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! 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! VIDEO NASTIES PART 2: DRACONIAN DAYS (2014)

Layout 1 (Page 1)UKHS Does the Nasty!
VIDEO NASTIES PART 2: DRACONIAN DAYS (2014) Review

The official UK Horror Scene verdict on Marc Morris and Jake West’s sequel to their excellent 2010 documentary…

Directed by: Jake West
Written by: Marc Morris
UK Certification: 18
UK RRP: £24.99

Runtime: 97 minutes
Distributor: Nucleus Films
UK Release Date: OUT NOW

“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?”
– James Ferman, BBFC

After the critically acclaimed success of their documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, which brilliantly managed to encapsulate the hysteria created during the Video Nasty shenanigans (“research WILL show they can also affect dogs”), Marc Morris and Jake West in their second feature on the subject examine the years 1984 – 1999. This period of course found the aforementioned Mr. Ferman still at the helm, but in the wake of the Nasties outrage and the introduction of the Video Recordings Act which stipulated by law that ALL new releases had to be certified, our infamous BBFC Director was intent on bringing a public face to the institution.

cp1Ferman himself was American by birth and came to the UK following a period in the US Air Force. After a spell at Cambridge he worked behind the camera in television directing shows such as Armchair Theatre and Emergency Ward 10 before taking up a position at the BBFC in 1975 – a time when the organisation was accused of being too liberal. He was a very hands on Director, and had quite a penchant for conference appearances where he would regularly whip out a prepared compilation of scenes they had cut from notorious films, which when viewed in isolation naturally caused the audience to feel repugnant. Even respected genre critic and author Alan Jones stated how he came out pro-censorship following this showman-like spectacle. Only in the cold light of day would he realise that it was just clever propaganda and, as he states in Draconian Days, “from that moment on [Jones] would never trust the censor”.
Draconian Days goes on to analyse how individual tragedies affected the BBFC’s practices, and both the Hungerford Massacre and the murder of James Bulger are afforded pertinent scrutiny.

The key issues that surrounded these incidents include the difficulty in enforcing who watches a VHS in the home, and also the ability for a viewer to isolate a scene. The use of weapons too, it turns out, was a particular area of concern for Mr. Ferman – the ‘Rambo knife’ for example, and nunchucks, ninja stars and other martial arts orientated weaponry led to strict censorship. As we saw with Video Nasties part one though, such strict guidelines often resulted in frequent moments of idiocy such as the covering of the word ‘chainsaw’ in Fred Olen Ray’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988).

hch1The hero of Morris and West’s first documentary was undoubtedly Martin Barker who was a continual source of enlightened reason. In Draconian Days he says something at the beginning which every person with the slightest regard for cinema – not just genre movies, should have etched into their brain: “We have to care about the way things got controlled in the past. If we don’t remember, we’ll allow them to do it again”.

At times I think there’s a perception that the Video Nasty period is looked back on with rose-tinted glasses as something that’s buried in the past. Draconian Days though highlights the members bill put forward by MP David Alton in 1994 which intended on implementing a new classification, ‘unsuitable for home entertainment’ – effectively banning anything that was not suitable for children. This received a political consensus AS WELL AS overwhelming public support. Pro-censorship lobbyists will always rear their ugly head – they don’t trust you, and they don’t think you’re intelligent enough to view material that they consider unsuitable. As one of the former BBFC examiners states to camera in regard to Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982), “It’s the most damaging film I’ve ever seen in my life. After the film three of us were quietly weeping. That there’s an audience for it… That says something about the viewing audience”.

This second Video Nasty documentary is essential viewing. While the first one I regarded more as an eye opening history lesson about a ridiculously heightened moral panic (even now the thought of someone walking into my Video Store and seizing my own product I find chilling), Draconian Days takes it and broadens the timeline, giving us a complete picture of the role of the BBFC through the 80s and 90s. There’s little about it to look back fondly over, be it with Ferman’s private conversations with studios to dissuade them from even submitting films like The Exorcist (1973) or Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), or with BBFC examiners seemingly devoid of a balanced analysis of the work of one of Italy’s most loved genre filmmakers. Irrespective of the shocking nature of the organisations behaviour, Morris and West keep their documentary moving at a brisk pace with superb commentary from folk such as academics, industry experts, writers and Morris himself with archive clips inserted where necessary.

VN Draconian Days titleIf you care about artistic freedom as well the dangers of living in a society where the content of the films you want to see can be regulated by the actions of rogue MPs, self-serving BBFC directors or pompous campaigns in the Daily Mail, then it’s imperative you support this release from Nucleus films.

9 out of 10

The extras from the mammoth three disc, limited edition DVD set were sadly unavailable at press time.

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