In the early 1980s, the British media, spearheaded by moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse and the NVALA, waged a war. The target of their outrage being a selection of movies that, having found an exploitable loophole in the law, had not been submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for review.
An enraged Whitehouse threw a very public shit-fit, calling for the banning and prosecution of these films and all involved in producing and selling them.
Of course, the very conservative media, chiefly newspapers like the Daily Mail, had a field day. Headlines screaming ‘Ban This Sick Filth!’ cried out from newsstands all over the country. They dragged video store owners through the courts as titles were ripped from the shelves.
Filmmakers were forced to appear before magistrates to defend and justify their art. It was a time of chaos in the guise of the defence of good taste and decency.
I, sadly, was a little too young to have been affected by the video nasty panic. My interest in the nasties phenomenon came a little later as I spent much of the late 80s and 90s hunting down the titles that had been banned under the Video Recording Act 1984.
Many of the 72 films that had made the list were still banned at this time under the watchful eye of BBFC Führer James Ferman. The problem is that once you ban something, interest in that something will skyrocket. At least this was the case with me.
I loved horror from a very young age, and I desperately needed to get my grubby mitts on these titles. Anyone who wishes to view one of the notorious nasties nowadays need only enter the film into google and can be streaming or downloading said film in a matter of minutes. Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s also a little wistful. They will never know how it felt to spend years searching for a film to add to your Nasties collection, only to finally locate it at a splatter-fest or on some mailing list in a copy of Darkside Magazine. It felt like an achievement. Like you were sticking it to the man. It was extremely rewarding.
I have always carried a deep seething hatred of censorship in all its forms. The idea of someone sitting down and watching a film, to then turn around and tell me that it’s unsuitable for me to watch is both absurd and insulting. Anyone upset or offended by something would either turn it off or simply avoid it in the first place. I could rant on this subject forever, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting read.
Instead, I’m going to bring you my picks for the top twenty movies that made the video recordings act banned list. So, let’s get down and sleazy as we look over the 20 best examples of fragile mind-warping video sadism…
20: Faces of Death 1978 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: John Alan Schwartz.
"Watching this man in his last moments of life I began to feel guilty. True, he had commited murder, but wasn't there some other alternative?" - Dr. Francis B. Gröss
Faces of Death, a mockumentary hosted by the suspiciously named Dr. Francis B. Gröss (Michael Carr) wanted controversy. Its name and premise almost begged for it so, it should come as no surprise that it got its wish.
The idea was simple. The movie masquerades as an assemblage of real death scenes caught on tape. Sure, some are real. The animal slaughter segments are very real and extremely hard to watch, if like me you happen to be an animal lover and vegetarian. Thankfully, the harrowing fresh monkey brain scene has since been confirmed to have been hoaxed.
There are, however, some rather iffy deaths involving humans that are quite clearly staged. The death by electric chair scene and ranger, devoured by an alligator, should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Faces of Death spawned numerous sequels. It’s worth tracking down if you haven’t seen it, but the years have not been kind.
19: Last Stop on the Night Train 1975 (Not Prosecuted)
Directed By: Aldo Lado.
"We're only gonna cut her a little." - Curly
A pair of psychotic hoodlums and an equally demented nymphomaniac woman terrorize two young girls on a train trip from Germany to Italy.
Last Stop strives to be another Last House on the Left clone, made evident by its scenes depicting rape and violence and the film’s finale involving a run-in with the victim’s parents. What saves it from the trash bin however is its use of character development and beautiful cinematography of its European locations.
18: The Burning 1981 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Tony Maylam.
[looking at Playboy] "God bless her mom and dad." - Dave
Besides being prosecuted as a Video Nasty, The Burning has the distinction of being the movie debut of Holly Hunter and having been written by recently convicted, monstrous, tubby sex offender Harvey Weinstein.
Hot off the success of Friday the 13th came this slasher movie, also set in a summer camp that is terrorised by a maniacal killer. For all its similarities to Friday the 13th, The Burning is a quality movie and worth seeking out in its uncut form.
17: The Driller Killer 1979 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Abel Ferrara.
"No, no, no, no. This isn't right. This is nothing. This is shit! Where's the impact? It's just a goddamn Buffalo!" - Dalton Briggs
The Driller Killer is one of those films that got banned because of its video sleeve artwork. The cover showed a homeless man having a power-drill shoved through his skull, and while that scene does appear in the movie, it’s not as horrible as the cover or title would have you believe.
The film chronicles the descent into madness of an artist who struggles to keep his shit together. The final straw for his fragile mental health is when a band moves in next door and continues to play their instruments at all hours.
Abel Ferrara does a great job as both director and star, and the film is a worthy addition to any horror fans collection. Just don’t be disheartened to discover that it isn’t that nasty.
16: Madhouse 1981 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Ovidio G. Assonitis.
"Why is everyone so afraid of dying? WHY? It's not that bad." - Father James
Madhouse, or (There Was a Little Girl) as it was originally called is a story of a woman who is pursued by her murderous, psychopathic, deformed twin sister in the days leading up to their birthday.
The film is a little slow getting started, but once things kick-off, it becomes an enjoyable if standard slasher movie. A pretty nifty power drill scene towards the end of the film should satisfy gorehounds.
15: The Gestapo’s Last Orgy 1977 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Cesare Canevari.
"You know, Rudolf, when you were in Paris, and you marched down the Champs Elysees, I wished I'd been there with you." - Conrad
Of the deluge of Nazi sex and torture movies of its time, The Gestapo’s Last orgy is the best made of the bunch.
As you would expect of a film with a title such as this, it’s trash. Sleazy offensive trash. The plot is as basic as they come. Sadistic SS Prison wardens commit acts of cruelty and degradation on female prisoners. It doesn’t get a lot more complicated than that. The subject matter is, at times, fairly unsettling, but if you’re a Nasties completest, then it’s a must-have.
14: House on the Edge of the Park 1980 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Ruggero Deodato.
"Hot digitty!" - Glenda
Two unhinged low-life’s invite themselves to a party and after being taunted by their posh hosts, hold everyone hostage and subject them to various forms of torture.
It’s sleazy and some of the torture is vicious. David Hess basically plays the same character he played in Last House on the Left. That being said, it’s essential viewing for Nasties fans.
The plot twist towards the end of the movie is a little daft. It’s hard to believe that the party hosts would have put themselves through some horrific torment, including rape and being slashed with a straight razor, just so they could implement their plan to exact revenge on the sadistic duo for raping a friend of theirs at the beginning of the movie.
13: The Slayer 1982 (Not Prosecuted)
Directed By: J.S. Cardone.
"Have you ever had a nightmare that was so real that you thought it was actually happening?" - Kay
Four young people vacation on a barren island and are soon being picked off by a supernatural entity known as the Slayer.
The Slayer is a fairly decent entry in the slasher genre, and there is more than enough gore to keep fans of the icky satisfied. The films biggest flaw is some over the top acting, although that isn’t that unusual in a movie like this. It’s worth picking up and about as subtle as a pitchfork in the chest. 12: Absurd 1981 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Joe D’Amato.
"So this is the team, hey? A priest, a detective near retirement, and a young moron rookie of a cop... Terrific." - Sgt Engleman
You want OTT gore? You got it. You want someone killed horribly with a bandsaw? You got that too.
Absurd is the story of a priest on the tail of a genetically enhanced serial killer. The film starts as it means to go on with the killer collapsing while holding his disembowelled guts in his hands. Being superhuman and practically unkillable, he soon brushes this off as merely a flesh-wound before picking himself up and cracking on with the slaughter. I personally love this movie, even if it is a little slow in places.
11: Cannibal Ferox 1981 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Umberto Lenzi.
"Oh God, please let her die soon. Oh, let her die soon. And let me die soon too, please." - Gloria
Three Anthropologists and two drug dealers find themselves in hot water when they stumble across a tribe of cannibals, deep in the Amazon.
What follows (if you have the uncut versions) is a gory smorgasbord of Castration, eye removal, limb removal and brain chomping in lovely close-up detail.
Ferox isn’t as fondly remembered as Cannibal Holocaust, but it comes in a close second.
10: The Beyond 1981 (Not Prosecuted)
Directed By: Lucio Fulci.
"You ungodly warlock! Because of you this hotel and this town will be cursed forever!" - Mob Leader
A young woman inherits a hotel in Louisiana that just so happens to be built over a portal to Hell. Typical.
The beyond is director Lucio Fulci’s most Lovecraftian film, albeit an overtly gory one. There’s eye-gouging, crucifixion and some very well crafted animal attacks involving dogs and tarantulas. This is a must-have for Fulci completists.
09: Zombie Flesh Eaters AKA Zombi 2 1979 (Prosecuted)
Directed By Lucio Fulci.
"What is all this about the dead coming back to life again and... having to be killed a second time? I mean, what the hell's going on here?" - Peter West
More Fulci and more zombies. This time the action takes place on a tropical island. Zombie has everything you could want from an exploitive Video Nasty: gratuitous gore and nudity.
Highlights from the film include a large wooden splinter meeting an eyeball in explicit close-up and a brilliantly filmed scrap between a zombie and a killer shark.
Zombie Flesh Eaters is by far Fulci’s most accomplished film.
08: A Bay of Blood 1971 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Mario Bava.
"The clouds are swirling. There will be tears shed over the bay." - Anna
A Bay of Blood was so influential on the slasher genre that Friday the 13th Part 2 directly copied one of its more controversial scenes. As a young couple make love, the killer sneaks in and drives a spear through the rutting pair, impaling them both as they bump uglies. If Halloween is the father of the modern slasher movie, then A Bay of Blood is the granddaddy.
The plot is fairly simple. An elderly woman is killed by her husband, who wants control of her fortunes. An all-out murder spree kicks off as some teenagers who camp out in a dilapidated building on the estate threaten to meddle with the killer’s plans.
Filled to the brim with violent murders, bouncing boobs and all the other tropes that horror fans have come to expect from slasher movies, A Bay of Blood stands out as not just a great entry on the Video Nasty list, but a great slasher film as well.
07: The House by the Cemetery 1981 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Lucio Fulci.
"Ann? Mommy says you're not dead. Is that true?" - Bob
Lucio Fulci again. The man knew exactly how to bait censors. Zombie Flesh Eaters might have been his best-made film, but my personal favourite has always been House by the Cemetery. It’s his most atmospheric film by far and while it’s less gore-soaked than Zombie, it’s far creepier.
A family move to the isolated house of the title and soon find themselves haunted by the very creepy Dr Freudstein. As I said, the film is the least gory of Fulci’s filmography, although there are some great moments of splatter here and there. The story moves much slower than his works too, but this only helps build character, instead of introducing us to nothing but cannon-fodder.
06: Island of Death 1976 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Nico Mastorakis.
"No one wants to be brought up with perversion. Children must be brought up in a proper way. Nature is strong." - Christopher
Island of Death exists purely to rub the censors up the wrong way and personally, I’m all for it. A seemingly normal couple are enjoying a holiday on a Greek island. That’s how it looks at first, but the film wastes no time in revealing the couple to be a demented, perverted pair of psychotic maniacs.
The couple don’t care who or what they screw. Whether it be man, woman or animal, it’s all fair game to them. The man takes special pleasure in urinating over a mature woman whom he has just bedded, and all this before the murder spree starts.
The movie revels in cruelty and depravity, and it succeeds to such an extent that it’s too hardcore to have ever achieved cult movie status. Island of Death instead remains an obscure little oddity that is more than worth adding to your collection.
05: I Spit on Your Grave AKA Day of the Woman 1978 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Meir Zarchi.
"It won't stop bleeding!" - Johnny
Probably one of the most notorious films on this list and easily one of the hardest to watch. I Spit on Your Grave is a tale of rape and the subsequent revenge that follows. It’s the former that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. The violence that our protagonist inflicts on her abusers seems almost tame in contrast to the scenes of rape depicted in this movie.
Some critics derided this film for glorifying rape. If you have honestly sat through ISOYG and felt that the rape of the main character in any way feels glorified then you need to see somebody and quick.
The scenes of sexual violence are hard to watch and rightly so. Sure, they drag on a bit, but that only serves to make the actions of the attackers seem all the more awful.
To say this is an enjoyable movie would be a stretch as I Spit On Your Grave is far too harrowing to be considered enjoyable. If, however, it was a gut-punch feeling that the filmmakers were going for, then they succeed in spades.
04: Tenebrae 1982 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Dario Argento.
"Let me ask you something? If someone is killed with a Smith & Wesson revolver... Do you go and interview the president of Smith & Wesson?" - Peter Neal
Along with fellow Italians Ruggero Deodato and Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento was no stranger to censor baiting. Several of Argento’s films found themselves banned on these shores. It was Tenebrae that officially made the Video Nasties list.
An American writer, while in Rome, is stalked by a serial killer. Hellbent on tormenting him, the killer offs anyone who happens to be assisting the writer with his latest book.
Filled to the brim with the director's trademark style and violence and boasting another killer score by Goblin, Tenebrae ranks second only to Suspiria when it comes to my favourite Argento movies.
03: Cannibal Holocaust 1980 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Ruggero Deodato.
"I wonder who the real cannibals are." - Professor Monroe
There are those who think The Blair Witch Project helped invent the found footage genre. Those people are incredibly wrong. That accolade goes to Cannibal Holocaust. A film that preceded Blair Witch by nineteen years.
The king of the cannibal movies, Holocaust, tells of a rescue mission in the amazon. The team stumble across the footage shot by a missing documentary crew. On inspecting the footage back in New York, the documentary crews grizzly fate soon becomes apparent.
Interestingly, the film was so well made and realistic that Deodato had to appear in court to prove that the actors were still very much alive. There is some real death footage captured on screen in the form of hard to watch animal slaughter. If you can get past that then Cannibal Holocaust is a worthy purchase.
02: Last House on the Left 1972 (Prosecuted)
Directed By: Wes Craven.
"You must think we're stupid, right? No, we're not stupid. We might be horny old pigs, but we ain't stupid." - Krug
Long before he introduced us to Freddy Krueger director Wes Craven made this nasty little number. Last House on the Left is the fateful story of two teenage girls who head into the big city to celebrate one of the girls birthdays at a concert. The girls make the mistake of trying to score weed from Krug (David Hess again) and his gang of dangerous psychopaths.
The girls soon find themselves held captive and dragged off into the woods. Once there, they are degraded (“piss your pants”), raped and ultimately slain. At least the gang think they have successfully murdered the pair. Turns out that birthday girl Mari has survived (for the time being anyway).
The gang experience car trouble and find themselves needing a place to stay. Unbeknownst to Krug and his cronies, they have sought refuge at Mari’s parent's house. All is fine until Mari turns up home on the threshold of death and one of the gang is overheard confessing to the crime in his sleep.
The parents, hellbent on revenge, use chainsaws and castration to dispatch of Krug and his minions.
Last House is by far Craven’s most brutal and unflinching movie. The tagline ran “To avoid fainting, just keep repeating, it’s only a movie”. Sage advice, indeed.
01: The Evil Dead 1981 (Not Prosecuted)
Directed By: Sam Raimi
"We're going to get you. We're going to get you. Not another peep. Time to go to sleep." - Linda
Who would have thought the director of 2002s blockbuster Spider-Man movie could have cooked up such a controversial directorial debut as The Evil Dead?
What started as a low budget project between lifelong friends Raimi and Bruce Campbell became characterized as one of the most shocking and disturbing films of all time. Looking back on it now, it seems a little ludicrous. While The Evil Dead holds up as a masterclass in low budget filmmaking, it hasn’t exactly weathered well regarding its practical effects.
That being said, there is so much to love about this movie. The plot, while simple, is great fun. The gore effects are over the top and the film comes across like a Tex Avery cartoon on crack. Raimi’s inventive camera work and Campbell’s energetic performance are what makes The Evil Dead the cult classic that it remains to this day.
Well, that’s my list, folks. If you agree or disagree with this list, then please tell me in the comments below. Until next time, stay “Groovy.”