In May, we celebrate five fine horror films that appeared on the infamous “video nasties” list from 1983-1984 in the UK. Never heard of it? Well, read on.*
When home video recorders first started to appear in the UK in the 1970s, there was little legislation to regulate the content of videos distributed for home viewing. This was a boon for independent horror producers, who could get their films into distribution without having to try to get them passed by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) – which was required for theatrical release. Horror geeks were pleased as punch about this, and feasted on gory, trashy, low-budget horror videos until about 1982, when public awareness of low-budget horror videos hit; the term “video nasty” was coined to describe these movies, and the Obscene Publications Act began to be enforced to weed out those films that might “deprave and corrupt” their viewers.
If the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) felt that a video might be violating the Act, they could prosecute the film’s producers, distributors, and retailers; police were granted authority to seize videos from retailers if they even suspected they might be obscene. Naturally, video sellers were not keen on police showing up and taking their stock, so they asked the DPP to give them guidelines on what would and would not be confiscated. Thus, the “video nasties” list was born: a relatively short list of those films that had been successfully prosecuted on obscenity charges, or where the DPP already had a case in progress.
The list was first made public in June 1983 and was modified monthly as prosecutions failed or were dropped. In total, seventy-two separate films appeared on the list at one time or another. (Check out the original list here on the great slasher resource Hysteria Lives!)
Ultimately, the list became obsolete when the 1984 Video Recordings Act came into force, which ruled that the BBFC was now required to certify both theatrical and home video releases.
May 1: Driller Killer (1979) — The original video nasty! When the UK distributors of Driller Killer took out full-page ads in several magazines, outraged citizens began to call for violent and gory horror videos to be banned. It was still only available in a cut version until 2002; now in the public domain.
May 8: The Toolbox Murders (1978) — Features deaths by power drill, nail gun, and hammer. No deaths by belt sander or socket wrench, sadly. (Apparently Tobe Hooper remade this in 2003, but I’ve heard it wasn’t very good.)
May 15: Eaten Alive (1977) — Poor Judd. All he wants to do is hang out with his pet crocodile in peace. Instead, he’s continually harassed by a number of visitor — and, well, his old buddy does need to eat, sometimes. Includes a brief but memorable appearance by Robert Englund. (“My name is Buck, and I like to…”) Directed by Tobe Hooper.
May 22: The Boogeyman (1980) — Lacey had a pretty messed up childhood, having watched her little brother murder her mom’s boyfriend. In an effort to help Lacey get over it, husband Jake and psychiatrist Dr. Warren (John Carradine) take her back to the home of her youth, to reassure her that everything is different now. But is it? Duhn duhn DUHN….
May 29: Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) — Black comedy / slasher / giallo by the master Mario Bava. From the video blurb: “The day a group of pleasure seeking teenagers wander into a deserted leisure centre coincides with the callous murder of the widow owner of the property. Her death is just the beginning of a blood bath.” Big inspiration for Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2, which would come nearly a decade after the release of this movie. (Watch for the lovers-impaled-from-under-the-bed scene!) Also known as Bay of Blood.
*This info mostly cribbed from Wikipedia.