deodato, 1976)
Cannibals (Jess Franco, 1980)
Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The (Fred Schepisi, 1978)
Child, The (Robert Voskanian, 1977)
MM DPP Sec 3 2Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)
Communion (Alfred Sole, 1976)
Dawn of the Mummy (Farouk Agrama as Frank Agrama, 1981)
Dead Kids (Michel Laughlin, 1981)
Death Weekend (William Fruet, 1976)
Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
Demented (Arthur Jeffreys, 1980)
Demons, The (Jess Franco as Clifford Brown, 1972)
Don’t Answer the Phone! (Robert Hammer, 1979)
Eaten Alive (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
Enter the Devil (Frank Q. Dobbs, 1972)
MM DPP Sec 3 3Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The (Jess Franco, 1972)
Evil, The (Gus Trikonis, 1977)
Executioner, The (Dominico Miceli as Duke Mitchell, 1978)
Final Exam (Jimmy Huston, 1981)
Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974)
Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th 2 (Steve Miner, 1981)
G.B.H. (David Kent-Watson, 1983)
Graduation Day (Herb Freed, 1981)
Happy Birthday to Me (J. Lee-Thompson, 1980)
Headless Eyes (Kent Bateman, 1971)
MM DPP Sec 3 4Hell Prison (Eduardo Mulargia as Edward G. Muller, 1979)
Hills Have Eyes, The (Wes Craven, 1977)
Home Sweet Home (Nettie Peña, 1980)
Honeymoon Horror (Harry Preston, 1982)
Inseminoid (Norman J. Warren, 1980)
Invasion of the Blood Farmers (Ed Adlum, 1972)
Killing Hour, The (Armand Mastroianni, 1982)
Last Horror Film (David Winters, 1982)
Last Hunter (Antonio Margheriti as Anthony M. Dawson, 1980)
Love Butcher, The (Mikel Angel & Don Jones, 1975)
Mad Foxes (Paul Grau, 1981)
MM DPP Sec 3 5Mark of the Devil (Michael Armstrong, 1969)
Martin (George A. Romero, 1976)
Massacre Mansion (Michael Pataki, 1975)
Mausoleum (Michael Dugan, 1982)
Midnight (John Russo, 1980)
Naked Fist (Cirio H. Santiago, 1981)
Nesting, The (Armand Weston, 1980)
New Adventures of Snow White (Rolf Thiele, 1969)
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
NightBeast (Donald M. Dohler, 1982)
Nightmare City (Umberto Lenzi, 1980)
MM DPP Sec 3 6Oasis of the Zombies (Jess Franco, 1981)
Parasite (Charles Band, 1982)
Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1977)
Pigs (Marc Lawrence, 1972)
Prey (Norman J. Warren, 1977)
Prom Night (Paul Lynch, 1980)
Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1976)
Rosemary’s Killer (Joseph Zito, 1981)
Savage Terror (Sisworo Gautama Putra, 1979)
Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1980)
Scream for Vengeance (Bob Bliss, 1979)
MM DPP Sec 3 7Shogun Assassin (Robert Houston, 1972)
Street Killers (Sergio Grieco, 1977)
Suicide Cult (James Glickenhaus, 1977)
Superstition (James W. Roberson, 1982)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Terror (Norman J. Warren, 1978)
Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Thing, The (John Carpenter, 1982)
Tomb of the Living Dead (Gerardo De Leon & Eddie Romero, 1968)
Toy Box, The (Ron Garcia, 1970)
Werewolf Woman (Rino Di Silvestro, 1976)
MM DPP Sec 3 8Wrong Way (Ray Williams (as Ron Kelly, 1972)
Xtro (Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982)
Zombie Holocaust (Marino Girolami (as Frank Martin, 1980)
Zombies Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)
Zombies’ Lake (Jean Rollin & Julian de Laserna, 1980

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UKHS Does the Nasty! KILLER NUN (1978)

KN1UKHS Does the Nasty!
KILLER NUN (1978)

It’s day four of our Video Nasty week and, clad in nothing but a holy water soaked wet t-shirt, UKHS’ resident audio nut Mark Pidgeon gets all sacrilegious with KILLER NUN…

Also known as: Suor Omicidi

As well as changing the face of the whole home video industry, the Video Nasty saga’s burst of moral panic and outrage also helped a few lesser known horror titles escape from the realms of obscurity; pushing them out into the stratosphere of cult movie fandom for decades to come.

The majority of titles were notably banned for violence and assorted misogynistic acts, such as graphic depictions of rape, torture and general sexual deviancy. Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun meanwhile adds another to its cap, one which is still a very controversial topic to this day: blasphemy.

Much like its Nazisploitation counterpart, Nunsploitation was central to the rise of nasty fame, both sub-genres flourishing in a richly populated market that supposedly would exploit and corrupt the working class folk of eighties Great Britain. In typical class segregation and political elitism, some of the early Nunsploitation films condemned for home viewing within a Nasty-type bracket actually received acclaim from the upper-class, art-house scene – Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978) most notably.

KN2Many Nunsploitation films would be set in a medieval/cathedral setting, usually including a sadistic mother superior with a penchant for flaying nubile Catholic nuns as she attempts to purify the flesh – a novel way for the seventies softcore audience to witness a little more masochism than they were used to. It was a similar set up to the women in prison mantra: young women exploited and helpless, all the while giving in to sin, with varying degrees of pleasure after initial reluctance.

Killer Nun thrust aging Swedish sex siren and La Dolce Vita starlet Anita Ekberg – the main reason film fans flocked to screenings to see more of the beautiful actress in more ways than one- into a world of degradation and desperation. The sexual antics are a tool for her to achieve what she wants and is in full swing throughout. Couple this with her need for drugs, a slope of insanity makes Killer Nun a beautifully filmed Nunsploitaion picture; yet the film hasn’t aged well and suffers like much of ilk to a now modern-day tameness.

Based upon a true story about a Nun working in a geriatric hospital, Sister Gertrude suffered with an addiction to morphine (due to cancer) and relentlessly killed patients, robbing them in the process to fund her morphine addiction. Taking out her own frustrations on her patients she becomes the antithesis of the veil and her religious duties, seen by Baba Yaga director Berruti whom then crafted and exploited the story as the basis for this film after seeing potential in the brutality of the crime.

KN3An excellent,delirious score supplements the carnage and is a highlight of the film offering an almost dreamlike status to the murder sequences which fits in well with the morphine thematic. During a scene where a patient is thrown from a window the repetitive pulsing sound-scape makes the sequence far more effective than it deserved adding surrealism and panic with a minimal yet aggressive sound structure; Kubrick would be proud.

Ekberg herself is noted in an interview from 2006 as taking the role as “the psyche of the nun appealed to her and was a deviation from the Dolce Vita clones that [she] was only getting offered at the time”. Her descent into addiction, madness and lust is well played throughout. She is convincing in the seductress part of the role as well as the addictive junkie personality, merging the two persona’s well and garnering both viewer sympathy and repulsion in the process. At heart this is a tale of a woman screaming out for help in a world which has unfair preconceptions about her and the life she chose to lead, both religiously and as a drug abuser/sexual deviant. It’s weirdly deep for a film of this ilk.

The supporting cast will be familiar to many a die hard Italian horror fanatic; roles from Suspiria’s (1977) Alida Valli and Nunsploitation mainstay Paola Morra help proceedings along nicely. Killer Nun is by no means a great film but it offers enough charm, flair and scope to merit a viewing. The lesbian love interest, Sister Mathieu, plays well against Gertrude as she rebukes her advances while being meticulous and cruel and she is deftly handled by Morra.

KN4Upon release Killer Nun was banned in Italy and later in 1983 was banned in the United Kingdom and, to this day, the film remains banned in Iceland. The original poster art also came under scrutiny as the suggestion depiction of a nun performing a sex act was deemed unsuitable and was amended into a subtler affair with a silhouette of Morra looking into Ekbergs seductive gaze.

The religious iconography is also another moot point, this could have essentially been the same film with Gertrude being in any position of uniform and not a nun; would it have still attracted the intended audience? For the most part yes, but Killer Nun rides the coattails of Catholicism focusing on the purity of religion using it as a tool for dissection and deviation sure to ruffle a few feathers and excite a few others in the process.

Its also undoubtedly on this list because of the connotation of the title alone; if it would have been given a release under its original language title, Suor Omicidim would the DPP have clocked it? The widespread panic and attacks by name association alone helped fuel the Video Nasty fire. Nunsploitation fans are grateful to her for rescuing this title from video.

Nunsploitation expert Nigel Wingrove submitted the film to the BBFC again in 1993 as part of his aptly titled side label Salvation, an offshoot of Redemption films. Redemption were oft victims of the heavy handed clout of Mary Whitehouse and her fear mongering lynch mob; Wingrove was granted a VHS release with 13 seconds of footage omitted.

KN6Removing two notable scenes of violence; the first a Needle in an eye sequence , the latter a depiction of Surgery on a skull which looks terribly dated upon viewing now. It is interesting to note than there are actually very few cuts compared to some of the more notorious titles on this list and that both cuts, although excessive were used to enhance the story not done for extra shocks.

The film is now available uncut in the UK from Shameless Screen Entertainment which resubmitted the film in 2006. Shameless have re-instated the cut footage from an Italian print – one which has never been dubbed into English – and this is an excellent way for people to witness the cut footage for the first time, although it does become a little distracting to have a tiny section of the film in Italian instead of using the whole Italian source. Presumably a full Italian print was unavailable or the print not of sufficient standard. Germany and USA also have fully uncut versions from Koch Media and Blue Underground respectively.

Killer Nun: perfect Saturday night viewing, before church on Sunday!

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UKHS Does the Nasty! CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)

CF1UKHS Does the Nasty!
CANNIBAL FEROX (1981)

Continuing our terrific run of special Video Nasty features, Dave Wain dissects Umberto Lenzi’s notorious jungle grue-fest CANNIBAL FEROX…

Also known as: Make Them Die Slowly

“There was no need for them. They were unnecessary… And they were evil” – Graham Bright MP

Of all the evidence that filmmakers Marc Morris and Jake West scoured through whilst producing both their Video Nasty documentaries, I think it’s the above quote that really sticks in my throat. Bright was the Conservative MP for Luton East who, in 1983, introduced a Private Members Bill that formed the basis of the Video Recordings Act. He’s also more comically known for a classic piece of television where he states that “research IS taking place, and it WILL show these films not only affect young people, but I believe they affect dogs as well”. The damning thing is it succinctly represented the views of the sneering, Daily Mail reading middle-classes, delivered by the absolute epitome of what they embody: a stuffy segment of society, out and touch and unwilling to escape the utopian island mentality that they immerse themselves in.

CF2This nasty-era level of censorship and outrage has always existed. Take Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka Fanny Hill), published in 1748. Considered the first erotic novel in the English language, it saw author John Cleland arrested for obscenity, with the book itself banned, seized and smuggled around countries throughout its history. Sound familiar?

Art exists to connect with our primal feelings. The medium in which it’s presented is irrelevant – paintings, literature or film. It should never be censored as all that represents is the more powerful members of society attempting to control what us commoners are permitted to view, read or watch. Like James Ferman, the BBFC director between 1975 and 1999, said, “It’s alright for you middle-class cineastes to see this film, but what would happen if a factory worker from Manchester happened to see it?”.

Though I disdain censorship of any kind, I have to say that the film I’ve chosen to discuss this week on UKHS is one I find thoroughly grim and disgusting. In fact, after watching it repeatedly over the past few weeks, I really don’t think I could bear to look at it again any time soon. Cannibal Ferox though is a fascinating piece of film-making and is – forgive the cliché – a product of its time.

CF3In 1980, cult Italian auteur Ruggero Deodato released what is perhaps the most infamous nasty of all: Cannibal Holocaust. Its notoriety is the stuff of legend, with classic tales such as its seizure by the Italian courts, and Deodato’s arrest and subsequent charge of murdering several of the actors on camera (!) now a firm part of genre lore. Irrespective of this insanity, such controversy – not to mention such iconic artwork – ensured that the film was a massive success when it hit video worldwide; so much so that Italian film producers immediately requested more of the same.

Director Umberto Lenzi was, at the start of the 1980s, a well-established journeyman whose career had managed to successfully move in time with the various genres that his homeland specialised in. From sword and sandal epics and Euro-spy cheese (Samson and the Slave Queen (1963), 008: Operation Exterminate (1965); to spaghetti westerns and giallo (Pistol for a Hundred Coffins (1968), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)), Lenzi proved himself adaptable to any style of picture. However, it was with Poliziotteschi – the Italian crime-thriller – where his directorial ability was best showcased, thanks to films like Milano Rovente (1973), Almost Human (1974) and The Manhunt (1975).

“I’m ashamed of this movie. It’s not fantasy; it’s reality. There’s a political side [to it]. It’s a bit fascist, in the deepest sense” – Giovanni Lombardo Radice

CF4By the time Cannibal Ferox came around, Lenzi already had previous form with this niche sub-genre. Some even say that it was he who started the whole Italian cannibal craze with the release of his The Man From Deep River in 1972 – a grisly little flick starring Me Me Lai and Ivan Rassimov which also found itself nasty-fied under its alternate title Deep River Savages. Cannibal Ferox begins in New York City, in the wake of a heroin trafficking scheme gone wrong. We meet Lt. Rizzo (played by Cannibal Holocaust lead Robert Kerman) who is on the lookout for Mike (Radice), the key suspect in this botched drug deal and who appears to have skipped town. Without much in the way of cohesive narrative, we then find ourselves introduced to Gloria (Lorraine de Selle), Rudy (Danile Mattei) and Pat (Zora Kerova); a trio on their way into the jungle for the purpose of completing Gloria’s doctoral thesis about cannibalism. Soon after their arrival in the tropical South American location they run into the fugitive Mike who, along with his friend Joe (Walter Lucchini), claims they have just escaped the clutches of some cannibals. Cue gratuitous mastication!

“The following feature is one of the most violent films ever made. There are at least two dozen scenes of barbaric torture and sadistic cruelty graphically shown. If the presentation of disgusting and repulsive subject matter upsets you, please do not view this film.”

CF5The first thing you see when you watch Cannibal Ferox, I’ve always treat such scaremongering warnings with a great deal of cynicism. However, with Cannibal Ferox it’s frighteningly accurate, the words “disgusting” and “repulsive” being the only suitable ones to describe this grim-natured movie. The animal cruelty present I find far worse than Cannibal Holocaust. There’s a coati being (very slowly) strangled by a snake with the camera staying fixed on it as it squeals in pain. Radice states that the Italian crew stopped and refused to film any more of the scene until the animal was aided to safety. Elsewhere we have a monkey being attacked by a jaguar, an iguana fending off a snake, a live turtle having its head and legs chopped off and a crocodile being killed and eaten by natives.

It’s depressing viewing, and while most the other nasties have seemed to mellow with age as some of their make-up effects become somewhat outdated, these scenes from Ferox retain the same vomit inducing ferocity as back when it was originally released. It’s not just the animal cruelty that repulses either: nightmarish scenes litter the movie, such as a woman being hung up with meat hooks inserted into her breasts, Radice’s Mike having his penis chopped off and then eaten, and also the top of his skull sliced off and his brains scooped out by the natives.

What makes the animal cruelty worse though is Lenzi’s apparent lack of contrition as he looks back on it: “I think a lot of this movie,” he states in the DVD audio commentary. “I wasn’t sure before now, but I find it very professional”. Even during these barbaric scenes, Lenzi seems to view them with an air of nonchalance in direct opposition to Radice, who, in the same commentary, squirms as he watches the picture. “We should have been forbidden to do things like this,” he says, stating how, even during the shoot, he refused to perform certain acts like killing a pig – despite Lenzi’s dogged insistence.

The irony, of course, is that Radice’s Mike is an absolute horror of a man. He’s arrogantly misogynistic, repeatedly referring to women as “twats”; he’s always on coke; he kills a native woman without any remorse – he’s a thoroughly reprehensible individual. Conversely, Radice in real life is a gentleman and he looks back on Ferox as the biggest mistake in his career. A classically trained actor who prefers the stage to the screen, Radice dismisses the film and Lenzi at every opportunity: “What you’re saying is shit, what you’re doing is shit but you have to [play it] serious,” he says, as well as, “These types of Italian directors were not renowned for working with actors.”.

CF6 Pre CertCannibal Ferox was released on VHS in the UK in 1982 by Replay Video in an uncut pre-cert version, running a little over 89 minutes. Listed as a nasty in July 1983, the later cut version had a whopping 6 minutes and 51 seconds removed from it. Resubmitted again to the BBFC in 2001 by Gold’s in the same pre-cut version, Ferox had another six seconds cut due to the sight of a small animal on the end of a rope banging against the side of a jeep. It is this version that haunts the now discontinued British DVD from VIPCO. In America, it was released uncut by Grindhouse Releasing in 2006.

Critically, Cannibal Ferox pales quite starkly in relation to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, the latter being a far more accomplished production. The fact that Deodato recently prepared a special director’s cut removing all the animal cruelty speaks volumes towards how he views what is contained in his watershed shocker. Cannibal Ferox, meanwhile, remains as vile as always.

Its narrative is haphazardly plotted, while the characters don’t engage you anywhere near as much as their perilous situation needs them to. Perhaps Gloria comes closest to achieving some affinity with the audience but others leave you cold, the aforementioned Mike in particular. Upon its release the horror press condemned it and it’s since fared no better; Cinema Crazed call it “clunky and tedious”, while DVD Talk say it’s “poorly made”.
Personally speaking, I first caught Cannibal Ferox on VHS many years ago as I educated myself about just what video nasties were. At the time – and in its cut form – it seemed fun; it was a badge of honour that this young horror viewer had sat through such a well-known, grisly film.

CF7 VipcoRevisiting it uncut in 2014 it’s striking how rubbish it is. The animal cruelty I had to turn away from – it’s a needless, offensive attempt at basic shock value. In many ways though, Cannibal Ferox has succeeded: thirty-three years after its release we’re still talking about it. And, as a historical document, it certainly has its place within the legacy of envelope pushing horror. It’s not to be celebrated or fawned over, however; instead one should really question if, had it not attracted the attention of the overzealous press and politicians of the period, would anyone really remember it as anything other than a footnote in Italian genre history? Probably not, and that’s the place where it’d be best left abandoned.

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UKHS Does the Nasty! NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

NIADB 1UKHS Does the Nasty!
NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981) Part One

It’s day two of our week-long Video Nasty series and, in an exhaustive two part feature, Matty Budrewicz examines director Romano Scavolini’s wonderfully lurid NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN…

Also known as: Nightmares, Blood Splash (US video)

It’s one hell of a story: The Thatcher-led dark-lands of eighties Britain. Home video has revolutionised how we watch movies and a slew of ultra violent horror films are leading the charge. A mixture of eclectic drive-in fillers and assorted Euro-pudding gorefests, they’re ‘Video Nasties’ in the damning eyes of the press and the law – sick filth to be targeted, seized and destroyed. Titles are quickly condemned left and right, blasted by the Director of Public Prosecutions and banned under the Obscene Publications Act. Actually getting jail time because of them though is something else entirely. For David Hamilton Grant however, that’s exactly what happened.

The head of distribution label World of Video 2000, Grant was busted for issuing VHS copies of a low-budget terror pic one whole minute longer than the official BBFC-approved theatrical release. It didn’t matter that it was still a compromised version, the victim of all the same censorious snips as the R-rated US print, and still shorn of just under ten minutes of expository bumf; sixty additional seconds after all was more than enough time to destroy the moral fabric of British society. On February 3rd 1984 Grant was sentenced to eighteen months at her majesty’s pleasure (though later reduced to twelve) for being “in possession of over two-hundred copies of an obscene article for publication for gain”.

NIADB 2Crazy for sure, but it’s worth noting that in the expanded Grant universe it’s barely a footnote; just another part of his sordid mystique. The self-styled King of Sexploitation, entrepreneurial porn don Grant’s personal saga is one strange and convoluted web that – if former sports presenter turned conspiracy theorist David Icke is to be believed anyway – involves Grant’s own faked death at the hands of a contract killing, and his position as a major player in a high-reaching international paedophile ring.

It’s one hell of a story then, one every bit as bizarre and disturbing as the film he was once banged up for: director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 shocker Nightmares In a Damaged Brain.

Looking back, it’s not hard to see why Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would land someone in such hot water. Anything promoted with such a ghoulish gimmick as a Guess the Weight of the Brain In the Jar Competition – a human brain no less, procured from somewhere as shady as Grant no doubt – was bound to attract some kind of negative attention. Still, it was an ingenious and appropriate marketing ploy, considering Grant’s tacking on of the latter half of the title: “Well, the film’s real title is simply ‘Nightmare’,” says Lee Christian, the erudite exploitation flick guru who curated the extras for Code Red’s region one DVD release of the film back in 2011. “I’m told by Bill [Olsen, Code Red’s owner] that Scavolini was not even aware of the Nightmares In a Damaged Brain variation – I’m not sure I buy that, but he definitely had nothing to do with that title! It’s interesting that most American fans of the film are very sensitive about which is the proper title though: in the online horror enthusiast community, they all refer to it as Nightmares In a Damaged Brain. That title, in reality, was slapped onto it by your British distributor. Your Video Nasties scandal re-branded the film with a title it was never meant to have!”

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain deals with George Tatum (a terrific performance from Baird Stafford, whose only other screen credit is Scavolini’s 1985 Vietnam war-action pic Dog Tags), a dangerous schizophrenic wrongly deemed cured and released back into the streets of New York City. Plagued by violent recurring dreams, Tatum sets off on a blood-thirsty journey back to his family home in Florida; a house now occupied by single mother Susan (the perfunctory Sharon Smith) and her three children. Edging ever closer, Tatum’s homicidal mania increases, a plot point mirrored by the increasingly worrying penchant Susan’s super-brat young son CJ (blonde moppet CJ Cooke) has for sadistic practical jokes. Soon, all is set for the inevitable confrontation: a suitably frightening and distressing final act in which Tatum and CJ’s past, present and future entwine with claret-soaked consequences…
Of all the Nasties, Scavolini’s film – along with fellow Italian Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – is one of the most genuinely affecting.

NIADB 3Though the likes of Tenebrae (1982), The Burning (1981) and the Lucio Fulci undead double of Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The House By the Cemetery (1981) all remain potent frighteners, by and large the seventy-two titles under the Nasty label (of which thirty-nine were successfully DPP prosecuted) are more liable to provoke unintentional laughs than spine-scraping frissons. They’re tosh: tawdrily entertaining clag gross-outs, even something as mean-spirited as Cannibal Ferox (1981), which veers dangerously close to camp thanks to the eminently watchable scene chewing of perennial victim John Morghen (or Giovani Lombardo Radice, to give the spaghetti splat regular his real name). Of course, that’s not to say Nightmares In a Damaged Brain isn’t trash because, well, ostensibly it is: “The end result is a film that looks like it was trying to be something a little different,” says Christian, “but it’s really more of a slasher movie.”

Scripted under the title of Dark Game and inspired by a magazine article which alleged to the CIA’s use of mental patients in mind-altering pharmacological experiments, Scavolini’s original vision of the film was, according to Christian, very different: “It wasn’t really the same movie. It’s been a long time since I read [the original script], but as I recall, it was a little more centred around CJ. Also, you got a much better insight as to how the script seemed to be more aware of what would visually make sense. One example of this is the scene towards the end in which Kathy, the babysitter, is murdered. I have to admit, I always found this scene logically very awkward; when she sees Tatum coming towards her and exclaims “CJ!”, thinking he’s just playing another trick on her, even though Tatum is clearly too tall to be confused with him. In the script, this scene takes place in the dark, with Kathy only sensing another presence in the room. It’s more logical but, additionally, more creepy too.”

NIADB 4Though a handful of core ideas remain – the notion of whether Tatum’s pills are helping or making him even worse, most teasingly of all – Scavolini’s more thoughtful intentions are marred somewhat by his over-reliance on clunky slash-horror cliche. Empty false scares and the usual uninspired killer-on-the-loose histrionics plague the narrative; bizarre considering just how vocal – and somewhat arrogant – Scavolini is about his disdain for the genre and its by-the-numbers approach. “I don’t watch horror films; they don’t interest me,” he says in Code Red’s ninety-minute interview with him. “If I do, it’s twice or triple speed because I immediately know everything. I immediately understand what the mechanisms are.”

Beneath such low-end schlock trappings though, there still lurks a provocative and distinctly adult horror movie: a surprisingly striking study of mental disintegration, neglect and the long-term repercussions of extreme violence. Flawed in its execution it may be, but Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is still pretty powerful. As Christian says: “The concept of a masked killer stalking a troubled family… Only to turn out to be the father of the boy who plays cruel tricks on his family is something that could’ve had more resonance. It could’ve made a more subversive statement on the state of mental health treatment in America and the potential for mental illness to translate through blood ties, but yeah: a little of that still comes through.” Certainly, it’s more than your usual dead teenager/body count flick…

Nightmares In a Damaged Brain fits more with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) than Friday the 13th (1980) – a proto Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer (1986)-style bracket occupied by the likes of Don’t Go In the House (1980), Visiting Hours (1982) and Maniac (1980). Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s immediate peers, they too are character-based frighteners; grindhouse dissections of the psychological make-up of murder.

NIADB 5Though banned for theatrical release and never a “proper” Nasty itself (unlike Don’t Go In the House and Visiting Hours, which found themselves on the non-prosecuted Nasty heap), it’s with Maniac that the greatest parallel can drawn; from it and Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s joint depiction of an especially grimy New York, to each movies vice-versa-like way of beginning and ending. Just as Bill Lustig’s scuzzy fleapit classic starts with a murder set piece (“Jaws (1975) on land” as Lustig once described it) and closes with a fevered gore-dream, Scavolini bookends his psycho saga the other way round; kicking off with Tatum’s nightmare vision of a bloodied, severed head dumped at the foot of his bed and finishing up with a hyper-real stalk n’ slash sequence.

Alluding to both The Shining (1980) and Halloween (1978), Scavolini’s denouement is thrilling stuff: clad in the same creepy old man mask that CJ had been larking about with earlier in the film – the same creepy old man mask that looks remarkably like Sid Haig – the claw hammer-wielding Tatum pursues CJ through the house. Barricading himself in his mother’s bedroom, CJ desperately begins to search for something – anything – to fight Tatum off; all the while Tatum is smashing the door down from the other side. From under the bed, CJ pulls out a handgun – a revolver – and, without hesitation, begins to fire repeatedly through the door at Tatum. It’s long, lingering and luridly drawn out; Jack Eric Williams’ screeching score peaking as the mortally wounded Tatum hits the floor.
It’s not over, however: proving once again that you can’t keep a good slasher anti-hero down, Tatum slowly begins to rise, his last iota of strength then used for one last-ditch attempt to get CJ and his sisters.

For his troubles, Tatum is quickly shot by CJ again, once with the revolver – “You don’t understand!” screams Tatum as the bullet hits – and then by a double dose of shotgun blasts; tipping events into the same realm of pitch-black comedy as the infamous ED-209 boardroom bloodbath in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987). As Tatum expires at the foot of the stairs, Scavolini finally pieces everything together: Tatum’s visions – his nightmares – are revealed to be the fractured recollections of him brutally murdering his own mother and father as a child. Wielding a ruddy great axe, young Tatum dispatches his folks as they’re in the throes of kinky, S&M passion – a likely nod to the ‘Dark Game’ of the original title and a more full-on re-work of a similar scene in Ulli Lommel’s earlier cult favourite The Boogeyman (1980, and also a Nasty). “You don’t understand!” his father also screams, before the axe smashes down into his head, the old slasher maxim of “you have sex, you die” now taken one step further. In Scavolini’s universe, fucking is no longer just punishable with death by masked maniac; it’s the reason said maniac is loco in the first place. Sex-as-psychosis-catalyst is one of the director’s most fully realised and satisfying concepts, an idea at its most obvious during Tatum’s frothy-mouthed meltdown at a XXX peepshow.

NIADB 6The punchline to Nightmares In a Damaged Brain – as previously mentioned by Christian – is the paternal revelation: dead body unmasked at the crime scene, Tatum is exposed as Susan’s estranged husband, thanks to her cry at a pitch only dogs can hear. Often criticised for its perceived predictability – though, admittedly, more seasoned narrative detectives will see it coming a mile off – it’s more sickeningly inevitable than predictable; the real twist being CJ’s exposure and subsequent reaction to the violence. It’s just as the strapline to Screen Entertainment’s 2002 British video re-release (which ironically features the same print that landed distributor Grant in bother) promises, “One moment of ultra violence that once seen is never forgotten”. CJ’s seen the violence. He’s been complicit in it, and killed his own father just as his father did. And just like dear ol’ Dad before him, he’s doomed to repeat it, as signified by his shocking fourth-wall break at Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s close. It’s just a pity then that, as Christian also noted, its development throughout the rest of the movie wasn’t quite as well fleshed out as it could have been, getting a little muddled somewhere amidst the film’s slightly saggy middle stretch. Nonetheless, it still packs an emotional wallop.

Its status as a Nasty aside, Nightmares In a Damaged Brain is best known for the controversy surrounding its squirty gore effects; “I first sought it out because of the then-notoriety of the Tom Savini credit scandal,” says Christian. “Certainly here in America, it was far more well-known for that scandal than it was – at the time – for having been banned in England.” Long attributed to the Dawn of the Dead (1978) effects man – the grue legend who also supplied the splatty stuff for the aforementioned Maniac, Friday the 13th and The Burning – Savini himself vehemently denies any official involvement; he served only as an adviser to the then-fledgling Ed French (later of Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Stuff (1985) and Rejuvenator (1988), despite Scavolini crediting him as Special Effects Director. As he firmly explained to author Christian Sellers in 2007, “I was not involved in that film in any way I want to talk about. They keep using my name and I did not do the effects on that piece of shit. The guy who did do the effects, Lester Loraine, killed himself. He was a friend and they gave him no credit but tried to steal my name to promote this trash.”*

NIADB 7 SaviniIt’s a claim supported by French too, who also told Sellers, “I recall that the make-up effects guy in charge was a man named Les Loraine or Larraine. I had never heard of him before this movie and I never heard of him again after that… I remember Tom coming in, perhaps twice, to give the crew advice, direction and impetus to finish the preparations on time for the first day of shooting. I have no idea if this was a favour to Les or if he was a paid consultant. Tom didn’t do any hands-on work but he definitely influenced the techniques, style and game plan for staging the blood gags. Obviously, he was the coach. The splatter coach, if you will. Anything else I could tell you would be pure speculation.”*

Understandably, Scavolini’s version of events is grossly different, the bottom line being Savini was a much more active participant in the film’s sangre department than he’d care to admit: he didn’t do the latex, but he sure as hell “pumped the blood”* according to the fiery filmmaker. It’s hard not to deny the similarities between Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s effects work and Savini’s stuff; they may be a little cruder than the watershed, artery-splitting money shots in The Prowler (1980) et al, but they certainly have Savini’s trademark, bright red gush behind them – a little more so than him just simply coaching. What’s more, it’s hard not to deny that Savini was actually pretty hands-on from a production photo readily in circulation showing him giving young actor Scott Praetorius (Young George) a crash course in axe handling. Very odd, considering Savini once stated that, as he was working on George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) at the time, he’d never even set foot on the Nightmares In a Damage Brain set!

Whatever the truth, to paraphrase Sellers, it will most likely never be known; denial, accusations and libel-baiting stories of greed and Savini’s alleged licentiousness unrepeatable here will forever just fill its place. It’s a shame really, as such a mystery overshadows both the contribution of Nightmares In a Damaged Brain’s other effects man on the Florida-lensed leg of the shoot – the wonderful, future Charles Band alum, and star of the short-lived SyFy series Monster Man (2011), Cleve Hall – and actually just how good the film itself is.

NIADB 8 Pre CertStill, who doesn’t love a bit of gossip? And, as Code Red’s Lee Christian alluded to earlier, if it wasn’t for such scandal – especially its reputation as a Nasty for us Brits – Nightmares In a Damaged Brain would probably have just fallen into scare cinema oblivion by now. As it stands, the film is a bonafide classic of sorts: naff in spots and incredibly rough around the edges in others, but with a quiet, unspoken influence on the more introspective strain of extreme skin crawlers that have emerged in the last half-dozen years or so – a legacy of brutality that can be felt in the likes of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) and Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – it’s an essential, must-see, cult slab of down and dirty horror. Seek Nightmares In a Damaged Brain out or just pay it another visit: you’ll be glad you did.

For Part II of this feature, in which Matty chats further with Code Red’s Lee Christian, click HERE

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A massive, massive thanks to Lee Christian – an all round good egg.

Code Red DVDs essential limited run blu-ray of the film, under its American title NIGHTMARE, is out now. Get buying it from their store here: http://codereddvd.bigcartel.com/

Find Code Red on Facebook HERE and twitter HERE

* taken from Scavolini vs. Savini: Nightmare In a Damaged Brain by Christian Sellers, originally published on retroslashers.net. Used by permission, with thanks to the author. Read the brilliant full article here: http://retroslashers.net/scavolini-vs-savini-nightmare-in-a-damaged-brain/

To go to part two of this feature, click HERE

Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

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NEXT WEEK ON UK HORROR SCENE..

 

DailymailvideonastyheadlineUKHS DOES THE NASTY!
SEVEN DAYS OF SADISTIC VIDEOS AND ASSORTED SICK FILTH!

With Jake West’s and Marc Morris’ awesome new documentary Video Nasties: Draconian Days about to hit the shelves, and the 30th anniversary of the Video Recordings Act right around the corner too, UK Horror Scene are thrilled to be running our very own Video Nasties series all next week!

Be sure to join us from MONDAY 14TH JULY for a whole slew of coverage celebrating this most contentious era of British horror history. Featuring analysis, reviews and some terrific exclusive content, our week of video violence is going to be something very special indeed; seven days of sleazy psycho killers, jungle gut-munchers and naughty, naughty nuns!

Abandon all taste and decency: UKHS are about to get Nasty…