Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Video Nasties: Bibliography and Useful Sources

I have finally managed to escape the bloodthirsty cannibals with my life and my penis intact, and have left the jungle landscape of the Video Nasties far behind me. The zombies were unsociable, the madmen with drills were poor company, and the avenging females made for disastrous dates. It has been a challenging trawl through the cinematic sewer and the reviews that appeared this month on The Celluloid Highway represent only a fraction of the films I tortured myself with. Some of those films might emerge on these pages in later months…so beware. Those that did make it on the highway did so because they impressed me in some way. Either for being surprisingly well made, a catalogue of absurdity or downright offensive. In conclusion I will provide here a guide to some of the books and websites that are useful aids to picking apart the complex arguments and histories that make up this fascinating period in British film history.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Top 5 Stand Alone Sci-Fi Films w/ The Film Connoisseur

It was a great privilege recently to be invited by The Film Connoisseur to come up with my Top 5 stand alone science-fiction movies. It was a challenging task because the rules of inclusion dictated that films that were a part of a franchise or series had to be excluded. So before I had even got down to thinking out went 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Village of the Damned (1960), Alien (1979) and The Terminator (1984). All films that might have otherwise qualified. My list eventually began to take shape and I began to realise the extent to which the tradition of franchising had shaped the cinematic landscape for sci-fi from the 1970’s onwards. My awareness that sci-fi could be a cerebral, philosophical, metaphysical, and allegorical form of cinematic expression was highlighted at the age of 17 when I followed up a viewing of Men in Black (1997) with my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. A light bulb went off in my head, and from that point onwards my attitude to the genre and to the potentialities of cinema was altered forever. 2001 might be boring to some, but one cannot underestimate the breadth and scope of its ideas. In many ways that film alone led me on a path that would eventually end in the libraries of academia and my steadfast belief that cinema is the great art form of the 20th century and beyond. It was a film that truly altered my perception of cinema - and it was science-fiction. All this week The Film Connoisseur will be counting down our selections until the unveiling of the No 1 film on Friday. If you haven’t already I urge you to check out Francisco’s excellent blog, which is always well written, lively, intelligent and overflowing with enthusiasm for the wonderful world of cinema. Follow the links below for the results.

Number 5

Number 4

Number 3

Number 2

Number 1

© Shaun Anderson 2010

Friday, 23 April 2010

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)


Cannibals in the Streets
Cannibals in the City
Cannibal Massacre
Invasion of the Flesh Hunters

Italian journeyman filmmaker Antonio Margheriti certainly knows how to churn out a decent genre B movie. Like the majority of directors working in popular Italian cinema during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s Margheriti (who often used the nom de plume Anthony M. Dawson) had a high degree of skill in switching genres. He’s pretty much done it all - from Mario Bava inspired gothic horror like Horror Castle (1963) and Castle of Blood (1964) to gialli like Naked You Die (1968) and Seven Deaths in the Cats Eye (1973). Outside the horror genre Margheriti has directed science-fiction, spy adventures, sword and sandal peplum adventures, and war films. It is no surprise then that Cannibal Apocalypse which blends several sub-genres is a very enjoyable, confident, efficient, if somewhat mindless B movie that gives the director the opportunity to hone his skills at shooting action sequences.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Axe (1977)

Country: USA


Axe is a largely innocuous movie that didn’t deserve to find itself in the same company as garbage like Cannibal Ferox (1981) and Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977) in the early 1980’s. The reason for its banning was no doubt attributable to its title, and one wonders if it had been released in the UK under its original title of Lisa Lisa whether the film would have slipped quietly away into obscurity. Innocuous it is, but it is also a strange little film with a peculiar atmosphere and tone that was unusual for both the horror genre and the Grindhouse method of distribution for which it was designed. It was one of a proliferation of films regionally shot and independently produced in the 1970’s and naturally quite often betrays its amateurish origins (shaky handheld camera work, poor acting etc). However writer/director Frederick R. Friedel (who also plays the bearded Billy in the film) makes good use of his rural North Carolina location and concocts a weird, dreamy, and enigmatic film with an inscrutable and unforgettable protagonist in the shape of Lisa (Leslie Lee).

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Island of Death (1975)

Country: GREECE

Devils in Mykonos
Island of Perversion
Killing Daylight

This loathsome piece of exploitation garbage has steadily gained a cult reputation for being one of the most notorious films banned as a video nasty. The BBFC’s refusal to grant the film a certificate in anything other than a heavily cut form has aided its steady climb as one of the UK’s most forbidden films. The sheer exaggerated nature of the narrative, which includes almost every perverse act known to man, makes it a rather unique experience even to this day - and for 1975 would have been extremely shocking. Many of the films that found themselves the subject of state subjugation in the early 1980’s were shoddily made and very amateurish and should have been banned for the bad acting and tedium more than anything else. However there were an exclusive handful that at least looked good, and Island of Death is one of them. Nico Mastorakis is pretty much a one man show here - he directed, wrote, produced, and photographed the film, working with a very low budget, and in some cases non-professional actors (the two hippy rapists for example were tourists holidaying on the Greek island of Mykonos). Content aside one must have a grudging admiration for Mastorakis, who was only concerned with making a commercial movie (no aspirations for art here - despite what cult fans might think) and by and large this is a highly competent visual experience. On occasion the cinematography is very good and captures the simplistic beauty of the island and its community.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Inferno (1980)

Country: ITALY

If Dario Argento’s hyperbolic and hallucinatory shocker Suspiria (1977) was the Italian’s attempt to represent on screen the sensation and atmosphere of a nightmare then his second film too explore the mythical Three Mothers Inferno is an eccentric enigma wrapped inside a nightmare. Although the storyline of Inferno can be followed reasonably enough the film itself has an illogical internal structure that makes it unique in the filmography of Argento. It is the only horror film of Argento’s that at times drifts into the experimental territory of the avant-garde. It could be argued that Inferno is a nonsensical muddle, an example of how Argento’s writing became increasingly fragmented and prone to trite and stilted dialogue, but as a visual experience the film is a fascinating journey into a different sphere of understanding. Argento attempts to expand the baleful and malignant influence of the Three Mothers by locating the action in both Rome and New York. One visual error Argento makes is to represent both locations with a similar colour palette. He succeeds along with his DOP Romano Albini in making both settings suitably mysterious and frightening but the similarity of Rome and New York and the frequent cross-cutting between the two can create a sense of temporal and spatial confusion. The startling use of reds, greens, blues and yellows is carried over from Suspiria, but without the depth and richness that came with the Technicolor cinematography of the previous film. Although Argento is clearly aiming for temporal and spatial imbalance to aid his nightmare aesthetic for an audience it can be a little frustrating. At times Inferno is an irritating film.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tenebre (1982)

Country: ITALY

After the outlandish visual pyrotechnics of the hallucinatory Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) Italy’s chief exponent of horror Dario Argento returned to the plot complexities and red herrings of the giallo genre. In many ways though he had never left it. Beneath the thick layers of supernatural hocus-pocus that marked his nightmarish descent into the realm of the Three Mothers both Suspiria and Inferno functioned primarily within the parameters of the murder mystery format - this offered gialli a route into a dark and fantastic realm of phantasmagoria that few of Argento’s contemporaries chose to take up. Instead gialli limped on into the 1980’s with few innovations and began to lose favour with a public that had moved on to imported American slasher films. Argento at this time was in the enviable position where he could pretty much make whatever he liked, and despite one or two thematic departures, and one ill fated historical film, he has remained loyal to the narrative strategies of the giallo form. Unfortunately Tenebre is one of his least inspirational endeavours, and compared to the two films that preceded it is distinctly underwhelming.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)


Non si deve  profanare il sonno dei morte
The Living Dead
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Don't Open the Window

The inclusion of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) hit list of Video Nasties illustrates perfectly the way in which the horror genre itself was being suppressed. The rhetoric that suggested these films were a new breed of vicious horror film that had dropped out of the skies on an unsuspecting public is refuted by the thoughtfulness and intelligence of this film. This is no more offensive than say Night of the Living Dead (1968) and certainly less cheaply exploitative than some of Hammer’s tackier films from the early 1970’s. It is easy to overlook the fact that a number of the films banned were produced several years before. In the case of this film a decade before the media hysteria that led to its brief containment. Part of the unfairness of this was that a very good film like Living Dead… was associated with garbage and not allowed to exist as it should; within its own generic niche. It is a testament to the strength of video censorship in the 1980’s that only a distinct handful of the films classified as Video Nasties have been able to shake off this scandalous tag and subsist without the political and cultural connotations that doom so many to the level of mindless trash. In recent years Living Dead… has been able to recuperate its reputation to a certain extent. Now the film is viewed as an efficient retread of Romero’s principle themes and ideas within a rural English setting. And like Romero’s film also has the wherewithal to include a level of allegory.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Beyond (1981)

Country: ITALY

E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldila
Seven Doors of Death

Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is a frustratingly divisive horror movie. It represents everything that is both good and bad about the horror genre. Part of the appeal of horror movies (to less talented writers at least) is that the plotting and characterisation can take a back seat to the stylistic creation of terror and suspense. It is perhaps the only genre that can entirely do away with linearity, cause and effect, logical character arcs, and still make some kind of sense. The purpose may not necessarily be to tell a story, but to create a physical and emotional response. If a horror film can achieve this (depressingly few do), then it has at least succeeded on one level. The Beyond works extremely well on this level. Critics of the film are right to dismiss it as senseless, irrational, and absurd. But it is vital that those who attack the film recognise that, partially at least, this film is a roaring success. But The Beyond is also not the masterpiece some horror fans would have you believe. The Beyond is one of several films appropriated by those with an agenda too acclaim Lucio Fulci is an auteur, something that is truly absurd. The reality is that this movie is both a great horror film and meaningless trash.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Zombi 2 (1979)

Country: ITALY

Zombie Flesh Eaters
Island of the Flesh Eaters
Island of the Living Dead
Zombie 2: The Dead are Among Us

Over the years a lot of extraneous and superfluous baggage has attached itself to this low budget Italian horror production. It is a film that has always had a whiff of the taboo about it, its murky position in horror history assured as much by extra-textual events surrounding the film as it is by the merits of the film (of which there are many). Its production and release in Italy in 1979 was marred by legal controversy due to the efforts of producers Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci’s to market the film as a sequel to George A. Romero’s hugely successful Dawn of the Dead (1978 - released under the title Zombi in Italy and certain other European countries). This was something which particularly aggravated Dario Argento who as co-producer of Romero’s film oversaw its dissemination in Europe. The film managed to overcome this first obstacle and went on to become an enormous commercial success in Europe and America.

Guide to the Nasties: Part 4

Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, France/West Germany, 1981)
Aka: The Night the Screaming Stops (USA - reissue title)
Current UK Status: Released uncut on video in 1999

Pranks (Stephen Carpenter & Jeffrey Obrow, USA, 1982)
Aka: The Dorm that Dripped Blood (USA - original title)
Current UK Status: Released on DVD in 2001 with 10 seconds of cuts

Prisoner of the Cannibal God (Sergio Martino, Italy,1978)
Aka: La montagna del dio cannibale (original Italian title), Mountain of the Cannibal God (USA - DVD title), Slave of the Cannibal God (USA - censored version)
Current UK Status: Released on DVD in 2001 with 2 minutes 6 seconds of cuts

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Guide to the Nasties: Part 3

The House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci, Italy, 1981)
Aka: Quella villa acanto al cimitero (Italy - original title), Zombie Hell House (USA)
Current UK Status: Released uncut on DVD in 2009

The House on the Edge of the Park (Ruggero Deodato, Italy, 1980)
Aka: La casa sperduta nel parco (Italy - original title)
Current UK Status: Released on DVD in 2002 with 11 minutes 43 seconds of cuts

Human Experiments (Michael Laughlin, Australia/USA/New Zealand)
Aka: Strange Behaviour (original title), Dead Kids (Australia/USA - video title)
Current UK Status: Released on video in 1994 with 26 seconds of cuts

Friday, 2 April 2010

Guide to the Nasties: Part 2

Deep River Savages (Umberto Lenzi, Italy, 1972)
Aka: Il paese del sesso selvaggio (original title), Sacrifice (USA), The Man from the Deep River (International - English title)
Current UK Status: Released on DVD in 2003 with 3 minutes 45 seconds of cuts.

Delirium (Peter Maris, USA, 1979)
Aka: Psycho Puppet (USA - censored version)
Current UK Status: Released on video in 1987 with 16 seconds of cuts.

The Devil Hunter (Jesus Franco, Spain/France/West Germany, 1980)
Aka: Sexo canibal (original title), Mandingo Manhunter (USA), The Man Hunter (International - English title)
Current UK Status: Released uncut on DVD in 2008

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Guide to the Nasties: Part 1

Absurd (Joe D’Amato, Italy, 1981)
Aka: Rosso sangue (original title), Monster Hunter (USA), Horrible (France/USA - DVD title), Anthropophagus 2 (West Germany)
Current UK Status: Unavailable

The Anthropophagus Beast (Joe D’Amato, Italy, 1980)
Aka: Anthropophagus, Man Eater (West Germany), The Grim Reaper (US Censored Version).
Current UK Status: Released on DVD in 2002 under the title The Grim Reaper with 3 minutes of cuts.

Video Nasty Month: An Introduction

This month at The Celluloid Highway we are immersing ourselves in the murky and brutal world of the Video Nasties. This is no April fool as the dismembered body parts and eye gouged corpses can testify. To those outside the United Kingdom the term ‘Video Nasty’ may not hold the same resonance as it does for those of a certain generation who lived through the early days of the video rental boom. The period from 1980 to 1984 is seen by some as a halcyon time in which videos like Cannibal Holocaust (1979) and S. S. Experiment Camp (1976) could be legally rented in all their uncut vile glory. These were the days in which a film like I Spit on Your Grave (1978) was distributed without certification of any sort, offering those who were denied the opportunity to see it at the cinemas the chance to view it in the privacy of their homes. Of course this couldn’t last and part of the reason that these videos attracted such heat from the media, government, and pressure groups was a lack of self regulation within the relatively new industry. If the retailers had objected to the graphic art work of The Driller Killer (1979) instead of celebrating it, they might have had a year or two more in the sun, instead of the possibility of a heavy fine and a prison sentence.

Related Posts with Thumbnails