Thursday, 13 May 2021

In this month's... Sight & Sound (June 2021)

The latest issue of Fangoria Sight & Sound has arrived and it's refreshing to see the magazine letting its hair down and having a bit of fun on the cover, with Butcher Billy's splendid Video Nasties themed artwork set against a background of color bands that mimic the rainbow lines motif commonly seen on slipcases that housed blank VHS tapes. Inside the magazine Mark Kermode speaks to director Prano Bailey-Bond about her 2021 film Censor set during Britain's halcyon pre-cert VHS era of the early 80's when a slew of violent and transgressive films, many of which had been refused a certificate for cinema exhibition were made available on video. In the film, a censor initially repelled by the content of the videos she examines is drawn into the world of low budget horror films to the point where she can no longer distinguish reality from make believe. On paper it sounds like a mash-up of Videodrome and Berberian Sound Studio, and it will be interesting to see if Sight & Sound's endorsement (S&S writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has called the film "an electrifying debut") is deserved. The film is reviewed in the July issue.

Sight & Sound (June 2021)

One particular ace up Censor's sleeve is the involvement of Kim Newman, serving as the film's executive producer and advisor, and for the Sight & Sound issue he contributes a fine essay on this most controversial chapter of British home video history. Newman recalls that during the debate on the subject, there was the question among film scholars as to whether the titles that were caught up in the dragnet constituted an actual genre a la film noir, or were simply a collection of disparate films that were chosen with little more than a glance at their lurid titles and VHS artwork. It's a fascinating question and worthy of discussion but as Newman reflects, the notion had real life consequences for the anxious videoshop owner who was never quite sure if having a copy of say the Vampix edition of Eaten Alive on the shelf would prompt a reprimand from disapproving police officers. Eaten Alive was typical of the Italian cannibal films that appeared on the DPP lists of contentious titles, it even boasted one of more sadistic and disturbing VHS sleeves of the pre-cert era. And yet astonishingly it never came to the attention of authorities. I tend to think of the list of 39 titles that were prosecuted as essentially random and the selection criteria used haphazard - why a film like The Werewolf and the Yeti appeared on the same list as I Spit on Your Grave makes no sense but as Newman suggests about another innocuous title I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses, perhaps it took little more than a complaint from a disgruntled renter to secure its place on the list. Looking back on the Nasties phenomena - the tabloid scaremongering, the ludicrous soapboxing by politicians and self-appointed guardians of morality, the furor seems as quaint as the demonization of EC Comics in the US in the 50's, and yet the romance of these once outlawed titles has never gone away. Nowadays, the majority of the Nasties can be seen with the censor's blessing and in expertly curated, uncut Blu-Ray editions, but still the very thought of The Devil Hunter and Forest of Fear immediately conjures up grotty VHS cases sitting in the darkest recesses of the videoshop...

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