Over-the-top advertising is one thing - there surely have been some clever (and questionable) ad campaigns for films. Movie posters, however, have remained one constant throughout. The Internet is home to many great movie posters, including vintage posters and even movie memorabilia.

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Whilst at the time the whole video nasties furore seemed extraordinary, in hindsight it should have surprised nobody. The Establishment has always viewed new media, particularly those embraced by a younger generation, with a great deal of suspicion. Obscenity trials against theatrical shows like Oh! Calcutta and the satirical magazine Oz in the late 1960’s provide a depressing nod towards the events of the early 1980’s. These moral whirlwinds also blow up during times of acute social or political difficulties, so when the new media of video finally began to gain mass acceptance in the early 1980’s, a time of high unemployment, race riots, economic recession and rising crime, the scapegoating of videos as public enemy number one was almost destined to be. The whole episode is also a salutary lesson in the power of minor interest groups to inform public policy, providing they have powerful friends and are prepared to embellish the facts with a healthy dollop of hysteria.

The fact that the video industry, in its infancy in the UK and effectively unregulated, did itself no favours with lurid advertising campaigns and publicity stunts is beside the point. The explosion of video ownership created hundreds of new labels, often operating out of garages and tiny provincial towns, that were unable to acquire the rights to big-budget Hollywood movies so, in order to service the growing demand for videos, ended up releasing material that had never previously been released in the UK. Today, the market is dominated by the video arms of the major Hollywood studios. In 1981, major studios were deeply suspicious of the new medium and slow to get in the game, there were no big fish in the pond, only lots of small fry. Labels like Iver Film Services, Intervision, VTC (with their natty gold sleeves), and World of Video 2000 (which should have been World of Video 1984, about the time it ceased trading) sprung up and died almost overnight. With them came a wacky variety of non-mainstream material available on the cheap.

Along side the Brotherhood of Man concert videos, Childrens Film Foundation movies and Greek westerns that found their way into British living rooms, was a growing number of horror movies, many continental, and many too obscure, too dismal or too violent ever to receive a British theatrical release. Horror films were immediately popular on home video – and the fact that videos did not require a BBFC certificate meant that all manner of material was available in your local garage, corner shop or out of the back of a white van that would never have passed the BBFC's vetting procedure had they been released theatrically.

For a couple of years as the home video explosion continued unabated everyone was happy, or so it seemed. The industry was Thatcher’s free market sink-or-swim economics in a nutshell, with labels seemingly appearing overnight and going out of business the next month, living or dying on the quality of the product they had been able to acquire, as all the while the big Hollywood studios stood back and watched. It was as competition in the video marketplace grew massively and companies began to resort to ever more lurid publicity campaigns, when the first cracks in the new industry began to show and things started to go wrong.

Go Video’s decision to supply Mary Whitehouse with a copy of Cannibal Holocaust must go down as one of the greatest publicity own-goals of all time, but it was by no means the only one. The distributors of a little known American slasher flick called ‘NIGHTMARE’ re-named it ‘NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN’ and ran a ‘guess the weight of the brain in a jar’ competition. Astra home video released ‘SNUFF’ without credits and with box art suggesting it was a real snuff video (which it patently is not) and were forced to withdraw the release after one day. Over-the-top advertising for movies like SS EXPERIMENT CAMP and CANNIBAL FEROX in the video trade press (and on posters outside video shops – the one in my local town was forced to remove a poster for FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN after complaints) resulted in the powers that be, pushed by the hysterical ranting of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association, taking more of an interest in the extreme end of the video market. At one point, Mrs Whitehouse complained to the newspapers that video ‘could be the biggest threat to the quality of life in Great Britain’. Comparing the impact of I MISS YOU HUGS AND KISSES with the discovery of a new and potentially devastating virus called HIV, massive levels of unemployment, the threatened Miners Strike or the civil disorder in places like Toxteth, Moss Side and Brixton is patently ludicrous even without the benefit of hindsight and anyone with half a brain could see this as rampant and groundless hyperbole based on self-publicity. Which brings us to politicians.

It is ironic that in the same year as THE EVIL DEAD topped the yearly video rental charts in the UK (and incidentally the same year as a General Election – draw your own conclusions), politicians and the mass media began a campaign to ban what euphemistically became known as video nasties. Initially, politicians were reticent about the industry (It was, after all both a money spinner for VAT and a place where a daring business could make a lot of money quickly), but organisations like the NVLA had whipped up hysteria inside Fleet Street. Some media interests (particularly our own whiter-than-white press) recognised the impact that unfettered growth of the video market could have on fledgling projects like British Satellite Broadcasting and Sky, as well as the fact that the medium was largely incomprehensible to the generation that purchased their product. It also represented an easy target – who could complain if their campaigns resulted in the banning of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST? Certainly not readers of the Daily Mail. And so the press coverage began, calling for violent videos to be banned or burned, asking how such material could creep past the BBFC uncensored (in fact most movies had never been near the BBFC – which had no remit for videos at the time) and asking the government what they intended to do about this new menace.

Government didn’t get time to answer. Armed with the newly amended Obscene Publications Act, Police Constabularies across the country began to seize videos. There was little rhyme or reason behind these seizures, movies were taken from video shops in one county that were left on the shelf in adjacent counties. Alongside those movies that would eventually be identified as the ‘video nasties’, films such as SUPERSTITION (1981), MADMAN (1982), BLOOD FOR DRACULA (1973), BASKET CASE (1982), John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982), DEMENTED (1980), THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), ROSEMARY'S KILLER (1981) and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) were taken in some places. Occasionally the police made some real howlers, like confiscating copies of the Dolly Parton/Burt Reynolds comedy THE BEST LIITLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1981) and Sam Fullers war movie THE BIG RED ONE (1977) (apparently the constabularies responsible thought these movies were porn films – though you’d have thought that the briefest glance at the video box art would have put that right!), but the majority of films taken were horror movies. Alarmed by the seemingly random selection of titles and the inconsistency of seizure between police force areas, the newly formed Video Retailers Association begged the Department for Public Prosecutions for some guidance for its members as to what material could be stocked and what would be liable for confiscation. As the DPP was in the process of preparing prosecutions against dealers and publishers of a number of films, and recognising that the current situation was undermining the concept of a consistent justice system across the whole country, the Department of Public Prosecutions prepared a list of movies liable for seizure and that had either already successfully been prosecuted or had charges already filed against distributors and stockists of them. This list of movies became known as the Video Nasties list.

This list, which changed in composition almost every month from the first list being published in June 1983, is highlighted below, with the subsequent fate of the movie also included. Altogether some 75 titles appeared on the list at one time or another, with a number of them changing as prosecutions were dropped, or prosecutions failed. In total, 35 films initially listed by the DPP had to be dropped because there was never a successful prosecution against them, leaving the rest, 39 titles as the rump of the list. For 15 years many of these films were left in uncertified limbo by the Video Recordings Act, which effectively put an end to the DPP list when it came into force in 1985, by making all non-certified videos (with some exceptions) illegal. In practice the DPP maintained its list of 39 films until the mid 1990’s, but in the end, the Video Recordings Act made it defunct and it quietly faded from the scene. With the change in the BBFC regime recently, and thanks to the positive critical reappraisal some of these movies have enjoyed, many of the movies previously banned have been made available uncut, whilst others have been re-released cut (sometimes because of a recent, successful prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act and sometimes because they fall foul of the BBFC’s new guidelines). These movies, and their fate after being listed, are highlighted below.

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