Video Nasties (part 1)

Posted: November 16, 2008 in Films, The Horror
Tags: , , , ,

In 1984 the British Department of Public Prosecutions issued the Video Recordings act, outlawing 39 horror films released on video cassette. The tabloid press labelled them the “Video Nasties.” Most of these films have now returned uncut on DVD, but, a quarter of a century on, are they worth the bother? Find out as two films selected for their similarities fight through four brutal catagories in…battlelogojpeg

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Notoriety

I Spit on Your Grave is king here, having received outright bans in various countries and the current UK DVD release is still missing 41 seconds. Mostly due to its title and ingenious marketing, which had very little to do with the film itself, this has become one of the most notorious nasties. 9/10

Last House on the Left is not widely known to those unfamiliar with the horror genre, lacking in a title of shock and awe. The “keep repeating, it’s only a movie” tagline may produce a comforting wave of nostalgic outrage in a small sector of the moral majority, though. 3/10

DVD Editions

Bizarrely, I Spit gets the THX certified treatment in the R1 Millennium Edition meaning this uncut print of the 1976 film looks fantastic, a commentary from bonkers director Meir Zarchi which goes some way to explaining his misguided and misunderstood attempt to strike a blow for rape victims, and film critic Joe Bob Briggs who at some points gets close to realising how risible the movie is. Also the usual trailers etc which are of some historical interest. 8/10

The new British Ultimate Edition of Last House lives up to its name with exhaustive extras that can provide months or a one very long night of entertainment, depending on the viewer’s enthusiasm levels. Three discs are rammed with facts and interviews surrounding this fascinating film. A personal favourite part being the interviews with star David Hess, who tries painfully hard not to be like his on-screen persona, whilst paradoxically being employed in the hope that he does so. Adding to the hilarity is co-star, and latterly porn producer Frank Lincoln who rejects this work as amoral, inexplicably citing it as responsible for “eighty rapes in America.” He insists he had a “great time” during production, though. Add interviews with Cagney and Lacey’s Martin Kove and you’re in for featurettes as eccentric as the film itself. Shot on blurry 16mm, the film looks about as good as its likely to for the foreseeable future, and so any HD version would be pointless. The inaptly named Carl Daft gives a heartrending account of his battle with the BBFC to give the UK an uncut DVD release. 10/10

The Films

Meir Zarchi claims I Spit to be made as a reaction his seeing a gang rape victim, ignored and bloodied in a police station, and so around a third of the running time is a rape scene, a third whilst the protagonist exacts revenge and the other third is spent asleep. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity, but Schindler’s List it isn’t and the single offensive thing about I Spit is that such a poor film should be made about the upsetting subject matter. The script, which he gleefully proclaims to have been written in 20 minute intervals during his commute, is very, very poor with the all the characters behaving strangely with no insights into anything at all. The editing, which Zarchi performed himself over the period of a year, is tortuously slow, embarrassing the actors (who appear to deal well with a difficult task) as they are shown walking and shuffling, filling long gaps between lines of silly dialogue, the lack of musical soundtrack heightening the effect. The only way to view this film without suffering suicidal tedium is as a comedy – a few friends and beers and retarded character Mathew’s assertions that he “can’t come”, or lead rapist Johnny’s reasoning that his actions were “what any man would have done” are hilarious. 2/10 

Contrastingly, 1971’s Last House on the Left is far from boring and gallops through its 83 minutes with the enthusiasm of some loosed steroidal stallion. I would take issue with the film’s commonly perceived status as the first slasher movie, as the characters are far in advance of the masked cartoons of the genre. The acting as all the artistic qualities far outweigh the $90,000 budget and first-time director status of Wes Craven as well as a crew experienced only in the making of documentaries enhance rather than limit the making of what was an experimental film. The violence can be genuinely affecting and depressing, evoking a time of the Manson murders and Vietnam as the tale which is on the surface one of good and evil, but occasionally slips into one of the futility of conflict. The folk music of the soundtrack provides a distracting lyrical aside to the action, its humour misplaced here, but the more avant garde pieces during the murders are quite effectual, which the naïve clangings and synth squelchings producing a surprisingly chilling atmosphere to the fraught scenes of abuse. This film far outguns its status as “video nasty” and this is as good as real-world horror gets. 9/10

Gore content

I Spit contains little blood letting, and whilst the famous castration scene is reasonably effective the other deaths are laughably poor. The elongated rape scene contains a few hair raising moments, but more due to the ill-treated subject matter and consistent screaming than anything else. 3/10 

Last House is also remarkably free of gore for a work so tirelessly pursued by the censors, but what little there is enhances a harrowing view. 4/10

Result

Last House slays I Spit by four points, remaining a classically powerful piece of horror cinema as opposed to a curio which, like many of the nasties, may well have been forgotten were it not for attempts prevent its distribution.

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