Dir: Jake West, 2014
The follow-up documentary to the fantastic Video Nasties, is another superb look at the backwards thinking of British censorship.
Directed once again by Jake West, Draconian Days focuses on the aftermath of the mass hysteria that was the ‘video nasties’ era of the 1980’s.
Britain’s outdated laws on obscenity are put under the spotlight and the long-lasting repercussions that plagued Hollywood as a result of the backlash.
After the enactment of the Video Recordings Act (VRA) in 1984, the film industry and its distributors was in a perpetual state of fear, scared of prosecution by the British authorities.
Films became less violent and horrors less gory. The MPAA began to crackdown on their ‘R’ certificates.
The VRA killed the many joys of video renting. Sleeves like The Driller Killer, with its over the top gore, added an illicit pleasure to these low budget masterpieces of cinema. A voluntary body was brought in to regulate video covers, the Video Packaging Review Committee (VPRC).
Scrutinising the sleeves, the VPRC routinely censored the covers of mainstream releases, such as darkening the sight of a gun for Twentieth Century Fox’s Kurt Russell thriller Unlawful Entry .
West covers all of this, here, and touches on the second round of a furore that occurred in the late eighties and into the nineties.
Tragically, Britain is not averse to acts of violence.
In 1988, Michael Ryan stormed through the streets of Hungerford armed with guns. He fatally wounded several people before turning the gun on himself.
It was alleged in the press that Ryan was obsessed with the Stallone film First Blood. Despite no evidence that he’d ever seen the film, the tabloids were quick to blame it for the massacre.
A few months later, Rambo III was due to be released and, feeling the sensitivity around the topic of screen violence, was subject to cuts.
The fallout following Hungerford, forced the board to temporarily withhold video certificates.
Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed Reservoir Dogs was denied a certificate, but not officially banned, until the uproar had subsided.
The director shows us through archive footage and interviewees the feeling of anger Britain experienced at the time.
But, this was not to be the last time the topic of video violence would be raised.
While The Sun newspaper were screaming “burn your video nasties” accompanied by several copies of Child’s Play 3 being burned on their front page, the BBFC and the government were getting ready for another battle.
In 1994, two evil little bastards who don’t deserve to be alive kidnapped toddler, Jamie Bulger, from a shopping centre and tortured him before murdering him.
The culprits were two ten-year-old whose names I won’t waste my time writing on here.
Once again, the media pointed the finger at ‘video nasties’, in particular, Child’s Play 3. It was claimed that the sick scumbags had watched the third entry in the horror/comedy franchise and were reenacting scenes from the film.
This all proved to be false, but it didn’t stop the pro-censorship brigade from using the horrific tragedy to their advantage.
Already a thorn in the side of the MPAA and the BBFC, Oliver Stone’s violent satire, Natural Born Killers, was due to be released on video in the UK around the same time.
Bizarrely, the distributors, Warner Bros., requested that the BBFC rescind the certificate. The board were unable to do this and it was decided to temporarily shelve its release.
This very controversial issue is briefly spoken about but to no great length.
There is so much to talk about and delve into but West has to stop somewhere.
Like the first one, I wish it was so much longer. There is a plethora of subject matter in these cases and West could easily have added more and it wouldn’t have become boring.
The documentaries don’t hide their anti-censorship stance but do hold a torch up to what was a silly situation.
Enlightening and infuriating, Video Nasties: Draconian Days is mandatory viewing for anyone with a real interest in film and censorship.