This week sees the release of Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead, a remake of Sam Raimi's original splatter horror film that became embroiled in the "video nasties" hysteria of the 1980s.
Due to the advent of home video technology coinciding with a time of mass unemployment in the UK, many independent retailers began to spring up selling videos, which at the time did not have age restrictions and were not required to be classified by the BBFC. On the back of fraudulent research and pressure from conservative religious organisations and the right wing media, the Department of Public Prosecutions drew up a list of 72 films that they believed had the potential to "deprave and corrupt" people who watched them. British police were instructed to raid video stores in order to confiscate and destroy any of the "video nasties" on sale, and independent business owners faced 18 months in prison for selling low-budget horror movies.
The DPP list now serves as a checklist for fans of exploitation horror. Almost all of the films re-entered for classification have now been passed uncut by the BBFC, and many of them are free to watch in their entirety on YouTube. Here is my personal list of the top "video nasties":
5. DEAD AND BURIED
Dead And Buried is a creepy, morbid horror that feels somewhat like a hybrid of Frankenstein, The Wicker Man and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. A cop returns home to his tiny New England town in order to investigate a series of violent 'accidents', only to discover that the victims appear to be returning from the grave. Despite an interesting screenplay by Ronald Shusett (Alien, Total Recall), the director's wish to make a black comedy clashed with the producer's desire to make a gory horror - and the end result feels a little adulterated.
4(=) THE BEYOND & ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (aka Zombi 2)
Both directed by Lucio Fulci and both containing ambitious and inventive horror set pieces, The Beyond and Zombie Flesh Eaters are difficult to pick between when it comes to imaginative low-budget horror. One a haunted house tale of blind girls and a portal to hell, the other a zombie invasion movie based on tropical waters - both films share low-budget sensibilities whilst retaining the ability to both shock and entertain. Live tarantulas eating a man's face and a zombie fighting a shark are just a couple of the outrageous scenes you can expect from this exciting double bill.
This surprisingly cerebral film from giallo master Dario Argento sees an American pulp fiction writer become embroiled in an erotic murder mystery after a serial killer strikes Rome, seemingly inspired by the author's horror novels. Artistically shot, with brutally well executed set pieces, Tenebrae serves as both a gripping whodunit and an intriguing exploration of the fear that was provoked by the video nasty hysteria - that of fanatic emulation. Luckily, the obsessive fan that inspired Argento's screenplay never followed through with any homicidal intentions.
2. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST
The original 'found footage' movie forces us to ask several questions about the exploitative nature of sensationalist news media and the abhorrent consequences of neo-colonialism. That said, much of the film seems to conflict with the very methods it seeks to critique; as it contains unforgivable scenes of real animal cruelty, and led to the arrest of director Ruggero Deodato in his native Italy due to the film's vérité ultraviolence leading many to believe he had made a genuine snuff film. Cannibal Holocaust is by no means an easy watch, and the merits of its social commentary are still up for debate, yet the raw and realistic nature of this faux-documentary make for a simultaneously sickening and thought-provoking experience.
1. THE EVIL DEAD
Sam Raimi's fantastically shot and ridiculously gruesome debut is rightly regarded as "the number one nasty". The film follows a group of teenagers whose trip away to a cabin in the woods leads to the unleashing of demonic forces that possess them one by one. A sleeper hit in theatres, The Evil Dead was a phenomenal success when released on VHS, and became the top-selling video of 1983 (outselling Stanley Kubrick's The Shining). Although its satanic themes, outrageous splatter and lustful flora riled right-wingers; the film's enduring ability to entertain has elevated both The Evil Dead and it's sequels (Evil Dead II, Army Of Darkness) to cult status. Star Bruce Campbell is now a regular B-Movie fixture, whilst Sam Raimi has directed some of the highest-grossing Hollywood blockbusters of all time. If you're not already a fan... Join Us.