Saturday, March 23, 2024

Review: 'Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the 'Video Nasties' Panic of the 1980s'

When home video took off in the early eighties, the main concern in the United States was that videotape enthusiasts would start recording copyrighted films and programs off of TV. In Great Britain, the main concern would be that they'd go on murder rampages. 

What followed was the so-called Video Nasty panic, which not only plopped a very, very silly term into the British lexicon but also spawned a great song by The Damned ("Nasty") and one of the best episodes of "The Young Ones" ("Nasty"), which also happened to feature The Damned singing that great song ("Nasty"). 

But the whole Video Nasty thing wasn't all rockin' tunes and hilarious TV. People's homes were raided by British authorities. Video collections were confiscated. Video store proprietors and private collectors were arrested or detained. Lives were seriously upended. Heinous crimes committed by heinous criminals were blamed on Chucky and Rambo. 

In their 2000 tome, See No Evil, David Kerekes and David Slater chronicled this period of pure madness that made anything in Evil Dead or Driller Killer or Cannibal Holocaust or any of the other films labeled Nasties seem positively genteel (well, maybe not Cannibal Holocaust). Twenty-four years on, Kerekes and Slater have updated their book and its title, which is now Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the 'Video Nasties' Panic of the 1980s

I haven't read See No Evil, so I cannot confirm  how much of the content in Cannibal Error is new, but I can confirm that this mammoth book must be the definitive word on the history of Video Nasties. Its 575 pages go into depth on the rise of home video during a sort of wild west era in which otherwise law-abiding British proprietors sold video bootlegs of feature films and porno finally found its ideal medium, the way cheap and exploitative horror movies took over that medium, and how an entire country promptly overreacted. 

A chapter that explains the consequences of owning one of the films deemed Nasty is positively chilling, as horror fans tell their own stories of being investigated for owning tapes that were prominently and legally displayed on video store shelves just across the Atlantic. The chapter on how genuine murderers and the media that positively glorified their crimes used horror movies as scapegoats for a public all too willing to believe such hogwash meticulously highlights the fatuousness, laziness, hypocrisy, and feeble reasoning of those who insist that violent movies are directly responsible for violent crimes. A chapter detailing the nature of 75 of these films reveals how arbitrary and absurd the entire panic was, the authors sometimes struggling to even define what was so nasty about certain films, such as Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse

For the most part, these movies (of which, I admit, I've only seen a dozen) mostly sound cheap and cheesy and fairly gross, so you probably won't come away from Cannibal Error with a groovy list of movies to watch unless you're one of the more masochistic fans of so-bad-it's-good movies (although I know really want to see Shogun Assassin, which sounds so-good-it's-good). However, you will learn a hell of a lot about the damage done by mob mentality, priggish censorship, deflection, projection, and basic critical thinking failures. As such, this book about some shitty movies from the eighties might be one of the most relevant books for 2024.

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