“They’re ridiculous and they shouldn’t be as effective as they are. But then again, perhaps that’s why some Video Nasties are still so fascinating to this day”
To celebrate the Blu-ray release of Joe D’Amato’s legendary 1980 Nasty-piece, Anthropophagus (also known in some circles as The Savage Island, Zombie 7, and the shockingly, offensively fellatial Man Eater), Bristol’s Cube Cinema went one stage further this month and gave the uncut version its first ever UK cinema screening. Along with edible eyeballs and other bloodied refreshments in the bar, a positive splatter of gruesome trailers, and a panel discussion, the Cube exhumed not only the chaos and controversy the era of the Video Nasty, but also celebrated the efforts of guerilla filmmaking at its (sort of) finest.
To help immerse the film-goers into horrors to come, a nauseatingly looped reel of trailers played in the dimly-lit auditorium: familiar names from the ranks of the original seventy-two Video Nasties up for prosecution, including Toxic Zombies (1980), Cannibal Ferox (1981), Bloody Moon (1981), Axe (1974) and Blood Feast (1963, along with its earnestly-worded warning that every woman and child should leave the room “for the next ninety seconds”). Shackled together at the time as “Video Nasties” purely out of the arbitrariness of the term’s accusative purpose, these gore-drenched chunks of shameless entertainment are easy to feel detached from as a viewer these days. It’s not that the reputation of the Video Nasty seems misguided or blown out of proportion, but rather that they now somehow feel anachronistic in a way – artefacts of the recently ancient, rather perhaps than the direct precursors of much of today’s lavishly-funded gorenography.
To help contextualise such a fascinating cache of museum pieces (and they’re all there; the human-like creatures… the seemingly savage rituals… the hunting weapons…), a panel discussion occurred before the film, consisting of Peter Falconer (University of Bristol), Ian Berriman (SFX Magazine), Mark Bould (University of the West of England), and moderated by Jack Fennell (University of Limerick). Berriman fired the first salvo in attempting to present how the Video Nasty controversy came about, claiming that “the law had yet to catch up with technology”, therefore the proliferation of guerilla horror films (and any ensuing ‘harm’ they might cause) had a head-start well before the government, and, by association, mainstream media, had chance to wade in. In the blind scramble to be seen to actually be doing anything about such domestically-damaging degradation, the Director of Public Prosecutions drew-up a strangely specific list of 72 films sought for action under the Obscene Publications Act – the findings of which led to actual legal action and several resultant prison sentences.
The media of course soon played a profound role in the coverage of the Video Nasty controversy. On the side of the (predominantly right wing) press, everyone from our children, our grandmothers and even our dogs were at risk from corruption from these evil spools of plastic VHS evil. On the other side of the media, Nasty film distributors took full advantage of the ensuing attention and frantically produced not only ‘feature suitable’ trailers to drum up more interest, they even produced tongue-in-cheek but intelligent promotional pieces acknowledging Mary Whitehouse and other anti-Nasty groups themselves, contextualising and making fun of the controversy.
Fennell asked the question of whether figures such as Mary Whitehouse or the Conservative MPs who crusaded against the films were “censorious little busy-bodies”, or was there a deeper cause? Bould acknowledged the fact that many of the prominent anti-Nasty campaigners were affiliated with right wing Christian groups (to which his parents actually belonged), or “prayer networks”, who actually prayed that MP Graham Bright’s private members bill regarding banning these films would pass through parliament (it effortlessly did). The image of a young child watching and becoming corrupted by “this filth” became an inversion of the horrors the films themselves were purported to unleash, and the Christian concept of the “protected, safe infant” became exploited by the right wing media. Falconer claimed that it was partially down to such “ill-definition of the term Video Nasty” that everyone from the media to reactionary groups took such advantage.
Yet even after the original early 80s controversy itself, the term Video Nasty was perpetuated for many years by those who deemed basically any film to be one. Actual events such as the Hungerford massacre, and the murder of Jamie Bulger, were ‘blamed’ on the effects of Video Nasties, and films as Apocalypse Now (1979, presumably because someone in authority assumed it was actually called Zombie Apocalypse Now, or something?), and The Big Red One (1980) were maligned as Nasties – if not pornographic – from their titles alone.
But now, after the controversies, the reputations and (with great hope) the prosecutions are over, the horror film industry could be seen as having finally reached the post-Nasty era. Film makers such as Christopher Smith and Neil Marshall are proud to be actual Children of the Nasty (having acquired and watched several of the 72 Nasties themselves as teenagers) and their films – gory and shocking and often refreshingly original as they can be – are much more polished pieces of art than they are amateur, plotless gore-laughs. But the production values of even the most amateurish of modern horrors is bound to have at the very least the aesthetic edge over the original Nasties – although, as Berriman emphatically reminds us, The Beyond (1981) and Evil Dead (1981) were also bona fide Nasties, and they are outright horror classics, full stop.
Which brings us neatly on to Anthropophagus itself, which… well, although is a classic of the Nasty era, is harder to categorise as a classic horror film. Visually, the Blu-ray transfer is pretty much perfect – providing you want to see a perfect VHS copy at long last (which, as a Video Nasty, wasn’t half the fun drawn from the flickering ambiguity of second or third generation transfer and the ensuing loss of clarity?) But the gore looks decent and vibrant, and the final scene – psychopath Klaus’ graphic anthropophasuicide (did I just make that word up? What else do you call such an act?) still somehow retains its awful ability to shock after all this time. And this is interesting, that one specific Video Nasty scene should survive the years of infamy, cult viewing, parodying and contemplation and still have the power to shock. It’s ridiculous and it shouldn’t be as effective as it is. But then again, perhaps that’s why the Video Nasty is still so fascinating to this day. The Video Nasty did unto itself what Klaus does, by cutting itself open and eating itself stupid. No other film making bothers to do it like that these days.
Director: Joe D’Amato
Starring: Tisa Farrow, George Eastman
Format: Blu-ray and DVD
Release date: 5th October 2015
Dove St South, Bristol
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