An insight in to this years selection of thriller short films, showing at this years festival 24th September 2021.
Upstairs (Phillip Trow, 2020)
Upstairs is reminiscent of those awkward family dinners where the mere idea of meeting your spouse’s family sends shivers down your spine, but in the world of Upstairs the unpleasantness is turned up by quite a few notches as we follow the Saint family, comprised of matriarch Shirley (Heather Coombs), and her children Caroline (Yolanda Kettle), Jennifer (Sorcha Groundsell), and James (Luke Newberry). However, their family woes are far from mundane as the arrival of Caroline’s partner Tim (Iain De Caestecker),unravels a damning secret, bearing the true insanity that lies within the Saint’s walls. Upstairs forgoes conventionality as director Phillip Trow opts to present the sheer horror through creating a tense atmospheric tone, highlighted through a daunting environment and well written characters.
Left Alone in the Snow (Rickey Bird Jr., 2021)
We follow screenplay writer Lilly (Chelsea Newman), as she retreats to a secluded cabin in the snow, but as strange events begin to occur she must find a way to make it out alive. Being stranded all alone in a snowstorm is eerie enough, but imagine not being able to shake the feeling that your creepy neighbour is taking advantage of your solidarity. Left Alone in the Snow knows exactly how to play with your fears as filmmaker Rickey Bird Jr. pays homage to classic home invasion/revenge films such as I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978) and Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) to create a tense and thrilling winter’s tale. The micro-budget short does an excellent job at creating a gripping buildup that packs a rip roaring punch by the end.
Parting Frenzy (Ryan Freda, 2021)
Ryan Freda takes us on a twisted journey of the consequences of betrayal as we watch the breakdown of the relationship between Cate (Nicki Davy) and Lee (Kaya Moore). In true horror form we do not know who to side with or even what to believe as Freda superbly deceives us throughout. Parting Frenzy manages to tackle a traditional narrative in a new and exciting light through using its secluded setting to amplify the threat level, all the whilst generating a character study that is worthy of a feature length film.
Koreatown Ghost Story (Minsun Park & Teddy Tenenbaum, 2021)
Koreatown Ghost Story follows Mrs. Moon (played by the iconic Margaret Cho), an eccentric woman who finds herself in the company of Hannah (Lyrica Okano). Their somewhat normal-ish encounter soon takes a turn for the worse as Mrs. Moon hatches a sinister plan to bring her son Edward (Brandon Halvorsen) and Hannah together. The underlying supernatural elements to the film is just one way in which a terrifying atmosphere is conjured as the true terror lies within the twisted story that plays out with complete cinematic eloquence. The true advantage of the film lies within its secrecy, but just know that this epic short is not here to play, instead Koreatown Ghost Story positions itself amongst the absolute best.
Leo X. Robertson has a keen eye for the obscure, with his focus dwelling on the oddities of society, particularly seen in his bookUnfortunates (2021) which chronicles eight short and sadistic stories. Robertson’s second feature film Burnt Portraits captures his most exciting project to date as we are thrown into a dark and twisted world permeated with disguises, suspicions, and horrid truths.
Burnt Portraits follows a popular singer (Sam Crichton), whose naivety lands him in deep trouble as he finds himself in the company of a slightly unusual artist in his dim studio (also played by Robertson). Once ‘Singer’ awakens he quickly hits it off with the artist, forming an unexpected bond despite their differences. However, it’s not long until Singer’s trustiness sneaks up on him as sinister chaos begins to erupt…
Throughout the film you are left unchaperoned as the ‘who, what, when, and where’ remains principally anonymous, and although it may be second nature to surrender to conventionality Robertson takes the long way round and makes us work for the answers. As aforementioned, Singer ends up forming a brief kinship with the Artist.
As their mutual knowledge of one another grows we too get comfortable in their presence, meaning that when the film does a 180 it hits us as quite a shock. Although Robertson takes time in unveiling the film’s catalyst the slowburn route is certainly worthwhile. What facilitates Burnt Portraitslingering disentanglement is the stylistic rejection of coloured film in favour of using black and white. Through foregoing the modern tradition of colour imagery the environment becomes stark and casted in dark shadows, ensuring that the film leaves a visual mark upon its viewer.
Backing Burnt Portraitsmelancholic undertone is the isolating narrative that jolts a sense of unease throughout the 99 minute run time. The story takes place in one setting (albeit a large setting), an art studio. But despite the presence of the pair it still feels entirely abandoned and neglected. When we are introduced to Singer the room is somewhat lonely and dark, but the Artist soon turns on the lights. Rather than relaxing in the brightness I found the illumination unwelcoming, as if whatever is ‘out there’ can see even easier, an idle trap. But that’s the beauty of Burnt Portraits, besides the detailed character depth and the progression of the intensity, one of the most harrowing moments relies upon the unknowingness of the situation.
Burnt Portraits is even more noble when you take into account its small crew and budget, even the set itself was offered up by Crichton’s mother who thought that the basement to her art studio set the perfect scene for a horror film (she was definitely right!). The film is a clear labour of love and its independent background is a great entry into indie-horror.
Whilst Roberston is just one of the many exciting up-and-coming creators in the field, his unique portrayal of harrowing horror is hauntingly impressive, and I for one hope to see more of his horrific visions make it onto the screen.
You can check out the world premiere of Burnt Portraits on Friday 24th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Transcending into a cathartic chaos is Prano Bailey-Bond’sCensor, a tragically stunning yet deceitful enigma that allures as much as it challenges and repels. Birthing Censor’s righteous battle of truth and fiction is a closely confined trip of what grief can manifest and how our own senses and thoughts can be a source of both protection and betrayal.
Censor is positioned at a dreadfully treacherous era for cinema during the ‘video nasty’ epidemic which saw a nationwide moral panic erupt when home video was introduced. Headlines boasting about moral corruption and the translation of violence on screen would commonly feature on every news outlet, brainwashing the public into a state of malleability, forcing the government to create the Video Recordings Act (1984).
With the film bans, fines, and prosecutions also came an entitlement that meant that the BBFC had a ‘duty of care’, allowing film censors near ultimate control.
Censor uses this history as a walkway for the true narrative to run. We witness Enid (Niamh Algar), a tightly wound film classifier slowly slip into a state of hysterical paranoia after becoming entranced by a film directed by the absent Frederick North (Adrian Schiller) titled ‘Don’t Go in the Church’. Enid immediately links the disturbing film to the mysterious disappearance of her sister, sending her into an entwined matrix of instability, obsession, and turmoil.
Enid’s demeanour is strong as she continuously likens her profession to the job of a “protector”, guarding the innocent from the obscene. Her unyielding attitude sits authortainly with her, despite the fact that there is a hinted notion that her co-workers idly embroider her as an over disciplined conformist as they happily ask her to type up their notes and have no trouble in a bit of break-room gossip regarding her conduct. Forming from this is an awareness of her isolation.
It is made clear that since her sister’s disappearance she has been a lone rider whose evening routine is a solo walk home followed by a crossword. Enid may specialise in watching absurd material, but her personal life is blank.
For me this is what was one of the most brewing & unnerving aspects of Censor. The preconception of Enid being the ‘odd-one-out’ at work accompanied by her lonely habitat made her descent into this rabbit hole entirely chilling. It’s this drastic shift from a dull existence to a frenzied nightmare that took me by surprise as there is no comfort, even before the terror starts. During her solarity I kept waiting for something to jump out from behind the couch or for a ghostly shadow to walk past startling the silence, but Bailey-Bond refuses to give us that relief. Instead she forces you to feel alone like Enid, and sit and steam in the unknown.
Joining this impending dread found in loneliness is the implication of harm from your surroundings. The video nasty panic surged like wildfire amongst the British public, in essence the ludicrousness overshadowed the genuinity of the threat. What resulted from this was a generalised phobia over videos. Bailey-Bond imitates this supposed ‘hazard’ in a joviant yet serious manner through associating the mechanics of a video itself with horror. Multiple shots are shown of a blank tv screen illuminated by that familiar fuzz, accompanying these visuals is a starkly dark sound of muted terror, alongside a fearful expression coming from Enid. Continuing this mimicry is the various tones of blue and red and static overlays which are commonly featured throughout the film’s most harrowing scenes.
Censor bravely stares back at you, valiantly questioning the audience’s morals. We side with Enid, but should we? And like a blistering volcano waiting to burst, Censor tiptoes around our expectations to create a threat level where we are more frightened about whatis not shown than what is.
You can check out Censor on Friday 24th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Also check our article on ‘Video Nasties‘ from earlier in the year here.
The August Club is everything you could want in a comedy horror all wrapped up with innovative character designs, excellent theming, and a creative design. Taking us on this Goosebumps-esque journey is the timid Noah (James Grainger), and the boisterous Jack (Lucas Byrne) who have no other choice but to form an unlikely friendship after a detention at the beginning of summer ends up with them being bullied into visiting a creepy old house that is rumoured to be haunted by a ghastly vampire known as Count Varias (David Lavery).
The August Club is the definition of a passion project as creator Daniel Richardson has built this dark imaginative journey from the ground up. The fantastical elements ring to the nostalgic tones of childhood adventures. Within minutes you’ll be transported back in time to the easier days where telling a creepy story at a sleepover would leave shivers down your spine for days; and this is exactly what Richardson brings back to life, a sense of simplicity within horror. You don’t need buckets of blood and guts to be spooked, instead a good old ‘bump in the night’ story is all that is needed.
Allowing this exciting tale to come to life is the setting, character backstory, mood, and tone. The film is born and bred in the North East of England, with the Yorkshire setting casting a gloomy grey skyline over Count Varias’s grim manor, generating a daunting thematic impression. Continuing this fabrication of horror-filled doom is the ominous vampire lair that is caked in horror iconography, with plenty of cobwebs, chains, skulls, and an intimidatingly large coffin hosting the Count himself.
This ‘haunted setting is a drastic world apart from Jack and Noah’s ordinary surroundings, which is rife with a realist undertone. Richardson isn’t afraid to dive into Jack and Noah’s background. Jack bears a brave personality where nothing scares him, but the thought of him returning home to his reckless family terrifies him. Whereas Noah is over-sheltered to the point that he has no friends and spends his days alone.
The August Club is a must watch that will have you laughing one minute and then amazed by the horror the next!
You can check out The August Club on Saturday 25th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Entwining a rich story of loss, both through the self and otherwise is Wyvern Hill, a haunting analogy of what it means to be astray in a world of uncertainty. Manifesting the film’s harrowing expressions is director Jonathan Zaurin, and writer Keith Temple. Together Temple and Zaurin leave a lingering mark on the traditional haunted house narrative. But, do not be fooled, although Wyvern Hill may invest in the exterior of an archetypal ghost story, what lies beneath the surface is a dispiriting feast of bodily betrayal and a disjointed sense of reality.
We follow Beth (Pat Garett), an older woman who is exhibiting the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Her daughter Jess (Ellie Jeffreys), and son in law Connor (Pete Bird) have a difficult time trying to accept Beth’s fate as she is all one her own. To combat the ‘inevitable’ they purchase an old country house on Wyvern Hill so that they can ensure comfort in her darkest days. However, instead of settling comfortably Beth begins to experience strange visions of an unknown past.
Wyvern Hill sways in and out of what we can perceive as reality. Cinema (particularly horror) that is brave enough to grip onto mental decay as its catalyst generally uses a sense of familiarity and reality as a contrast; when one suffers with Alzhermers they may experience confusion over time and place as well as a loss of their own past and present memories. On screen this diffusion of the self typically portrays the false memories and confusion as clear cut, there is no doubt that what we see is simply a figment of the individual imagination, however Zaurin refuses to create an easy path for us. Beth’s ‘false’ perceptions are not easily distinguishable, instead we are lost whilst watching. There is nothing that we can trust, creating a vicious sense of agitation and anxiety.
Furthering this terrifying perplexity is the exploration of the films’ joining’ subplot. Wyvern Hill somehow manages to create an idyllic marriage of a haunting tale of isolating identity and a gory slasher with a tastefully bloody ambience. The film is not emotionally chronological as it relishes in juxtaposing a sanity-exploring narrative with a dishevelled festival of carnage. This revelation is best left as a surprise, so I’ll spare the plot spoilers, but be prepared for a ferocious parade of the abyss, particularly shown in the opening scene.
Within minutes we are shown a masked assailant prodding at a lifeless body and lifting it up like a puppet on a string, whilst slimy maggots squirm around leftover body parts. The imagery is not only a visceral shock, but also a tortuous insight warning us that this is no ordinary film. Before you ponder over the amalgamation of themes, know that this slasher-esque essence fits in with the rural drama elements like a perfect puzzle.
Zaurin’s purposeful trickery is one of the film’s most creditable elements that I have yet to see in any other film, there is no spoon-feeding, we are on our own. Wyvern Hill is a feast for the senses, cementing its statue as a film to be remembered.
You can check out the world premiere of Wyvern Hill on Friday 24th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Hellbent on mashing the barbarism of westerns with the seductive appeal of vampires, topped with a slew of brutal action and profanity is Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 superb horror film ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’.
In the wake of a heist with multiple deaths, fugitives Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his brother Richie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) further their crime spree as they take Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his two teenage children hostage to help them over the border to Mexico to escape from their misdeeds. But their quick stop at a truckers bar turns into bloody carnage as the bar is riddled with thirsty vampires.
From Dusk Till Dawn has taken center stage in the 1990s horror scene ever since its release, partly due to the top tier casting. Featuring is an ample level of star power as we see Danny Trejo, Fred Williamson, John Saxon, Juliette Lewis, and special effect royalty Tom Savini join Clooney, Keitel, and Tarantino.
The film plays out as two acts. The first half is a tense action-thriller with guns and reckless thieves fuelling the narrative. Seth smoothly portrays the ‘good-guy-bad-guy’ role, with his villainous actions being pushed to one side as his slight moralistic touch puts him in our good books. Whereas Richie is a nihilistic psychopath with perverted tendencies. Coupling the rogue brothers’ feisty persona’s is the quintessential conventions that action films relish in, including quick pacing, power divides, and deadpan humour.
It’s evident that the witty dialogue and lack of sensitivity is due to Tarantino’s input as the screenplay writer, but what strikes a cord the most throughout this purposefully misleading first half is its necessity and importance. The film manages to do the impossible as it brews a slow build up, taking its time to generate a familiarity with the characters, almost forcing us into submission where we just have to carry on watching to find out who stays alive. With the foreboding story delaying a release we sort of relax, allowing Rodriguez to pull the rug out from underneath us and shock us with a sexually amped world of slaughter.
We become comfortable in what we know, thus when the vampires attack it’s quite a shock to the system. However, instead of being confused and put off by the sudden change we revel in the delight of nonsensical violence.
Granting From Dusk Till Dawn’s fluidity from action to horror is a combination of eccentric characterisation and the outlandish setting, which is indisputably a feast for the eyes. After the Gecko’s and Fuller’s reach Mexico they reach their final stop before freedom as they plan to meet a contact that will take them to a hidden fugitive hideout. However, the aptly named “Titty-Twister” doesn’t just house drunken dirty men ogling over the bar’s strippers, but also a coven of lusty vampires. Rodriguez didn’t just name the bar crudely for a quick giggle, the dive’ truly wallows in titillating essences, particularly through the erotic dancing and bawdy egos of the bikers in attendance.
Vampires naturally exude a bodily charm that both fascinate and repel. From Dusk Till Dawn understands this power and uses it as a comical guise to accelerate the action. After watching Santanico (Salma Hayek) perform, the tantalisation reaches a peak, but within minutes the gawking crowd are ripped to shreds as the vampires transform into frightful reptile-like beasts baring their fangs and feasting on whoever they please. Similarly to the disturbance of the genre change half-way through, the sudden vampire attack on the mere mortals proves that Rodriguez is not here to play.
The erupting second half explicitly displays as much gratuitous violence as possible (the film was even banned in Ireland for eight years!). Decapitations, impalements, stabbings, shootings, and bodies being set on fire are just some of the film’s most lawless moments. Inducing the B-movie aesthetic even further is the quasi neo-western elements that prove the unruliness of the film’s ambience, such as violent gang mentality, border crossing, bar fights, dusty tonal palettes, and vast desert settings. Rather than this mashup of themes becoming excessive, it simply adds to the chaos and sheer pandemonium that is From Dusk Till Dawn.
The constant switching of events encompassed by an abundance of splatter and violence is not only cinematically impressive, but also a wild take on the typical creature feature that you are sure to not forget…
We’ll be screening From Dusk Till Dawn on Saturday 25th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Sean Nichols Lynch brings us Red Snow, a genre bending vampire film that crumples the conventions of the genre through purposeful deception and dismantling everything you thought you knew about vampires.
Taking us on the journey is Olivia Romo (Dennice Cisneros), a struggling vampire romance novelist who is all alone on Christmas at her family’s cozy cabin by Lake Tahoe. Her loneliness at the supposed ‘happiest time of the year’ takes a hopeful turn as she finds herself in the company of Luke (Nico Bellamy), a real life vampire. Although her dreams have come true she must now battle with mistrust and the looming consequences…
Although it would be easy for Red Snow to develop into another archetypal holiday romance, accompanied by immortals, Lynch disavows any soppiness in favour of pushing a rich and introspective narrative that only furthers the incredibly dimensional characters. Olivia and Luke are rounded, their bond as ostracised people is inexplicably computed as their chemistry burns bright throughout. The pair’s kinship is warming without overshadowing their own individual personalities as their sole personas propel a certain air of charm that forces the viewer into a sympathetic position.
That’s not to say that sentiment dominates, as Luke and the rest of the vampire coven are undeniably capable of creating unease. The vampires that exist within the world of Red Snow are vicious, unnerving, and spine-tingling, but what truly furthers their ruthlessness is an apt humanness that Lynch bravely anchors onto.
A key plot motivation is how Olivia’s failing book relies too much on vampire tropes, and with Luke’s assistance she uncovers that these creatures can identify with the excitements and trials just as much as mundane humans can. And it’s this relatability where the film’s horror stems from- they know that their savageness is wrong but they persist in continuing their frightening lifestyle. It’s this precise reason as to why Red Snow lingers with me, the budding bond between Luke and Olivia is admirable, but Lynch toys with what we know and expect to see in a vampire film, diminishing any predictability.
Ensuring that Red Snow evokes an emotive response are the performances by both Bellamy and Cisneros who beyond a shadow of doubt create an immersive experience. Olivia isn’t drawn as a vampire-fangirl dreaming of someone sweeping her off her feet, instead she’s not unfamiliar to insecurities and is grounded in reality. Similarly to Luke, although he is presented with that classic bad boy charm, his sensitivity gradually comes to light. Lynch boldly bares the heart of the film whilst not slumping the threat.
Red Snow challenges what we know as the distinctive vampire chronicle, however, it still uses some genre highlights but in a more innovative form. Fairly on we are introduced to Julius King (Vernon Wells), an infamous vampire hunter part of a much larger group known as The Severon Group. Wells has already cemented his reputation within cinema through his roles in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Weird Science (1985), which highlights his dramatic knack for eccentricity, with Red Snow being no exception to his flair as the role of Julius King is what drops the tension in the first place and makes us second guess Luke’s true intentions.
The fleshed out story is not the only factor worthy of praise as the marriage between the setting and the overall aesthetic harmonises together to form a visual banquet. Olivia’s fondness for the macabre at Christmas time did make me chuckle, joining the shining baubles on the tree is vampire fang decorations and instead of wearing snowman holiday jumpers she dons Nosferatu T-shirts, a girl after my own heart. Red Snow completely took me by surprise every step of the way, cementing itself as a solid entry into both vampire and holiday horror.
You can check out Red Snow on Saturday 25th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Social media brazenly bites back in this upcoming found footage horror film, Followers. Directed by Marcus Harben and starring Harry Jarvis (The Knight Before Christmas) and Loreece Harrison (Black Mirror), we follow the arrogant influencer, Jonty (Jarvis) as he and his university flatmates awaken a dark force that brings them online attention, but at what cost?
It’s best to abandon preconceptions regarding found footage films as this buzz-worthy horror fluently toys with audience expectations leaving us unsure of what to expect and untrusting of every individual. Taking the stance of using contemporary trends such as ‘social influencers’ alongside an age-old ghost tale creates a unique film that both scares and amuses the viewer.
As with many independent horrors Followers was made on a lower budget, but any amateur effects are hastily avoided. The film quite guilefully uses the indie cinema stance to its advantage; excessive goreand arealistic setting provide a sturdy backbone that immerses us in the situation. Built alongside these technicalities is a witty commentary on the ridiculousness that can come with social media fame. However, unlike other recent films that tackle online status whilst wrongly mock this profession, Followers focuses upon how easily this modern career can morally alter an individual’s judgment.
Tiptoeing in is one of the film’s most unparalleled charms, the lack of animosity. A bloating amount of found footage films take advantage of the personalisation that naturally ties in with the sub-genre. In Followers we see the narrative play out entirely with nothing ‘hidden’. On screen we see the disputes, falseness of paranormal activity, and the troubling aftermath. We do not receive a title card warning us that the filmmakers are still lost or how they don’t know how or why their fates met terrible ends. It’s this lack of discretion and ambiguity that yields its magnetism.
Followers hit’s the ground fast, with quick pacing that bravely dives into the antics rather soon. Leading a film with an intense narrative concentration during the first act can be difficult to maintain, but Followers does just this, all the whilst reaching an even higher level of tension during climactic scenes, yet Followers is in it for the long run. From beginning to end an unpredictable and haunting storyline is thoroughly played out, making this film definitely one to add to the watchlist.
You can check out Followers on Saturday 25th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Back in 2008 three friends Hannah Bungard, Miles Watts, and Tony Hipwell took up the ingenious idea of mashing the upcoming blog craze with good ole’ zombies to create the hit web series Zomblogalypse. Across the years the hype for this ultra-violent, yet hilariously amusing web series only grew, so why not make it into a movie?
Zomblogalypse follows a group of three ineffective survivors of a zombie outbreak, however instead of wallowing in despair over the world being ripped to shreds Hannah, Miles, and Tony find alternative ways to pass the time, including blogging their adventures in this wild and quaint lifestyle they have found themselves in post-apocalypse.
Comedy and zombies are two peas in a pod, but this subgenre has had its edginess worn down over the years as hundreds of quick-buck’ horror’s have saturated the market, but do not be fooled,Zomblogalypse is fresh, exciting, and beyond a doubt ludicrously entertaining. Boasting about great fun and silly events is all well and good, but you also need a strong backbone that supports the film amongst all the buffoonery. Zomblogalypse is certainly not without its wits as the ultra gory and ghastly zombie practical effects shine a light on the immense craft that has clearly gone into creating the film.
When it comes to a zombie film, the undead is typically just one piece that brings the whole puzzle together, though that certainly doesn’t mean that their importance goes undetected. Throughout the film the SFX team does not hold back, expect to see plenty of rotting, decaying flesh, accompanied by stringy tendons and flailing limbs! The entire ‘look’ of the zombies breaks any micro-budget conventions as they really are a horrendous sight to look at, even a bit too frightful, seriously their horrific appearance will definitely linger with you…
This visual bravado undoubtedly excels. But Zomblogalypse would not be the same without the spirited characters of Hannah, Miles, and Tom who put on a great performance. Throughout the film, I couldn’t fail to notice an unequivocal sense of Britishness that leads to many laughs. Instead of focusing too much on the hurrah of the end of the world, we are treated to plenty of everyday household squabbles and general bickering. And that’s why Zomblogalypse totally works, it knows not to take itself too seriously, thus perfecting a noble level of comedic timing.
The film makes the brave decision of using found footage to drive the film. Found footage has somewhat of a ‘marmite’ reputation amongst horror fans, you either love it or you hate it. Nevertheless, the effectiveness is all the same. The intimate method takes you on the journey with the gang, making sure that we get to see every little tidbit, particularly the haphazardous ways in which they battle the zombies.
Zomblogalypse deserves to be raved about. I have been put off once or twice by zombie comedies in the past, but I can admit that this web series turned future movie hit has definitely changed my mind for the better. Adding to this unmatched gem is the homegrown essence. Bungard, Hipwell, and Watts created the original series with no financial backing whatsoever, and across the years they have formed a movie that has already received great buzz. The heart that has gone into the film is obvious and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.
You can check out Zomblogalypse on Sunday 26th September 2021 at this years fest, tickets and details here.
Censorship has consistently exerted a high level of control over what is and is not acceptable to be viewed. In particular, The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has made sure that horror has endured a string of scrutiny for decades, leaving a trail of irony, criticism, and controversy across horror history. The BBFC is the ruling authority that has been in power since 1912 due to the Cinematograph act 1909 which regulated what films were granted permission to be screened at the cinema.
As time has progressed a series of changes has been made internally within the BBFC, with the primary alteration surrounding the changing role of the chief censor. At first, the BBFC was rather friendly with somewhat obscene material, as Chief John Trevelyan had a more open view of acceptability, take for example Ken Russel’s The Devils (1971). Trevelyan passed this film which was not shy about exposing sacrilegious imagery with an X rating. This soon transpired a series of outrage from the British Public. However, this brief enlightening of liberalization was harshly interrupted by the arrival of home video.
In 1979 video players were first released in all high street shops, available to anyone. Regardless of one’s age you could view any material no matter the content as film’s did not have to go through the rigmarole of censoring. In retrospect the introduction of this marvellous invention is ground breaking, yet many mainstream distributors were more than reluctant to release any films, as they saw it as a threat to cinema and piracy infringements. This reluctance aided an influx of low budget horror films to dominate the market. TV was no longer solely there to appease family values, instead it was a chance to watch lurid and explicit content without numerous cuts and interferences. The accessibility was viewed as a major threat to the “youth of Britain’s mental health”, as supposedly these graphic horrors could literally possess children and force them to repeat the acts that they saw on screen.
Quite understandably, this new territory could have been minutely intimidating, but the painstakingly long journey that horror went through to gain integration into the mainstream was beyond dramatically treacherous. The nation, bargained by the media, believed that these films were serious enough to be considered a moral panic, meaning that a general feeling of fear was felt across society mainly due to scaremongering and falsely constructed information. The barrage of terror was helmed by the one and only Mary Whitehouse, who for those who may not know is horror’s worst enemy.
Whitehouse alongside the National Viewers and Listeners Association (now Mediawatch-UK) launched the Clean-up TV campaign which garnered over 500,000 signatures. The crusade gained both government and media attention very quickly, resulting in mass vexation. Soon titles such as “How High Street Horror is Invading the Home’‘ (The Sunday Times, 1982) dominated newspapers, with The Daily Mail jumpstarting their own campaign literally called “Ban the Sadist Video”. The most ludicrous statement of them all can be seen in an interview with MP Graham Bright who states that the video nasties will even affect your family pets! Whilst every outlet was busy fabricating how these films were corrupting the youth of Britain, the actual films themselves were basking in the attention, their sales had gone through the roof. Supposedly the saying of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ is true after all.
With the hatred was this arrival of attention which made people crave the gore even more. The fantastical cover artwork was purposefully daring, alluring audiences in with the promise of salacious material. Half of the time the covers and titles were far more smutty than the films could ever be. For example, The Toolbox Murders(Dennis Donnelly, 1978) vividly presents a nude woman crouched in front of a masked man wielding a phallically held drill. But the moral campaigners decided to forgo actually watching the content to decipher the actual material, apparently the cover was enough alone to ban this film.
This judgemental notion was truly enforced once Whitehouse, alongside PM Margaret Thatcher, and MP Gareth Wardell had briefly introduced a harsher version of the already implicated Obscene Publication Act 1959 (OPA act), which saw the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) create a list of films that breached the OPA act, the list was modified monthly and at one point featured 72 titles including the now classics Cannibal Holocuast(Ruggero Deodato, 1980), I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarchi, 1978), and The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972). The list proved faulty, but instead of rationalising the seriousness of the ‘issue’ the panic continued to surge, resulting in The Videos Recording Act 1984 (VRA Act) being introduced. From this point on copious films were illegal to sell, with video shops selling such material even facing jail time alongside a hefty fine and license stripping.
With this, the video nasties were officially born. The arrival of the VRA act was damning for future productions, but what truly cast their baptism as dreadful films tainting the scoundrels who dared to watch them was the comedic irony of the whole situation. The papers who blasted the nasties were so strict and constant in their abuse that naturally, the public conformed to what they were being told. In the 1980s there was no social media to get a second opinion, the views were majorly swayed. The moral panic was gradually slowed due to the VRA, with the nasties becoming old news. It wasn’t until years later when these films began to emerge from the pits of darkness (where they supposedly belong), and although horror is home to some pretty grim material some films have still never been released uncut.
The nasties are gone but not forgotten. Villainizing a film is effective to a degree if you are sat on the opposite side, but eventually, the opposition will fall. Brainwashing the public to see the nasties as detrimental undoubtedly worked, yet it is widely known that the peddle pushing did not revolve entirely around the content; the threat of the unknown stayed close within the BBFC’s peripheral, these people were comfortable with their right lifestyle, and the nasties that had injected themselves into Britain’s mainstream were mainly Italian and American produced, showing a whole new set of cultural values. The conformity of the ‘known’ was breaking down, thus forcing traditional British values to be malleable and no longer set in stone. The fear did not solely surround the content of the nasties, but instead the alarm was rung due to the uncharted territory that the films invited in.
Within the current climate, one can view whatever material they wish at the click of a keypad. The iceberg system of disturbing horror would have genuinely caused an entire breakdown across the country if films such as A Serbian Film (Srdjan Spasojevic, 2010) had been released in Britain back then. Even in this day and age, Spasojevic’s exploration into exploitation cinema had major issues with censorship from the BBFC, with multiple cuts being necessary for a release. Audiences are still being tested to this day, many films including A Serbian Filmare not overly controversial in comparison to some of horror’s most daring ventures, take for example The Bunny Game (Adam Rehmeier, 2010). Rehmeier is the creator of one of the most harrowing tales legal cinema has ever seen.
What can be taken away from the video nasty era is the sense of miscontrol that the genre really has. Although profits have soared and popularity has grown there will always be a stigma against the content. The nasties are a reminder that liberalization within cinema is still a touchy subject.
The days of the nasties seem so long ago, but instead of that section of history being dead and buried it seems that censorship lives on, not necessarily through the BBFC but through public attitudes to the weird and wonderful world of horror.