Video Nasties Law Invalid? We’ll Take Care of That

Fulci's "The Beyond" was just one of the movies that was caught up in Great Britain's '80s-era "video nasties" ban. This week it was discovered that the law was never properly ratified.

Every time the heart warms to the ol’ Sceptered Aisle — usually after a particularly good BBC podcast — the dozing dragon that is Great Britain’s “video nasties” law stirs and growls, and sense retakes me once again: “Oh yes,” I think, “THAT’S why I don’t live there.”

This week, it turns out that law, officially called the Video Recordings Act of 1984, isn’t really a law at all, meaning future action under its auspices is no longer enforceable. Yet rather than taking this opportunity to quietly leave behind a particularly dark age of holier than thou insanity that saw many video store owners fined and jailed for renting horror flicks like The Evil Dead (and yes, to be fair, extreme flicks such as Cannibal Holocaust) to adults, the British government is quickly trying to ratify that 25-year-old act to ensure that this Thatcher-age assault on intellectual freedom remains robust for years to come.

There’s a certain symmetry to all of this of course, coming on the heels of the British banning of the new Japanese torturefest Grotesque.

In researching The New Horror Handbook, it was driven home to me again and again that this long history of horror film censorship around the world is more intellectually dishonest than we often give it credit for.

Governments often rely on a two-pronged approach: They garner public support for censorship from the excitable elements of society by decrying the potentially demoralizing effects extreme movies might have on the young. Yet what they are really doing is tamping down any work that has the potential to lure individuals to question public mores.

Love or hate the Hostel movies (which have been banned in places such as New Zealand), for example, but there is no denying that there are some deeply political messages lurking somewhere beneath the gore. Ditto for video nasty poster child Cannibal Holocaust.

Are lawmakers really so terribly concerned that young children will be forever devastated by a chance glimpse of The Werewolf and the Yeti, or is it subversion itself that makes the Powers that Be quake in their boots?

Thanks to Mondo Movie‘s Ben Howard for calling this new wrinkle in the video nasties saga to horror fans’ attention via his Twitter account.


4 thoughts on “Video Nasties Law Invalid? We’ll Take Care of That”

  1. In all my movie watching I have only seen one film which should never be allowed anywhere and that was the August Underground Series. If anything should be banned it is those flicks, truly disturbing and disgusting for what appears to be no valid reason.

    Banning anything always seems to be about something that isn’t spoken of. Depending on what it is, it’s usually very hard to understand the reasoning behind banning it. Sure, they tell us it’s to prevent harm to children or society in general but isn’t that for the person viewing it to decide. Why is it that the government always assumes that parents are too lazy to decide what their kids can and can’t watch?

    I’ve got two kids and I know exactly what they should be seeing or doing. Granted we’ve had some uncomfortable moments watching Robot Chicken HAHA! but you’ve gotta test the waters sometimes.

  2. Thank you for getting to the root of the whole controversy. You’re a parent who (shock!) parents! If only people would just let other people get on with their lives.

    “But what if a child’s parents don’t look after him or her?” Then horror movies are the least of society’s worries. (I’ll get off this soap box now so somebody else can use it.)

    1. Ya know, it always bothers me when they say that violent games or movies will contribute to a childs behaviour. I grew up on horror movies and started watching them when I was about 10, it never affected me. I think people just can’t accept that sometimes there’s something wrong with a person and that’s what makes them do crazy things. If a movie makes you go out and harm somebody, I’m pretty sure it’s something wrong with you and not the movie.

      When will people realize that by trying to censor something they’re only giving it more attention. Any publicity is good publicity and I know that I’ve seen some terrible films just based on the reactions that it’s been getting from people.

  3. Agreed. I like to point to Emily Hagins (who gets her own chapter in the Handbook), a young filmmaker who grew up on the sometimes extreme flicks seen at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema. If only half the adults I spoke with in a given week were half as well-grounded as Emily, life would be a more enjoyable affair.

    When this subject comes up, I also like to refer people to the book “See No Evil” (, which not only explores each of the “video nasties” in some detail, but also what exactly happened before and during the whole British video ban. I see it’s selling for a small fortune used on Amazon, but you often can find it for less on eBay or Amazon’s UK Web site. Well worth the time of any genre fan.

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