Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Unenforcing the Video Recordings Act

Interesting news that the Video Recordings Act 1984, ushered in to ban the films on the Video Nasty list, was rushed through with such haste that the government of the time forgot to tell the European Commission, thus making it unenforceable. As stated in a piece in today's Guardian there is a wonderful symmetry between this cock-up and the idiocy of the act itself; and I can't help but think it makes the Video Nasty story, one of the most interesting episodes of horror history, all the richer.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The BBFC bans "Grotesque"

A quick mention should be made of the new Japanese horror film “Grotesque”, not one I was planning on seeing or had even heard of to be honest, though that has changed now “Grotesque” has attained instant infamy by being first film since the arthouse short “Visions of Ecstasy”, banned for blasphemy in 1989, to be rejected outright by the BBFC. This makes it the first horror film to be banned in Britain since the Video Nasty hysteria of 1984.

It was an article on that broke the news to me, in which BBFC director David Cooke is quoted as saying: ‘‘Unlike other recent ‘torture’-themed horror works, such as the Saw and Hostel series, Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism. The chief pleasure on offer seems to be in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake… Rejecting a work outright is a serious matter and the board considered whether the issue could be dealt with through cuts. However, given the unacceptable content featured throughout cutting the work is not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.’’

I can’t really comment until I actually see the film (which I’ll certainly be doing now it’s been banned, along with a lot of other people I’d imagine). But let it be said that one man’s “unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism” is another’s unflinching and direct exploration of violence and its effects; as always, the difficulty of violence as a subject matter means there is no right or wrong way of addressing it. If nothing else, I’m pretty sure "Grotesque" will be of more artistic worth than the rubbish Saw films anyway.

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Director: William Lustig
Writers: CA Rosenberg and Joe Spinell
USA 1980

Like the previously reviewed "The New York Ripper", "Maniac" is one of those banned eighties horror films that doesn't quite fit into the Video Nasty category, having been banned by the BBFC on release rather than caught up in the 1984 scare. It's a gruesome, effective serial killer study that slathers on the gore and sets up some engaging and tense set pieces. With a purity that rarely deviates from a formula of pursuit and murder and wastes no time on boring detective work, "Maniac" is thankfully bereft of the filler that makes so many giallo-style horror films of its era a chore to watch.

Frank is the maniac, a lonely man living in a New York apartment, obsessed with his dead mother and murdering young women who remind him of her. He scalps his victims and uses their hair as wigs for a collection of dummies who stand in for his mother, but his character isn't just a Norman Bates rip-off - more interestingly, the killings themselves and the media panic around them take obvious inspiration from the "Son of Sam" murders that terrorised New York a couple of years before the film was released, grounding the film in real-life history. The seedy New York location work contributes to this, and as in "The New York Ripper" the city is one of the stars of the film, a tense pursuit through a run-down, empty subway station being a particularly effective scene.

The crude stabs at psychology that underwrite Frank's character are heavy-handed and played for effect rather than meaning, but a great final scene reminiscent of Polanski's 1960s obsession with madness (via some full-on Day of the Dead-style gore) is a reminder that more respected directors don't have that great a track record when it comes to understanding portrayals of mental illness either. "Maniac" is anyway a piece of exploitation horror that despite an intelligent edge makes no claims to be otherwise, and one that in its pared-down, action-packed approach succeeds rather well.