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File:VideoNasties 4258.jpg

Notice the Shout-Out to The Last House on the Left's poster: "To avoid moral panic, keep repeating, they're only movies... Only movies... Only movies..."


Catch catch the horror taxi!
I fell in love with a video nasty!
Catch catch the horror train!
Freeze frame gonna drive you insane!


In the 1980s, newly arisen video distribution companies in Britain got the idea to make a fast buck by adapting for VHS cheesy, low-budget and, for the time, rather violent Italian and American horror films of the ilk that would later inspire Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, at the time there was no law that required videocassettes to be classified before being rented and anyone of any age could legally rent any video; so films such as Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit on Your Grave could be (and were) rented by children as young as 10.

Mary Whitehouse was not pleased.

So in 1984, the Video Recordings Act was passed, which made it illegal to distribute any film that had not been classified. The British Board of Film Classification liaised with the Department of Public Prosecutions to build a list of videos that had already led to shopkeepers being convicted for criminal obscenity and hence could not be legally distributed in Britain, to which were added a number of videos that were submitted to the BBFC for classification and rejected. Hence was formed the infamous list of the "Video Nasties". This ultimately comprised 72 films, of which 39 had been successfully prosecuted. Video stores renting them were subject to police raids.

As time has gone by and society become more liberal about horror movies, many films from the list have been resubmitted to the BBFC. In some cases they were passed with no difficulties, but a few of the more extreme cases were passed only with cuts, only for them to resubmitted again a few years later and released completely uncut in the present day (the most notorious and high-profile case of this being The Last House on the Left). Only a handful of films from the list still remain banned, but usually because they remain so obscure that nobody has bothered to resubmit them. If you are able to find and view these films (most used to be incredibly rare and obscure; what were once considered holy-grails amongst collectors are now widely available in this age of DVD) you will probably be shocked at how tame some of them are compared to today's standards what with films the likes of Saw and Hostel. In many cases, some films would have been tame even by those days' standards; often films were convicted of obscenity based on the cover art or the title alone. The featuring of the words "Cannibal", "Zombie" or anything associated with Nazis in the title of a film almost guaranteed inclusion on the list. Other films though, such as Cannibal Holocaust, retain the power to shock and horrify.

It really doesn't take a genius to know what the result of Mary's hissy-fits and the bans were; people wanted to see these films. Naughty little boys, spurred by the media's allegations that these were reprehensible, disgusting, Gorntastic shlockfests that were corrupting the youth and which had been banned for the good of the nation, flocked to video stores in hopes of getting their grubby hands on a copy before the police buried them in landfills. Their infamy instead took on a nearly legendary status; many would have faded into obscurity as generic money-sucking horror drivel and nowadays nobody would know they had ever existed (however, several of them were already wildly successful in their countries of origin and beyond, such as the legendary Evil Dead and the Dario Argento films included on the list).

You can see how Siskel and Ebert reacted to this trend in this video, starting at about 12:20.

The complete official list of "Nasties" is below. (Bear in mind that some of the more obscure ones have up to a dozen or so alternate titles; the following are the titles by which they were known specifically in the United Kingdom in the early 1980s)

The following films were not included on the list, but are sometimes mistakenly thrown in because they were controversial in earlier or later eras. Not all of them were ever actually banned in Britain.

  • A Clockwork Orange (predates the "nasty" controversy, withdrawn voluntarily by its director, Stanley Kubrick, due to claims of copycat crimes and threats against him)
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • The Exorcist (the BBFC made it unofficially known that it would be banned from home video release for many years, due mostly to the then head examiner's religious Squick about the film)
  • Maniac
  • Mikey (still banned from cinema and home video release due to its subject matter and perceived similarities to the James Bulger murder)
  • The New York Ripper
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • Scum (original TV version refused broadcast by The BBC after being made for them, subsequent film version subjected to an eventually unsuccessful legal claim that Channel 4 had breached its own taste-and-decency rules by broadcasting it)
  • Shogun Assassin
  • Silent Night Deadly Night
  • Straw Dogs (predates the "nasty" controversy, but went through a similar torturous and tortuous sequence of bannings and cut releases)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (banned from home release by the BBFC for many years but never on the official "nasty" list)
  • Xtro