Germany’s British Import: The ‘Video Nasties’ Ban

Occasionally something happens in the world of horror that sends me scurrying back to what I’ve already written of The New Horror Handbook to make changes to ensure the finished text, when it finally goes to press, will be as up-to-date as possible. Usually this is a positive thing — the chapter on the recent French masterpiece Inside, for example. Unfortunately, it’s not always that pleasant.

Earlier this month, Eli Roth posted this entry to his MySpace blog, highlighting new regulations that went into effect in Germany on June 10th. The uncut DVD of his Hostel Part II, along with many other films, were declared illegal. The picture he paints of video stores being raided and DVDs being removed from shelves is as deeply disturbing for a genre that celebrates transgression as it is hauntingly familiar to fans with long memories.

In the 1980s it was Great Britain that turned on its own citizens, raided video shops and threw their video sellers into chokey for no better reason than that they rented or sold any of more than 70 movies to another member of the public. Here are some of those sins against cinema that could’ve driven you bankrupt if you were unlucky enough to be a video store owner at the time:

  • Fulci’s The Beyond
  • The Evil Dead
  • The Funhouse (!!!)
  • Dario Argento’s Inferno

Sure, there were also some pretty disturbing films that were also targeted, but it’s all rather beside the point. (Search out a copy of See No Evil by David Kerekes & David Slater for an excellent look at this period of British history.)

Setting aside all of the usual arguments against censorship (including the observation that the intelligence of decisions is inversely proportional to the number of people involved in making them, e.g. governments), there remains one very large one. And it has nothing to do with the right to see stage blood.

Societies that restrict expression, both individual and in the arts, almost always stagnate – they stop moving forward, stop innovating. This is as true of the societies that breed terrorists who aim to create a utopian society crushed beneath a single religious ideal as it was of the Germany of the 1930s, and onwards back into history.

No, horror films do not guarantee social growth. But transgressive art and ideas keep the minds of their audience questioning, fertile. Take a look at the headlines, at the quotes from warring factions that seem to float over one another without ever maturing beyond simple schoolyard tuants, and tell me the answer to it all is to allow yet more minds to go fallow for want of challenge and use.


4 thoughts on “Germany’s British Import: The ‘Video Nasties’ Ban”

  1. I worked in a video store at the time of the nasties panic. The trade simply didn’t know what to do – most of them were just guys who had bought a few tapes and traded rentals. They knew nothing about the films they bought, less about the censorship furore when it broke. Some just dumped anything remotely suspicious. My boss threw out Apocalypse Now because he though it was a sequel to Cannibal Holocaust!
    Thankfully, the UK’s moral guardians have moved on to other things now.

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