The Nastiest of the Video Nasties


Video Nasty is a term coined in the United Kingdom in 1982, describing films that were criticized by the press and religious groups for their violent content. The concern being that with titles available on home video, the films were accessible by anyone, with no age restrictions. The lack of a censorship system for home video titles led to The Video Recordings Act 1984. The Video Recordings Act required stricter censorship standards for titles released to home video than what was required for a film’s theatrical release.

With the introduction of home video in the UK, the governing standard of decency was the obscene publications act of 1959. Under that act, any title found to be indecent by the Director of Public Prosecutions could find the film’s producers, distributors and retailers subject to prosecution. The act also allowed for local police to seize content from video retailers if they felt that the material was in violation of the act.

With such loose standards for prosecution and seizure in place, The Video Retailer’s Association asked The Department of Public Prosecutions for a list of titles likely to be confiscated. In response, The DPP provided a list of titles that already had charges pending against the film’s distributors or had resulted in successful prosecutions. The list became known as The DPP list of video nasties.

Some of the entries on the video nasty list are true horror film classics and some are merely cheap trash cinema. All of the titles represent mass hysteria and censorship at its worst. We will now take a fond trip down memory lane and revisit five video nasties that are close to our heart.

I Spit on Your Grave (Day of the Woman)
I Spit on Your Grave was classified as a video nasty in July of 1983. It is currently available in the UK in truncated form, with nearly three minutes cut from the infamous rape scene. It’s no surprise that this rape/revenge tale made the list. I Spit on Your Grave features castration, graphic depiction of gang rape, buckets of blood, and an outrageous amount of nudity. I Spit on Your Grave wears its depravity like a badge of honor. The film was marketed as being based on a true story, but more accurately, part of the film is kind of loosely inspired by a single event that actually happened. The film’s creator, Meir Zarchi witnessed a woman stumbling out of the bushes in a public park. When he approached her, he learned that she had been raped by a group of men. Zarchi took the woman to the police and was appalled by the manner in which the officers treated her. The film is essentially his reimagining of how he might have liked to see the men punished for their wrong doings. However, none of the revenge sequences are based on actual events.  

The Last House on the Left
The Last House on the Left was banned in July 1983. It didn’t receive an uncut United Kingdom release until 2008 when it was finally distributed in all of its gory glory. Something I’ve always thought noteworthy about The Last House on the Left is that it’s produced by Sean S. Cunningham of Friday The 13th fame. Yet, it seems that the average horror fan doesn’t know that. The Last House on the Left deserves (if you can say deserves) much of the credit for pioneering the rape/revenge sub-genre. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how The Last House on the Left wound up on the video nasties list. It’s loaded with violence, features an absolutely horrifying rape scene, and lots of exposed nipples. 

Visiting Hours
This 1982 film was classified as a video nasty in September 1984, but dropped from the list just two months later in November 1984. The current UK DVD version is still missing 1 minute and ten seconds that were originally censored from the X rated theatrical release in 1982. Though its tenure as a video nasty was short, Visiting Hours boasts plenty of violence and disturbing imagery. The film pits misogyny against feminism and the results aren’t bad. Director Jean-Claude Lord has his ‘final girl’ up against a woman-hating psychopath in this pseudo slasher film. The unusual thing about Visiting Hours is that Lee Grant was in her fifties when she portrayed the film’s heroin, Deborah Ballin. She was twice the age of most of the leading ladies of horror at the time, but her turn in the film proved that there is no age requirement for taking on the role of scream queen. 

Night Train Murders
This Italian exploitation film was rejected for a theatrical release in 1976 as Late Night Trains. A cut version of Late Night Trains was released in 1981 with a subsequent uncut version being released the same year. The uncut version was listed as a video nasty but the status was dropped in March of 1984. The uncut DVD version of Night Train Murders was made available to UK audiences in 2008. Night Train Murders is noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is that Eli Roth cites it as inspiration for the train scene in Hostel II. It’s also worth mentioning that it it garnered criticism for its similarities to fellow video nasty, The Last House on the Left. Distributors used that controversy to their advantage, with the tagline “You can tell yourself it’s only a movie… But it won’t help.” Though, not a tale originating from entirely original ideas, I rather enjoy Night Train Murders. It’s classic Italian exploitation cinema, complete with bad acting and horrible dubbing. It’s loaded with violence and explores sexual perversions and fetishism in with vigor.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead’s theatrical release was censored by the British Board of Film Classification, with the home video release of the film being banned, all together. Evil Dead was eventually dropped from the list of video nasties in 1985. It’s easy to see why the Sam Raimi classic made the list. With what some may consider tasteless ‘rape vine’ scene, rampant gore, and occult overtones, the Director of Public Prosecutions had plenty to take issue with. Evil Dead deserves major credit for its role as a founding father of the ‘cabin in the woods’ sub genre. The much anticipated remake hits theaters April 13th 2012. Having been on the set, I can safely say that it will do justice to the original where gore is concerned. It was nearly impossible to find any area of the set that wasn’t coated in stage blood. One of the reasons director, Fede Alvarez, chose to shoot the film sequentially was to preserve the continuity of the blood spatter.