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Video nasty

Related: BBFC - 1980s - violent film - video covers - video nasties (long list) - exploitation film - film censorship - UK - VCR

Connoisseurs: Paul Flanagan

The Art of the Nasty (1999) - Nigel Wingrove, Marc Morris
[FR] [DE] [UK]


Video nasty was a term coined in the United Kingdom in the 1980s that originally applied to a number of films distributed on video that were held by some to be unfit for domestic viewing. Many of these "video nasties" were low-budget horror films produced in Italy and the United States. The furore created by the moral crusade against video nasties led to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984 which imposed a stricter code of censorhip on videos than was required for cinema release. Several major studio productions ended up being banned on video, falling foul of legislation that was designed to control the distribution of video nasties. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_nasty [Feb 2005]

Video Recordings Act 1984

The Video Recordings Act is a UK Act of Parliament that was passed into law in 1984.

The act states that commercial video recordings offered for sale or for hire within the UK must carry a classification that has been agreed upon by an authority designated by the Home Office.

The British Board of Film Classification, which had been instrumental in the certification of motion pictures since 1912 the British Board of Film Censors, was designated as the classifying authority in 1985. Works are classified under an age-rated system, (see motion picture rating systems) and as such, it is an offence to supply video works to individuals who are (or appear to be) under the age of the classification designated.

The act was a legislative reaction to a moral panic concerning "video nasties" that was sparked by tabloid newspapers in Britain during 1982 and 1983.

Sport, music, religious, and educational works are exempt from classification under the Act. Exemption may be forfeited if the work depicts excessive human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity, mutilation or torture of humans or animals, human genital organs or urinary or excretory functions, or techniques likely to be useful in the perpetration of criminal acts or illicit activity.

The Act was accompanied by the Video Recordings (Labelling) Act of 1985, which set out regulations governing the display of certificates awarded by the BBFC on published recordings.

The act was amended in the Video Recordings Act of 1993 but underwent no significant changes. It was amended again in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal with the growing issue of "video violence". In addition, the amendment extended the definition of a video recording to any device capable of storing electronic data, which invariably includes works available on DVD as well as CD and CD-ROM, although the amendment exempts video games. The labelling regulations were amended in 1985. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Recordings_Act_1984 [Dec 2005]

Kate Egan

Indeed, it is notable that, if “nasty” websites sometimes include pages of video covers, and sometimes include lists of running times, cuts and distributor details, every single site that I visited always has one central and identical staple - the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) list of “video nasties” (or, more specifically, the list of videos that, in the early 1980s, were deemed liable for prosecution under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act). While the contents of this list vary from site to site - something which is perhaps inevitable, considering that the DPP frequently removed and added titles to the list prior to the passing of the 1984 Video Recordings Act - it is always included, and is often given the air of a being an “official” list (in particular, on the Hysteria/Slasher/Nasties site, where the list is introduced as “…the original, the infamous, the banned, the…video-nasties” and on Wayney’s Movie World, where it’s described as “…the DPP’s original list of ‘Video Nasties’” --Kate Egan, The Amateur Historian and the Electronic Archive: Identity, Power and the Function of Lists, Facts and Memories on “Video Nasty”-Themed Websites via http://www.cult-media.com/issue3/Aegan.htm [Feb 2005]

Video nasty cover artwork

In the early 1980’s video recorders rapidly became a standard household item.  A new form of mass entertainment was readily available in the form of the (then) unregulated videocassette tape.  The most popular films, apart from pornography, were low budget horror films, many of which were to become known as Video Nasties.  There has been a great deal written about the Video Nasties issue from the point of view of censorship, but very little about the artwork used in the promotion of these videos.  The lifespan of this style of artwork lasted only a few years before government regulation took effect; indeed part of the appeal of the Video Nasties phenomenon lies in the ephemeral nature of these videos and their covers. --Paul Flanagan via http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/contamination/killer_covers.htm [Feb 2005]

Popular Culture

After the judge in the trial of James Bulger's killers cited the 'video nasty' Child's Play 3 as a possible incitement to the murder, newspapers and TV rang with anxiety about the influence of video violence. This increased after the film - about a homicidal demon doll called Chucky - was shown on satellite TV, watched by tens of thousands of children. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers was swept up in a similar controversy. --John Mullan

Video Nasties

Prior to the establishment of state censorship implemented in the Video Recordings Act of 1984, censorship was in the realms of the courts and the Obscene Publications Act. This required the courts to apply the test of whether videos were likely to "deprave and corrupt" the viewer. The Director Of Public Prosecutions maintained a list of those videos that were felt likely to be found obscene by the courts and hence worthwhile prosecuting. Of course, the real drivers behind the list were the UK press led by the ever obnoxious Daily Mail.

The information has been collated from various articles in the video press particularly Dark Side and Video World. Several versions of the list were published and the following reflects all videos that made it to the list at some time. Many were eventually removed reducing the list to the 39 titles that were successfully prosecuted. http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk/nasties.htm


  1. Child's Play 3 (1991) - Jack Bender [Amazon.com]

    The Child's Play series is a series of five horror movies featuring a doll named Chucky. The doll was possessed by the soul of a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray through means of a dark voodoo ritual.

    The first three movies are straight horror movies. The fourth movie, released seven years after the third, followed the trend set by Scream in emphasizing humour and lingering less on the scenes of high tension.

    Child's Play 3 was the subject of controvesy in the United Kingdom in 1993, when tabloid newspapers reported that Jon Venables and Robert Thompson had watched the film in the weeks before they killed Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger. In addition, scenes from the movie appeared to have been duplicated in Jamie's death and there were similarities between deaths in the movie and Jamie's death. Although no proof of their watching the film was ever presented, and though the film was never banned as some report, many video retailers removed the film series from the shelves in response to the public outcry. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child%27s_Play [Feb 2005]

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