Video Nasties: Draconian Days
Jake West censorship doc highlights horror's frontline position in our battle for personal freedoms
The second part of director Jake West's history of film censorship in the UK looks at the furore surrounding the issue of 'Video Nasties', resulting in the establishment of the Video Recording Act in 1984. The government stamped down on the lack of regulations surrounding home video and brought all releases under the control of the British Board of Film Classification. From then on it was illegal to release or rent any film without an official age certificate.
Under the control of BBFC Director James Ferman, film in Britain became the most censored in the western world. Films that were classified and cleared for cinema were often recut for the home market. Ferman became too powerful and overly involved with nearly every decision. More than one of the interviewees in Draconian Days describes the BBFC as his 'fiefdom'. He's charged with not only cutting scenes of violence and sexual activity but in some cases re-editing films to change their intent (and supposedly lessen their impact).
Three cases in particular stand out as landmarks in this period: First Blood (aka Rambo I), which was accused of inspiring the Hungerford massacre; Visions of Ecstasy, which was accused of violating blasphemy laws and banned; and Child's Play 3, which was implicated as a factor in the tragic murder of James Bulger. The moral panic that followed the Bulger case peaked with The Sun's inflammatory headline, 'Burn Your Video Nasty'. This documentary highlights how irresponsible this type of scapegoating can be, as it ignores any deep rooted societal issues and instead focused on a fairly innocuous movie (especially as there was no evidence the two young killers had actually seen the film in question).
The idea of destroying culture and art is terrifying but on the plus side it did help ignite a strong community of horror fans swapping banned and uncut movies. The assembled interviews give some interesting, considered perspectives from both sides. As a horror fan and director West does give a slightly biased view but horror (and pornography) were just the frontline in a far more important battle about our rights and personal freedom.