"What you are about to see ... is a REAL THING!"
I think of Divine's line from John Waters' 1972 cult classic Pink Flamingos whenever I know I'm about to either: a) mock something that is being sold to me as real that I know is most likely not (Faces of Death. Cinematic breasts after 1990. Honest politicians), or b) see something that is actually real—like when Divine really ate something she really should've just picked up with a napkin and put in a plastic bag. Really.
I also think of that line whenever the topic that fascinates me more than any other topic in cinematic history comes up—Video Nasties. The Fahrenheit 451 chapter in the Great Big Book of World History was not written at the rise of the Iron Curtain in 1945 Russia, but right at the dusk of the sex-fueled Me Decade, in post-punk Great Britain. The wellspring from which some of the world's most masterful envelope-pushing films (Peeping Tom. The Wicker Man. A Clockwork Orange!) were made just a decade or so prior.
But it could have very well happened to us here in the Home of the Free. You only need to look back in the not-so-distant past, in early 2004, following Janet Jackson's bit of tit at the Super Bowl and all the hell that the FCC unleashed shortly thereafter. The mood in America after 2001 was already one of propriety, where the Moral Majority movement that lost steam in the late 1980s saw hints of resurgence as people clung hard to patriotism, and even harder to their faith. Add Janet's floppy booby to the mix, and the result could've well been a shitty police state cake covered in rhetorical frosting. Yum.
The DPP and Britain's resident Marie Antoinette, Mary Whitehouse, made a lot of my friends eat cake in the early 1980s, when they were all just working-class young adults wanting to come home to a cold one and some Cannibal Holocaust. Or, at the very least, some Evil Dead. Meanwhile, across the pond, I was a tiny 9-year-old space cadet carrying home stacks of horror VHS, spindly arms overflowing with The Last House on the Left. Dead and Buried.Visiting Hours. All films banned in the United Kingdom by the Department of Public Prosecutions under the Video Recordings Act. And yet little ol' me in sunny Southern California didn't have to fear anyone coming into my home to confiscate my things and put me under suspension. I already had a mother who was doing that.
And so I come to the topic of Video Nasties as a hungry (hardly casual but humbly unqualified) American observer, and it looks like I'm not alone, as evidenced by Cinefamily's all-October tribute to the films that comprise that notorious list. The showings commence with the 2010 film Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, and quite frankly, I'm most interested in watching that film over all of the others. Another excellent primer (and my favorite) for learning about this dark time for film is the brilliant Video Nasties: A Definitive Guide (2010).
I'm glad that we're shedding light on the Video Nasties era in this country. Because while I'd like to think that we're all a bit older, wiser and more progressive now in the West, I see my Essex-born husband watching and re-watching my old horror flicks to see what he missed growing up. And I get it. It makes me want to try harder to not take my perceived American liberties for granted. While I still have them.