The novelty of video meant that distributors were not legally obliged to submit their material for classification, so for the first time British viewers were able to watch movies about cannibals, sadistic Nazis and psychotic killers armed with power tools. The cover art for these videos would’ve done an American exploitation outfit proud: from Cannibal Holocaust’s gut-munching native to S.S. Experiment Camp’s crucifixion of a naked starlet, nothing was left to the imagination.
It wasn’t long before Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NVALA or “National Valour”), which had previously rallied against such TV shows as Benny Hill and Dr Who, campaigned to ban these “Video Nasties.” Mrs Whitehouse had an ally in Conservative MP Graham Bright, who sponsored a Bill that amended the 1959 Obscene Publications Act to include movies.
Working from a list of 72 offending titles drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), police seized any material they believed would “deprave and corrupt” viewers, often citing the covers as reasonable grounds for confiscation.
Movies marked with an asterisk (*) were successfully prosecuted for obscenity in the British courts.
24. The House On The Edge Of The Park (1980)*
The House On The Edge Of The Park isn’t your average home invasion movie – it’s far more explicit than that. Loaded with all the sleaze, graphic violence and senselessness found only in 42nd Street’s finest trash, this Italian Last House On The Left wannabe (from the director of Cannibal Holocaust, no less) was never going to escape unscathed in the UK.
After being denied a theatrical certificate, Ruggero Deodato’s movie appeared on video in October 1982 and was subsequently pulled from shelves in July 1983 ahead of a successful prosecution for obscenity. When finally re-released in 2002, the movie was shortened by nearly twelve minutes, with most of the violence wreaked by David Hess (who essentially reprises his character from Last House) hitting the cutting room floor.
In 2006, the movie was screened uncut at Aberystwyth University as part of the BBFC’s research into responses to sexual violence in films. After prompting both walkouts and laughter, the movie was re-released in with only 42 seconds of cuts.
23. Absurd (1981)*
Directed by the legendary Joe D’Amato, who’s better known for cheap sexploitation pictures like Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead, Absurd is an Italian Halloween imitation and it’s one of D’Amato’s best films. From its prowling camera to its synth score, Absurd imitates Halloween at every turn, and ripping off a better filmmaker has inspired D’Amato to make a more entertaining film than usual, with snappier pacing and more energy.
George Eastman plays a mute, unstoppable killer who stalks babysitters and nurses, and the movie has a wonderfully hokey explanation for why you can’t kill the Bogeyman. A “biochemical experiment” (performed on a Greek island, no less) transformed Eastman into a superhuman killing machine whose body regenerates after being shot, stabbed, set on fire etc. The only way to stop him: destroy the “cerebral mass.”
Instead of repeating his usual trick of cramming all of the gore scenes into the last reel, D’Amato throws one in every ten minutes or so, with a nurse, an orderly and a motorcyclist (played by future director Michele Soavi) all being dispatched in the first act. He still cranks it up for the climax, delivering a shameless facsimile of Halloween II as Eastman, blinded by the heroine, hunts her by sound in a confined space.
22. The Beast In Heat (1977)*
Intended strictly as a cash-in on Ilsa: She Wolf Of The S.S., The Beast In Heat amounts to forty minutes of softcore sex scenes padded out with footage from director Luigi Batzella’s earlier When The Bell Tolls (1970).
The stock footage adds everything you’d expect from a WWII movie, including battle scenes, air raids and that guaranteed crowd pleaser, Nazi soldiers shooting old ladies. However, the new scenes add a subplot about a sexy Nazi villainess who rewards her latest “experiment” (a sex-crazed mutant she keeps in a cage) with naked virgins. Not sure about the scientific value, but it certainly makes for interesting viewing.
This Fraulein also conducts human experiments, though these seem to consist of attaching electrodes to the genitals of naked females while the watching guards lick their lips. Too over the top to be shocking, the violence has an unintended comic effect when a woman having her fingernails torn out says, “You’re hurting me!”
21. Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)*
At a chemical plant in New Guinea, a leak transforms the staff into bad actors in shoddy make-up that seem to think they’re auditioning for Dawn Of The Dead. Meanwhile, in what feels like a completely different movie, a hostage rescue team encounter a female journalist and her cameraman, who’ve just encountered more bad actors in even less convincing make-up.
It seems that an epidemic of bad acting is sweeping across New Guinea, so the rescue team, which is comprised mainly of hair-trigger psychos, decides to blow them all to pieces. Along the way, they also encounter badly dubbed supporting players and enough stock footage for three Ed Wood movies.
The film’s first cut reportedly contained so much unusable material that most of it was junked and re-shot, with documentary footage haphazardly edited into the narrative, which perhaps explains why the first thirty minutes feels like three films overlapping. Throw in some acting styles best described as “unsubtle”, and you’ve got an incoherent mess that deserves to seen by all lovers of ‘So Bad It’s Good’ cinema.
Incredibly, the film found its way onto the Video Nasty list in July 1983 and wasn’t available in its uncut form until 2002.
20. Night Of The Demon (1980)*
Night Of The Demon is your typical low-aiming exploitation movie, loaded with sleaze, fake gore and bad acting. The plot involves a dim-witted academic who leads some students into swamp country to look for Bigfoot – with hilarious consequences.
Looking like Lou Ferrigno covered in yak hair, this movie’s Bigfoot is one stealthy beast, capable of sneaking up on an unsuspecting lumberjack and divesting him of his axe before splitting his cranium in two. Clearly circus trained, he’s also able to make two knife-wielding girl scouts stab each other repeatedly while banging their heads together.
He is the romantic sort, though, which the students realize when a local girl describes her midnight encounter with our horny beast that lead to the birth of Bigfoot Jnr. This sets up a present-day reunion of sorts when junior knocks down the door and begins dismissing the class one by one, ripping out intestines, burning faces, tearing out throats and impaling bodies on pitchforks – while nobody attempts to escape.
19. Flesh For Frankenstein (1973)*
In his second prosecuted film, Udo Kier plays the sleaziest, most demented Baron Frankenstein yet to reach the screen. He also delivers a line that would make Peter Cushing blush: “To know death, Otto, you have to f**k life….in the gall bladder!”
In a laboratory dungeon filled with body parts, electrical equipment and a naked female corpse he mounts when the fancy takes him, the Baron tries to create a super race but reckons without the attentions of local peasant Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro), who realizes that Frankenstein murdered his best friend and is using the body in his experiments.
Eschewing villagers with flaming torches and police inspectors with wooden limbs, the film instead throws in several gore sequences, most notably a scene where a character is decapitated with garden shears and his body continues to stagger around with blood pumping from the neck.
This was too strong for British tastes and the film played theatrically with eight minutes of cuts, most of which were reinserted for home video. Banned in March 1984 and successfully prosecuted, the movie wasn’t available in its uncut form until 2006.
18. Blood Feast (1963)*
Made for $24,000, with director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David F Friedman handling most of the production chores themselves, Blood Feast is your usual story of a mad Egyptian caterer who servers human flesh.
In 1963, the movie promised –and delivered – scenes moviegoers had never seen before, including scantily clad young women having their tongues torn out or their heads bashed in by a saucer-eyed madman. Viewed decades later, this legendary cheapie looks as sloppy as Plan 9 From Outer Space, but when the film arrived in the UK in May 1982, it remained on shelves for fourteen months before being banned as a Video Nasty.
Several successful prosecutions for obscenity meant that the film wouldn’t be available in its uncut form until 2005 – 42 years after first playing in American Drive-Ins.
17. Fight For Your Life (1977)*
According to Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford in Sleazoid Express, black audiences cheered when Fight For Your Life’s African-American hero, played by Robert Judd, gunned down his honky aggressor at the film’s climax, after which white viewers “tried to leave the theatre as unassumingly as possible.”
The pulse behind the movie isn’t to create an African-American hero, though, but to shock, and racial violence is used here the way I Spit On Your Grave treated sexual violence. The racial element, coupled with the home invasion storyline, means it often plays like a Blaxploitation Last House on the Left, though its protagonists are portrayed with more dignity than is common in the subgenre.
The movie was rejected for a UK theatrical release in 1981, more for the racial abuse on display than the explicit violence (though there’s still plenty of that). It later appeared uncut on VHS, and was banned ahead of a successful prosecution for obscenity. If you own a copy, hold on to it – not only was the film never cleared by the UK censors, but the original negative was destroyed in 2012.