Awful politicians do awful things
This documentary, cultivated by director Jake West (Razor Blade Smile, The ABCs of Death) and documentary producer Marc Morris, explores the origins of the movement ( including the forces behind it,) the results and the legacy, via interviews with people in and around the industry and a ton of archival news footage, as well as a bunch of clips from the movies in question. The most interesting involvement has to be on the part of the politicians and police who were behind the crackdown, a flawed operation at best. Despite its utter failure and incredibly corrupt story, they stand by it, talking with something akin to pride. One made-for-FOX-News MP, Graham Bright, who at one point passed a bill against the videos, saying uncompleted research would show that the films were dangerous not only to children by dogs as well, laughs about the whole thing, despite people going to prison and losing their livelihoods.
The assortment of experts interviewed offers a fine swath of perspectives, including critics from several British outlets, a lawyer who argued against the cases brought under the bill, modern directors influenced by the films (including Neil Marshall (The Descent) and Chris Smith (Severence,)) and a number of academics, most importantly Martin Barker, who was the editor of the 1984 book Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media. Barker, who was one of the few people outside of the video industry arguing against the bill, is seen going head-to-head with Whitehouse in archival footage; and puts the most perfect button possible on the film with his brilliant closing comments.
West puts a lot of style into telling the story of the video nasties, implementing a wealth of source footage (often featuring people who were interviewed for this film almost 30 years after their TV appearances) and includes footage from the classic sitcom The Young Ones, which had an episode farcically centered on video nasties. West also uses plenty of news clippings (The Daily Mail plays a large role in the whole fiasco), created a fake PSA warning about the dangers of the accused genre, and worked in some visual tricks to recall the quality of the videos at the center of the controversy. But at just 72 minutes (though an appropriate number), this movie moves quickly and there are plenty of people to hear from with an opinion or experiences from the time, so there's not a lot of dawdling. The only thing it doesn't do in that time span is explain much about the films in question. If only there were people who might want to discuss the 72 video nasties...
Though the box says it's a mono track here, the disc reads as having Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Don't expect anything too dynamic about this mix, but everything is rather clean and free of distortion, with the biggest negative perhaps being one of two interviews sounding echo-y (which is likely due to how they were recorded more than anything. This is standard documentary sound, with some very low-budget sound in the old film clips, but nothing stands out as an issue.
Also available to check out on the first disc is an automatic 9:24 gallery of box art from 82 horror films that weren't mentioned in the film (because they weren't on the video nasties list) but which were still sometimes seized by police. There are some truly memorable designs in this collection.
Now, about those 72 video nasties… Though the documentary is solid, this is where this set truly shines. Split between the second and third discs are trailers or TV ads for all 72 films, including titles like The Evil Dead, Driller Killer, Snuff, Faces of Death, Cannibal Holocaust, Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, I Spit on Your Grave, Tenabrae and Last House on the Left, separated between those permanently banned under the bill and those that were at one time banned under it (and then sorted alphabetically.) This is a rather terrific resource in and of itself, as there's a lot of rarities included, and all are in at least good shape, but the real draw is that each film receives a video introduction by one or more expert in the field (all of whom are British (or in Britain), since this is a British story.)
These range from a brief few minutes for some of the less memorable films to more extensive discussions, and together, the complete set of intros and trailers runs seven hours and 28 minutes. There's a ton of great info in these pieces, from why the films were censored to critical assessments to interesting bits of trivia (like one film being the first effort from the famed Weinstein brothers.) Not everyone from the documentary is here (Marshall has gone missing, but has been replaced by well-known horror director Ruggero Deodato), and most of the presenters are entertaining, especially critics Kim Newman and Alan Jones and author Stephen Thrower, a trio who would have been great covering every movie. Though some of the participants are a bit smug and are trying a touch too hard, only one, model/actress/presenter Emily Booth, is a total dud, as she's in full TV presenter mode, whereas most everyone else is just an enthusiastic fan.
Also included on Discs Two and Three are automatic galleries of the box art for the movies spotlighted on each.
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