As The Horror Channel’s Season of the Banned kicks off soon we though it would be the perfect time to talk to a man who knows more than a little on the subject of censorship, British horror director and video nasties expert Jake West.
With his excellent documentary opening the season of banned brilliance Jake West took time out to answer our questions and talk in length on the video nasty phenomenon, modern day censorship and the future of the BBFC.
LoveHorror- Your brilliant documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape is opening up The Horror Channel’s Season of the Banned. How did the documentary come into being?
Jake West – At that time at Nucleus Films we’d just been working on first volumes of our popular “Grindhouse Trailer Classics” releases – which are still proving very popular we’re just about to release Volume 3 on Nov 21. We’d initially thought we’d do something similar for the Video Nasties and release a compilation of all the trailers. However it struck us there was so much more to the Video Nasties story… exactly why were all these films banned?
So we looked deeper into the history of it and we realised what a truly fascinating subject it was, as we were finding stuff out that even we didn’t know before…and my business partner Marc Morris at Nucleus Films has written 2 books on the subject! So basically the whole thing ballooned this massive project, which culminated in a massive 13 hour pf content over 3 disc on the Box Set release – and the documentary was really the heart of it and it great that it’s now showing on the Horror Channel – it’s been a fantastic and bizarre journey!
Although it seems ridiculous now, as the film points out there where some shocking erosions of civil liberties that took place at the time with people even sent to prison. Why do you think these films created such panic and why was the government’s reaction allowed to go so far?
JW – In a pre-internet world and when most people had no real understanding of how horror films got made or marketed these films became an easy target for people with an agenda and hence the “Video Nasty” was born in a shameful moral panic fuelled by the worst kind of tabloid journalism, sensational television reporting and politicians jumping on a bandwagon where they could blame horror videos for the evils of society. It really was the most shameful period of British film history in my opinion. And that’s what actually made the documentary a powerful piece of work , discovering the underhand tactics that we’re used and how things were manipulated., and the importance of people like Martin Barker who stood up and fought against a hostile moral majority.
So many of the people interviewed on your documentary where inspired and influenced by the video nasties scare including British horror directors Neil Marshal and Christopher Smith. How did the period affect you personally and was it one of the reasons you went into horror?
JW – Yes that’s the great thing as that all this scaremongering encouraged today’s generation of filmmakers to watch and see and like these kind of movies. As a teenage seeing that a film was banned just made your all the more determined to see it. Also when great films like the Evil Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters and Last House on the Left etc were amongst these titles it made you realise there was some great talented filmmakers working in a genre that upset authority figures, which added to the attraction for me. It’s ludicrous now to imagine that a 20-year-old Sam Raimi was in the dock of a British court defending the Evil Dead!
From watching your horror films such as Doghouse and Evil Aliens it seems your work is very much infused with the anarchic essence of those 80’s gore and scares movies, is this deliberate and how do you go about crafting your particular style of horror?
JW – Thank you! Well watching those kinds of films back in the 80’s it just seemed like when you watched them anything could happen and I loved that sense of bizarre anarchy so I always wanted to try and get that feeling infused into my own work. Though it’s weird it’s only when someone asks you a question like this that I’ve actually thought about it in those terms. Ultimately as a filmmaker I want to be a good storyteller and I personally find my self very attracted to genre material because it allows you to stretch your imagination.
The films banned by the Director of Public Prosecutions become legendary at the time, of the 39 titles off the list which are your favourites and why?
JW – My absolute fave is “The Evil Dead”, which I first saw when I was 15 on pirate video (because it’d been banned). It was such an amazingly energetic movie, full of humor, ideas and great film technique, and when I found out Sam was only 19 years old when he made it, and it was a D.I.Y indie production outside of Hollywood I thought maybe it would be possible to have a career in movies. So it had a huge impact on me and was a real inspiration and I found out as much about its makers as I could.
Other favourites would be getting into Italian horror with Fulci’s “The Beyond” – brillantly atmospheric Zombie flick. Dario Argento’s super stylish “Deep Red” and of course Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust – a great post modern critique of exploitation journalism and gut munchingly stomach churning!
Of course there are a load of absolute turds on the Video Nasty list as the term was such a generalization and the quality of the film is therefore very differing!
If you could ban one film from ever being seen by the public what would it be and why?
JW – I wouldn’t want to Ban anyone from seeing a movie just because I didn’t like it, but I could caution against someone about a Nasty that’s very boring with some very unusual performance choices, say “Frozen Scream”!
After your film premiered at 2010’s Frightfest you took part in an extremely interesting and enlightening panel alongside your producer Marc Morris, Martin Barker, Tobe Hooper and David Hyman representing the BBFC. Censorship is still an issue which divides people creating passionate arguments from both sides, why is it so important to you?
JW – Beyond the FF screening what’s great is that it ignited debate and got people talking and thinking – especially with the Spectre of censorship rearing it’s ugly head again at FF that year with “A Serbian Film” being pulled and the “I Spit” remake being cut. So we seem to have hit a zeitgeist and we’ve been touring the doc around festivals in Europe. What’s important is that we stay vigilant and ask questions when films get banned – and particularly make sure that they don’t get used as part of a political agenda ever again.
With the decisions of the BBFC last year on A Serbian Film and this year on cutting Human Centipede 2 and banning The Bunny Game altogether from release in the UK it seems somehow censorship is still rife. What is your opinion of the BBFC today and do you think they have learned from the lessons of the past panic?
JW – The films you mentioned are now the hot potatoes that the BBFC seem to have difficult dealing with, but I don’t think we’re in the grip of a panic now. These are provocative, edgy, difficult films intended for adults and it’s in these areas, particuliarly sexual violence that the BBFC have difficulties with. I don’t agree with censorship – but the rules BBFC have been built on are a direct response to what happened in the 80’s and the birth of the Video Recordings Act. Whilst the BBFC has moved with the times and become more lenient it feels to me there’s an inconsistency in the BBFC decisions from film to film about what is and what isn’t allowed. For example “Irreversible” is OK because it’s an art film – but “A Serbian Film” is not?
With the dominance of the internet and the free access we all have to content far more explicit and real than the films banned in the 80’s do you think the BBFC and censorship in general has any place or use in today’s society?
JW – Yes the BBFC are outdated by technology as people can now see what they want from anywhere else in the world either by ordering an uncut copy legally from another country or illegally downloading it which is a big problem for independent filmmakers. The law is an ass. Legislation is always behind technology. I’d like to see an end to censorship for adults and the BBFC just age classifying content rather than suggesting cuts or feeling the need to alter other people’s material if they want adults to see it. My suggestion is if they feel they need a new category for harder transgressive material (like an R18 for pornographic works) I’d like to see that implemented rather than works being cut or banned.
What’s next for you and will it get past the censors?
JW – I’m next directing a segment of a concept Anthology film “The A,B,C’s of Death” which is out next year…. regarding censorship….we can but hope!
Thank you for you time.
Horror Channel presents Season of the Banned starts November 4th and you can find our more Here