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Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide: Part 2

Severin // Unrated // February 10, 2015
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 25, 2015 | E-mail the Author
From 1984 to 1998, the British Board of Film Classification -- the last word of which was quietly changed from "Censors" -- upheld the Video Recordings Act in the United Kingdom, which monitored and reviewed content in motion pictures released on home video. A significant number of films were slapped with the "Video Nasty" label, which prevented them from being released, and hundreds of others were only released in edited versions. As a horror fan, I've always had a general awareness of films being cut in other markets, but the full scope of the censorship going on overseas was never that clear. People like to think of the censorship of art as a thing of the past, with Nazi book burnings being the closest comparison, but the footage of law enforcement officials tossing cassette tapes into a furnace by the handful seems awfully familiar, and it happened during the lifetimes of people who grew up on "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Transformers."

Video Nasties: Draconian Days is director Jake West's follow-up to his 2010 documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape. Where that film outlined the initial wave of pearl-clutching and the introduction of the "Video Nasties", this one deals more with the aftermath, and the insidious way that outrage trickled down into a consistent and oppressive system of unnecessary persecution and control. Through extensive archival footage, clips from the films in question, and interviews with authors, professors, filmmakers, critics, and even some of the members of the BBFC ratings board, Aust covers the intense political battle over content, the influence of sensationalized news media on the degree of censorship being enforced, and police raids on people doing nothing more than collecting videotapes.

Despite how shocking it is to learn how much cutting was going on during the period the film covers, one of West's most savvy and rewarding choices is to look objectively at many of the people responsible for the censorship. The film kind of centers around James Ferman, who was the director of the BBFC throughout the entire period the film covers. Ferman died in 2002, but West includes a lengthy interview with him recalling his history on the board and the reasoning behind some of the choices he made. One of the more fascinating developments is the appearance of MP David Alton, who calls for even stricter control over film content after two boys kill a third on a train track and a degree of blame is directed at a rental of Child's Play 3. Ferman isn't any kind of hero -- the participants note that Ferman went so far as to re-edit Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to make it less psychologically disturbing -- but he ends up playing the part when it comes to stopping Alton's proposed changes to the law.

West also has Carol Topolski, one of the many people working under Ferman throughout most of his tenure. She has her limits (she cites Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper as permanently damaging), but she is quick to admit the inanity of much of the panic revolving around children getting a hold of explicit content, and how likely it is to influence them. She also openly criticizes a number of Ferman's choices and moral standards, including his apparent notion that the sophisticated can handle a horror film and distinguish it from reality, but the working class man just might go insane if he saw something overly graphic. There is also a brief discussion about the VPRC, or Video Packaging Review Committee, which also cracked down on the graphic imagery appearing on video boxes (which one of the participants notes almost certainly contributed to their current value among collectors).

If there's anything wrong with West's documentary, it's that it's straightforward to a fault. Even with a wealth of observations and archive footage from people who remember sweating through an airport checkpoint or printing off a horror fanzine, there's not much going on here that doesn't feel informative as opposed to entertaining. For those who want to learn about this sordid period in the UK's history, this is more intricate than a Wikipedia article, but it holds about as much replay value, because it's got no flair. He occasionally runs a little low on film archive footage (I Spit On Your Grave shows up a lot), and none of the interviews are particularly shocking or funny as opposed to well-read. Still, one quote, early on, stands out: "Art can't be controlled by the tastebuds of the lunatics." With Sony's Interview debacle only a month and a half in the rearview mirror, Video Nasties: Draconian Days often seems timelier than ever.

Severin brings Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide: Part 2 to DVD in a thick Scanavo case, featuring painted artwork on the front designed to imitate or evoke a video box from the 1980s. The back cover is nothing but a wall of text, outlining the massive treasure trove of content packed onto these three platters. There is no insert inside the case, which is a bit of a shame -- a booklet featuring a rundown of the trailers on discs 2 and 3 would've been a nice finishing touch.

The Video and Audio
Both the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio offered for the main feature, Video Nasties: Draconian Days, are serviceable, exactly what one should expect from a documentary. The newly-recorded interview footage generally looks pretty good, although there is some light aliasing. Fine detail is about as good as can be expected. Sound is generally clear and easy to understand, although occasionally a person's comment will be slightly affected by the acoustics of the room in which they were filmed. Of course, there is also a significant amount of archival material, which is often analog and therefore riddled with compression artifacts, softness, dot crawl, comet trails, and any number of long-forgotten video artifacts from the VHS generation. Viewers will be more inclined to notice production quality, i.e. whether or not the subject is being interviewed in good lighting and sound conditions, than they are to wonder about the qualities of the actual disc. THe one disappointment: no captions or subtitles for the main feature, or any of the supplements.

The Extras
Honestly, the documentary on Disc 1 is probably the "bonus feature" for some of the people purchasing this set. Disc 2 and 3 are nothing but two massive reels of trailers (4:54:30; 4:32:27), accompanied by introductions from many a horror expert. Yes, you read that right: between the two bonus discs, there's over nine and a half hours of supplementary content crammed into the set.

The trailers included are the 82 titles listed under "Section 3" of the Obscene Publications Act. These are not full-blown "Video Nasties", but films that, if discovered in the hands of a collector, could be destroyed if the officer in question wanted to send a request up the chain of command. As explained in one of the many interviews, this was looked on favorably by the collectors, because a Section 3 title would not go on their record, and they were not even required to show up in court should an officer file a complaint.

Each one of the 82 presentations on these two discs follows the same basic format. A graphic with some info about the title and the VHS box cover serves as a brief introduction, and then one of the many luminaries, some of whom appear in the documentary proper (Alan Jones, Kim Newman, Justin Kerswell), some of whom appear only in these additional bits (Stephen Thrower, Dr. Karen Oughlon, Dr. Patricia MacCormack). All of them offer a bit of history, their view of the film's qualities (or lack thereof), and a brief summary of why they believe the film was on the Section 3 list. A couple also feature some additional interviews, such as actor Caroline Munro on The Last Horror Film.

Since there's no way to provide much of an assessment of all of these little info-pods, and a list of the titles wouldn't be very interesting (not to mention something that could easily be found elsewhere), I'll leave that up to the viewer. What stood out to me most, though, was the relatively "mainstream" titles mixed in with the bunch (Deep Red, Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes, Night of the Living Dead), as well as the occasional movie that isn't even horror (Foxy Brown). Of the presenters, Thrower and Newman are the most interesting, although the quality of the clip is dependent on how interesting the film in question is.

In addition to this massive mountain of exploitation, sleaze, trash, and goofiness, there are also a few extensive image galleries on the first disc, "Fanzine Flashback" and "OPP 72" / "OPP 82". A trailer for Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide: Part 1 plays before the main menu.

A strong documentary, an incredible set of supplements. Recommended.

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