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Censoria
Nucleus Films follow up their brilliant 2008 3-disc examination of the tabloid led 'Video Nasties' phenomenon with the equally wonderful VIDEO NASTIES: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE 2. Horror devotee Gort is in cinematic pig heaven.
 

Before I get going on why this is already my favourite DVD release of the past couple of years, I feel the need to put my pedant's hat on. Strictly speaking, if you release a package titled Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, you cannot have a Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2. Its mere existence invalidates the use of the term 'definitive' in the original. OK, hats off. There's more to this story than semantics, after all.

This new release is actually more of a follow-up than a collection of previously unused material, an expansion on the original brief to include films that were not banned outright but still regarded as potentially corrupting by the powers that be. How do we know this? Guesswork on the part of the nice people at Nucleus Films? Far from it. In the process of researching legal paperwork for the original Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, they discovered what has been labelled the Section 3 List. The films on this sinister tome were not prosecuted under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act and banned outright, but were instead targeted under Section 3, a theoretically lesser charge that could still result in their confiscation and destruction if ordered by a local magistrate.

Now if all of this is new to you then you need a grounding in the ridiculous furore surrounding what that arse-wipe of a tabloid The Daily Mail once dubbed 'Video Nasties', a hilarious term that the films condemned by it now wear as a badge of honour. I've already covered this in some detail in my review of the first Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, and I'm not about to repeat myself here, so hop over to that review if you need an introduction. It's not a bad idea anyway as I also outline what was so wonderful about that particular DVD release, and just about all of what worked so well there also applies here.

Working on the favourite theory that if it ain't broke you don't fix it (are you reading this, Apple?), Nucleus have adopted the exact same format as the one employed for the previous release. Good job too. This also gives the two releases a strong sense of continuity and ensures that anyone who enjoyed the first volume – and how could you not? – will feel instantly at home here. There are a staggering 82 trailers included in this set, each with a worthy introduction by an expert in the field of exploitation cinema. And when I say worthy, I'm being a little coy. The vast majority are downright excellent and many are so detailed and comprehensive that they deserve to be included on any future DVD or Blu-ray releases of the films in question.

The star performers are Nightmare USA and Beyond Terror author Stephen Thrower and fave genre writer Kim Newman, who between them cover almost half of the titles here. Thrower is as drily witty as ever, whether it be expressing his bemusement at what the police could possibly have found objectionable about a film, or on occasion at the film itself – "And what the hell is going on in this one?" is his opening line when discussing the 1975 Suicide Cult. Both he and Newman are passionate about their subject, and the more cynical edge of Newman's contribution to the previous collection is all but gone here. It's hardly surprising, as sharing potential cell space with the expected collection of lesser seen low-budgeters are a fair few famous titles, many of whose reputations have subsequently soared, including Dawn of the Dead, Deep Red, Friday 13th, The Hills Have Eyes, Martin, Night of the Living Dead, Phantasm, Rabid, Scanners, Suspiria, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Thing. That's one hell of a weekend's viewing. This does mean that as well as defending guilty pleasures, Newman and Thrower also get to enthuse about some of their favourite films, a call they both respond to with compelling and eminently quotable aplomb. Says Newman of Night of the Living Dead, "It's where we came in, in horror, and still a film we should watch regularly again," while Thrower pertinently asks, "If you're a horror fan and you haven't seen Phantasm, then where have you been?"

As before, they are in good company. Horror guru and Frightfest organiser Alan Jones is on hand to reveal that Suspiria is one of the films that changed his life, and he recalls being on set during the production of a couple of the titles. He did lose a point with me, however, for describing Alfred Sole's Communion as "pretty good." Pretty good? Come on, Alan, it's superb! Other familiar faces are joined by a handful of new ones, and the fabulous Dr. Patricia MacCormack returns to provide a compelling analysis of Fred Schepsi's excellent The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and confirm beyond doubt that she's the coolest college professor on the face of the planet. The programme makers have even tracked down a couple of those involved in the films themselves to talk about their work on them, or in the case of C.P. Lee on British gangland cheapie GBH, someone who penned a book about the director in question.

This is, as they say, a substantial package. Actually, substantial doesn't cover it. We need a new word. Hyperstantial, perhaps? Spread over two tightly-packed DVDs, the trailers and their intros alone run for over nine and a half hours. Seriously, that deserves an exclamation mark. And italics. Nine and a half hours! And at the risk of recycling phrases from my review of the first Video Nasties set, this is something to celebrate, not be intimidated by. Each of the titles is covered as a self-enclosed piece that can be viewed in isolation without reference to anything that has gone before. As a result, you can stop and start either disc at any point and not lose your way, and even watch the whole lot over the course of a couple of weeks if you so choose. There's certainly no requirement to watch all 82 in one session, but be warned, if you're a horror fan you'll absolutely want to. So good are the intros and so strong the pull to see what title will come next that it proves insanely difficult to switch the damned thing off. I made the mistake of putting the first disc (actually disc 2 – I'll get to that in a minute) into the player at 11pm for a quick look before I turned in for the night. Idiot. Two-and-a-half hours later I was forced to give up and crawl up to bed. I spent the following day at work in a half-awake daze, but the moment I got home I switched on the TV and eagerly picked up when I'd left off the night before.

With discs 2 and 3 devoted solely to the trailers and their intros, disc 1 is given over to the feature documentary Video Nasties: Draconian Days. This is director Jake West and producer Marc Morris' follow-up to their bloody marvellous Video Nasties – Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, which featured on the first Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide release. As much a companion piece as a sequel, Draconian Days briskly outlines the circumstances that led to the 1984 Video Recordings Act, then explores its impact, with particular focus on the response of then BBFC big cheese James Ferman. Ferman's media-savvy fondness for giving interviews ensures that his own viewpoint is rather well represented, and some of his former colleagues are also on hand to fill in the gaps or provide an alternative perspective. Best of these is Carol Topolski, who talks of quietly weeping at a screening of New York Ripper, but has no qualms about recalling the occasions that she disagreed with Ferman or when she believed he was letting his power go to his head.

But this wasn't always the case. In what seemed ironic even at the time, at one point our country's chief censor was instrumental in fighting attempts to further tighten censorship laws. It's here that film jogged some horrible memories for me, the most disturbing of which saw shitbag tabloid The Sun devoting its front page to encouraging its readers to burn video tapes, which as film writer and lecturer Dr. Kate Egan rightly suggests had echoes of Nazi book-burning. And with the passing of time, I'd forgotten what an absolute cock Liberal Democrat MP Davis Alton was, a self-righteous nob whose determination to outlaw every film that did not meet with his personal approval (and precious few did) managed to convince me that his was a party that no true liberal should ever lend their vote to. Turns out I was right, eh, Nick? Ferman was also quick to rubbish the dangerously idiotic tabloid attempts to blame the Hungerford massacre on First Blood and the James Bulger murder on Child's Play 3. When it came to battling against tabloid hysteria, Ferman turned out to be a good man to have in your corner.

As with its predecessor, the range and richness of the interviews and archive material make this a consistently fascinating and entertaining experience, and the documentary itself is really well put together. For those who lived through the time there are also some stories that will prompt fond memories, from the swapping and pirating of banned videotapes to the idea that young and impressionable martial arts movie fans might make their own nunchuks. Mine memorably flew apart when I was trying to emulate Bruce Lee spinning them around his body in Enter the Dragon for a fellow student's camera. Cradle of Fear and Drillbit director Alex Chandon hits the nail on the head when he recalls that if you re-watched a gore scene enough times you could work out how it was done, and were thus readily able to differentiate between reality and fantasy. But my absolute favourite story comes from this film's producer, Marc Morris, who together with a like-minded friend used to hire out videos of films that they knew had been cut, then tape the uncut versions over them and return them to the video store. "We saw ourselves as the Robin Hoods of gore," he says with a sly grin.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 is an absolutely bloody marvellous package and a worthy follow-up to an equally superb original. This review is late because Nucleus press releases have for some reason stopped showing up in the Cine Outsider in-box, so the release itself caught me a bit by surprise. But what a surprise. A 3-disc package boasting over 11 hours of utterly enthralling documentary material on the films, the people and the attitudes of a sorry time for tolerance, this is far and away my favourite release of the year so far, and the best value disc package doing the rounds at the moment.

sound and vision

Here's a question. How the hell have Nucleus managed to cram over five hours of video onto a single dual-layer DVD without the picture breaking up or swimming in compression artefacts? Having been captured from a variety of sources, the quality and aspect ratios of trailers themselves do tend to vary, but on a disc that is celebrating the VHS era this feels wholly appropriate and will be old news to anyone who has any of Nucleus's Grindhouse Trailers collections. The interviews are in good shape, are framed anamorphic 16:9 and look pretty damned fine throughout. Draconian Days has more disc space to play with and looks particularly good, being crisply detailed and boasting very good contrast range and solid colour, though it also has to accommodate a range of archive material of varying condition. Some of this is in surprisingly good shape. On the whole, an excellent job.

There is one thing that I did initially think was a glitch that turned out to have a straightforward explanation. On some of the trailer intros the image seems to intermittently jump a few frames, which looked at first to me like an encoding issue. It's especially common on Stephen Thrower's pieces. I soon realised that these were deliberate jump cuts to eliminate pauses or elongated ums and ahs. This may sound a little unnecessary, but it's worth remembering just how much is being crammed on the DVDs here, and that in such a situation every second really does count.

It's worth noting that you can also watch the trailers without the intros and the intros without the trailers, if you so choose. The scene selection menu is superb, consisting once again of the spines of the video boxes of the films under examination. Each film has its own chapter, as you would hope. By the way, if you recognise the music playing under the menus, it's because it's the very same track that we have used on the intros to our festival interviews. Slarek was also somewhat familiar with the opening music of Draconian Days, having used the very same track on a promotional video earlier this year. We were playing the "we know where you got that from" game when a text admitting as much appeared on the closing credits. Aw, that ruined our fun.

The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is technically stereo, even though many of the trailers are mono and the interview voices have no right to be anywhere but front and centre. When the condition of the material allows, the sound quality is very fine, with all of the interviews clearly recorded and mixed. A few of the trailers are actually in stereo and the separation on a couple of them is quite distinct.

extra features

Tricky one this. Given the combined length of the trailers and intros, is Draconian Days technically an extra? I think not. It's part of the main package, hence my decision to discuss it above. What on-disc features we do have are all on disc 1.

Fanzine Flashback (6:10 / 6:40 / 5:10)
Three rolling galleries of covers from the fanzines in which news of the movies that so disturbed David Alton was shared with the sensible, and pirated copies of uncut videos were traded in the ads. Some of these are really well designed. Makes you proud to be British.

DPP 72 / DPP 82 (8:10 / 7:55)
Two rolling galleries, the first featuring the VHS video covers of the 72 films banned under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act, the second the 82 titles featured in this set that were targeted under Section 3. Both are backed by the wobbly music from the idents of the video companies that put them out. To see the idents themselves, get the first Definitive Guide set.

Not on the disc and a delight to find inside are 5 large Postcards featuring reproductions of video covers on the Section 3 list. Given that this is a numbered limited edition set (only a demonic 6,666 copies!), I did wonder if the cards were different in every box (wow, that would be a collector's nightmare). Assuming they're not, I have in my sweaty hands Headless Eyes, The Art of Nasty, Naked Fist, Werewolf Woman and (yay!) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

summary

I love this release to death, every bit as much as I loved its predecessor. As far as I know, it is still available and should thus be on every horror fan's DVD shelf. If you have the first release then buy this one now, as it really is more of the same. If you're a horror fan and don't have either set then get hold of them both, clear your weekend, buy in a few beers and some junk food and get set for a mother of a nostalgia trip. If by some chance you're new to the whole Video Nasties hysteria, it will also prove an educating experience. Very highly recommended.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2

UK 2014
568 mins total for trailers and intros
with
Stephen Thrower
Kim Newman
Alan Jones
Justin Kerswell
Dr. Patricia MacCormack
Dr. Karen Oughton
Evrim Ersoy
Craig Lapper
Marc Morris
Julian Grainger
C.P. Lee

Video Nasties: Draconian Days
UK 2014
97 mins
directed by
Jake West
produced by
Marc Morris
cinematography
Jake West
editing
Jake West
music
Apple Soundtrack Pro music loops
starring
Martin Barker
Sian Barber
Sir Graham Bright
Lavinia Carey
Alex Chandon
Tony Clarke
Kate Egan
David Flint
John Hayward
Spencer Hickman
David Hyman
Neil Keenan
C.P. Lee
Alan Jones
David Kerekes
Craig Lapper
Neil Marshall
Paul McEvoy
Marc Morris
Kim Newman
Julian Petley
Geoffrey Robertson Q.C.
Christopher Smith
Stephen Thrower
Cathal Tohill
Carol Topolski
Nigel Wingrove

disc details
region 0
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Fanzine Flashback
DPP 72 / DPP 82
Postcards
distributor
Nucleus Films
release date
14 July 2014
review posted
25 July 2014

related review
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

See all of Gort's reviews