Video Nasties: Draconian Days ★★★★★

Easy As ABC

"Art can't be controlled by the taste-buds of lunatics."

With it having been 4 years since the release of the original Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, I think Video Nasties: Draconian Days easily circumnavigates any question of it being a cash-in.

The fact is that there is arguably even more to be said about Britain's treatment of so-called video nasties or films in general with sexual, violent or profane content. It would be great at some point to see Jake West, or anyone else for that matter, tackle the subject of how such films are treated by TV broadcasters and how they have been allowed to run roughshod over material in the past, cutting and editing films to suit their own broadcasting guidelines.

But Video Nasties: Draconian Days, far from being a 'here's some stuff we missed in the first documentary' effort, is actually in some ways a superior documentary. Slightly less of a polemic and particularly excellent at showing what a complex figure James Ferman, the head of the British Board Of Film Classification for almost a quarter of a century, was, it is both a brilliant companion piece to the original and a truly superlative documentary in its own right.

It would have been very easy for West, an obvious horror film nut whose love of horror films was constantly complicated by censorship, bans and even prosecutions, to have made this a very simple hatchet job on Ferman and his supporters. But he presents a remarkably level documentary in the face of some still infuriating memories and information about how things became during the late 80s to late 90s if you were a film fan.

Covering Ferman's ultimately fated decision to allow hardcore pornography to be more freely available in the UK is an interesting section of this documentary. There's no doubt in my mind that Ferman wasn't doing this to stick up for the poor unfortunates out there who had had to put up with censored knobbing for decades. He was doing so in an attempt to cement his own legacy and to further put a marker down that he was in charge of the distribution of film content in this country.

Even so, he did do it and he does credit for it, and also receives deserved credit for how he stuck up for Child's Play 3 when it was ludicrously labelled as the root cause of the murder of the toddler James Bolger. He was very, very clear in defending violent films against such accusations from the likes of Graham Bright, Teresa Gorman, David Alton, Mediawatch UK and assorted other clueless morons who thought that the flash of a knocker with some blood on it was going to cause the end of society.

Yet it contrasted sharply with his peculiar bugbear with martial arts films that had nunchucks and shuriken in them. His odd stance on sexual violence being of the 'right tone' to be included and his quite rightly widely eviscerated view that such content was more likely to affect the working classes than the middle or upper classes are also tackled here. West doesn't have any answers for why he held such grudges against these subjects and perhaps that's the only area where the film is slightly lacking. Some current input from Ferman here would have completed things. Mind you, Ferman's dead so I'll let West off on that point.

Another particularly interesting part of this documentary covers the underground trading of uncensored films that sprung up as censorship became even stricter. How a countrywide community of horror enthusiasts was born as a result, leading to a network of fanzines, books and even fairs and horror film festivals. It talks with many of the main players in said community, covering how they miss such gatherings and how in a way censorship strengthened a love of horror films in this country. In some ways, did censorship do these people a favour?

It's really splendid to see West take the time to cover these questions rather than just giving more oxygen of publicity to the likes of Bright. I was never part of such a community, really, quite possibly because I was maybe slightly too young. Also because I never left the house unless it was for crisps. Yet I spent a good few years there taping horror films off satellite TV, cramming as many as four or five of them on to long-play VHS tapes, scouring foreign channels for uncut or different versions and eagerly awaiting any gory premieres that Sky might offer up.

As soon as the internet came along and it became easier to access this kind of stuff, my interest in horror sadly waned. And I do truly mean sadly because horror films really were my route to a much wider appreciation of cinema. It's typical, isn't it? We complain about censorship and wanting to see uncensored art and then when we get it we complain that's it too easy to get hold of.

In a very similar way, I equate it to how I look at pornography now. Back at a similar time, the hottest thing you could hope for was for a Shannon Tweed film to be on after 11 on Sky Movies Plus. Then the internet came along, I got a job reviewing porn and I barely see anything these days that raises my temperature by a fraction of a degree.

West just finds the balance perfectly though. It's an interesting, challenging and informative documentary that spreads its net to impressively wide places and is also quite splendidly edited. Fascinating contributions from the likes of Martin Barker (who is just brilliant, I could listen to him talk about this subject all day), Alex Chandon and Nigel Wingrove especially as well as more of an insight into the inner workings of the BBFC all help to make this a quite marvellous piece of work by West.

Quite simply, one of the finest documentaries I've ever seen. I haven't watched the trailers of the 82 films that fell foul of the Director Of Public Prosecutions yet, but if they are as good as the similar collection was on the original boxset then it will complete a truly outstanding package. I'll probably be back later in the week to give a quick view on those as well, you lucky bastards.

Steve G liked these reviews