David Sodergren is is the author of the upcoming horror novel The Forgotten Island, set to be published summer 2018. A lifelong devotee of all things horror, he writes book and movie reviews for his Paperbacks and Pugs blog, and is currently tackling all 154 of the Section one, two and three Video Nasties in chronological order, a decision he deeply regrets. Together with his faithful pug Boris, he has several more novels in various stages of development.
TEN UNDERRATED VIDEO NASTIES
The Video Nasties. You probably know the name. A bunch of unrelated horror and exploitation movies that were unceremoniously bundled together in Britain in the early eighties, united only in their apparent desire to ‘deprave and corrupt’ poor, unsuspecting young people. Many of the films were successfully prosecuted, with one distributor even going to jail.
It was ridiculous then, and it’s still ridiculous now, but one thing it did do was create a ready-made shopping list for thrill-seeking horror fans, eager to sample the forbidden delights of The Video Nasties. Several of the films on the list are now highly regarded as classics of the genre, including Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
But what of the other films? Sure, there’s plenty of unwatchable dreck to sift through, from bland courtroom dramas like I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses to ugly Nazi sexploitation flicks like Love Camp 7, but there are also plenty of forgotten gems.
So here are my picks for ten underrated Nasties. Now, the following list is highly subjective. These are films that I enjoy, and I hope some of you will too. And if not? Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Good luck, and enjoy!
The Ghastly Ones (aka Blood Rites)
1968, Andy Milligan
Staten Island gore auteur Andy Milligan’s period-piece trash epic gets by on sheer, unbridled enthusiasm alone. The 16mm footage is grainy and Milligan is badly in need of a wide-angle lens, but this only adds to the verisimilitude of the piece, showing mercy to the crude gore gags and giving them real impact.
Three couples, all of whom look exactly the same and are impossible to tell apart, must spend the night in an abandoned mansion to receive a share of their father’s will. Inevitably, a hooded killer starts knocking them off one-by-one.
People are cut off mid sentence by the haphazard editing, but you won’t care because the dialogue goes like this –
‘Did you see anything?’
‘No, I just came out of my room. I heard something, but I just came out of my room.’
They like to repeat themselves. Also, they like to repeat themselves. People talk. They wander. Someone dies, but I’m not sure who – I’m not even sure if it matters. It turns out it doesn’t. A man is sawed in half. More people die and the killer is revealed as the only person it could have been.
The acting is amateurish and Milligan can sometimes be heard giving direction offscreen, but there’s a filthy beauty to The Ghastly Ones that rewards the more, shall we say, adventurous viewer.
Night of the Bloody Apes
1969, Rene Cardona
If nothing else, Night of the Bloody Apes is the only nasty to open with an extended women’s wrestling sequence, and for that we should all be thankful. Luckily, there’s more to it than that. It’s the classic tale of a doctor saving his son from leukaemia by giving him the heart of a gorilla, and I know what you’re thinking – not that old story again.
There’s a twist. The transplant has an unfortunate side effect – it transforms the boy into a half-man/half-gorilla/all Bloody Ape, who proceeds to run amok, attacking women and scalping men by tearing their wigs off.
It’s silly, campy nonsense of the highest order, and features the greatest line in cinema history, repeated here with lunatic grammar preserved intact –
‘I’ll say that’s absurd. The proofs are circumstantial. It’s more probable that of late, more and more you’re watching on your television, many of those pictures of terror.’
1976, Roberta Findlay/Michael Findlay/Horatio Fredrikkson
Snuff is a piece of sensationalist fluff best known for the last five minutes, wherein the film abruptly ‘ends’ and we witness an apparent real-life killing, albeit one where basic anatomy is tossed out the window (I’m not sure the human heart is found within the stomach).
But forget about all that hokum and settle down instead to watch the first seventy-five minutes, a Russ Meyer-esque all-girl biker gang movie that hits my own personal sweet spot of watching beautiful women tie-up and murder rich assholes.
Not enough for you? What if I told you the soundtrack was some terrible psychedelic rock? Or that there’s a carnival scene during the middle of the film where the same few seconds of stock footage is repeated over and over again for almost half-an-hour?
Hey wait, come back!
Mardi Gras Massacre
1978, Jack Weis
Mardi Gras Massacre begins as it means to go on – by holding on a totally static shot of the title card for a good thirty-seconds.
One of the most hypnotic movies ever made, director Jack Weis apparently filmed about one third of his movie, then decided to just film the same scenes again, then one more time for luck.
Et voila! A ninety-minute movie. It’s almost like a Gus Van Sant-style experiment, but one with a disco soundtrack and copious amounts of unappealing nudity. Will anyone notice the film is just the same three scenes shot from different angles? Will anyone care?
Well I noticed, but I didn’t care, because Mardi Gras Massacre had me under its ridiculous spell.
Towards the end, the film throws a curveball – a new, different scene, this one a love-montage that made me realise I’ve never fed my partner a slice of cake and laughed about it.
Look, it’s not a film for everybody – arguably, it’s not a film for anybody – but I will always hold a special place in my heart for the delirious charms of Mardi Gras Massacre.
The Toolbox Murders
1978, Dennis Donnelly
Inexplicably overshadowed by its glossy but inconsequential Tobe Hooper remake, The Toolbox Murders is one of those surprising gems the Video Nasties occasionally throws our way. A handsomely mounted film anchored by solid performances, The Toolbox Murders opens the way all films should – with a POV shot from inside a car at night, soundtracked by desolate synth and lonely piano refrains.
The following twenty-minutes are perhaps the purest expression of the slasher movie ever captured on film, a near-wordless sequence that’s undiluted by things like plot and characters, as a man stalks and murders the residents of a housing complex.
If the rest of the film fails to hit the highs of the opening, it’s not for lack of trying. There are some great twists, a haunting ending and a teenage investigator with a Luke Skywalker hairdo; the perfect ingredients for an evening’s entertainment.
Don’t Go In the House
1979, Joseph Ellison
Like an overbearing mother, the Video Nasties were obsessed with telling us what not to do. Don’t look in the basement, don’t go near the park, don’t go in the woods, and now we’re not even allowed in the damn house. I hate you, Video Nasties. You’re not my real mom.
Regardless, Don’t Go In the House is an excellent, nasty little psychodrama in the vein of Bill Lustig’s Maniac. Pyromaniac, if you will. Dan Grimaldi makes for a sympathetic lead, despite burning nude women alive in his basement in some of the most distressing and uncomfortable scenes of any Nasty.
The second half of the film is more of a funhouse spook-show, including a dream sequence that ends with an unbelievable jolt.
If it all sounds a bit heavy going, then don’t worry. There’s plenty of fascinating homosexual subtext and the ultimate bad date, in which our anti-hero takes a girl to the disco and ends up setting her hair on fire on the dance-floor.
Bonus drinking game – take a shot every time the lead says ‘MOTHER’ and try not to die of alcohol poisoning.
Night of the Demon
1980, James C Wasson
If you’ve ever wanted to watch a yeti whip a man to death with his own intestines, then have I got a film for you!
Night of the Demon is a flashback within a flashback, the crackpot tale of a college professor and his knuckle-headed students investigating a mysterious bigfoot creature. Really though, it’s just an excuse for a increasingly bizarre murders, the highlight of which simply has to be the biker who has his penis torn off whilst urinating in the bushes.
But it doesn’t end there! We also have to endure the least erotic love-making ever filmed, and somehow I’m not even talking about bigfoot’s sex scene.
Yes, I’m afraid you read that correctly.
The climax is an extended slow-motion gore freakout, like the end of Night of the Living Dead if the filmmakers were completely mental.
If ever a film demanded to be watched whilst intoxicated, Night of the Demon is it. And for that, I say thank you.
1981, Joe D’Amato
Absurd is the only tangentially-related sequel to the hardest-to-spell nasty, The Anthropophagous Beast. Unlike that film though, Absurd throws us straight into the action, with a priest chasing a hulking cannibal through a forest to the accompaniment of a squealing electric guitar solo. Immediately, you know you’re in for a good time.
It turns out the priest ‘serves god with biochemistry rather than rites and ceremonies,’ and is a sort of occult Vatican hitman. Now read that sentence back and tell me you don’t want to see this movie.
My favourite part is that the film is set in America over Thanksgiving, but the Italian filmmakers, who are not big believers in authenticity, have everyone sitting around tucking into hearty bowls of Thanksgiving…pasta.
There’s a stunning Goblin-esque score, shocking, brutal violence, and some honest suspense. Finally, a film that lives up to its title!
1981, Tony Maylam
There were no shortage of slasher films cluttering up the Video Nasty list, but my favourite has got to be Tony Maylam’s The Burning.
After an opening scene that demonstrates why you should never sleep next to a canister of gasoline, we follow the wacky hi-jinx of a bunch of over-sexed and over-aged campers until they are deservedly picked-off by Cropsy, a disfigured and thoroughly pissed off caretaker.
There’s an array of talent in front of and behind the camera, including Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander as the teens, and special effects guru Tom Savini on gore duty. It’s also the first film from Harvey and Bob Weinstein, but don’t hold that against it.
The gore is the star of the show here, particularly a stunning massacre on a raft, but special mention has to go to Rick Wakeman’s burbling, rumbling synth score and a script that occasionally knows exactly when to defy convention, and when to follow it to the letter.
Don’t Go In the Woods…Alone!
1981, James Bryan
Don’t Go In The Woods has a poor reputation, which is not entirely unfounded. Many reviewers deride the film for being silly and laughable – so bad it’s good is the boring default stance most seem to fall into, which is ignoring the fact that the film is clearly a comedy and meant to be funny. Of course, that raises a whole new set of problems, because the intentional comedy is piss-poor at best. It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly has an undeniable lopsided charm.
A deranged Utah mountain-man stalks a nonstop parade of idiots, and all to a musical score that resembles someone kicking an empty barrel and sawing a block of wood.
Wait, I’m not sure I’m really selling this to you.
Honestly, the film is never boring – you’re never more than five-minutes away from some obnoxious yuppie being butchered, and the synth score occasionally syncs up with the beautiful scenery to create moments of eerie beauty. If you’re still not convinced, then what if I told you there’s a theme song that follows the melody of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic?
‘Don’t go out in the woods tonight you probably will be thrilled
Don’t go out in the woods tonight you probably will be killed
There’s a friendly beast who lurks about
And likes to feast, you won’t get out
Without being killed and chopped up in little pieces.’
On second thoughts, maybe don’t bother.
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