Monday, 5 March 2007

See No Evil

This book by the authors of Killing for Culture and prime movers behind Headpress, David Kerekes and David Slater, examines the banned films and video controversy in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s.

The first four chapters of the book, together occupying the first 70 or so pages, chart the history of video culture from its beginnings at the dawn of the 1980s to the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

Besides the obvious – that the Act signalled the end of the line for those films that found themselves on the official blacklist – the new requirement to have all films passed by the BBFC also led to the disappearance of countless innocuous obscurities that it simply wasn't worth paying for to have classified.

The next, major, section of the book, running almost 200 pages, concentrates on the nasties themselves. The authors look at each, from Absurd to Zombie Flesh Eaters in detail with a story synopsis followed by critique.

By taking this all-inclusive approach, rather than focussing exclusively on the most (in)famous nasties – Evil Dead, SS Experiment Camp, Cannibal Holocaust etc – as many writers are prone to do, Kerekes and Slater effectively highlight the sheer diversity of the official nasties in terms of origin, vintage and quality.

Some were good, others bad, others just plain inept. Some, like House on the Edge of the Park, would likely meet most people's definitions of obscenity. Others, like Cannibal Man, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While one may not always agree with the authors evaluations of the films, their refusal to follow received opinion is refreshing. Joe D'amato's Absurd and Anthropophagous receive positive write-ups, for instance, whereas Lucio Fulci's The Beyond is dismissed as a relatively inferior effort.

After this lengthy section Kerekes and Slater bring the story more or less up to date – i.e. 2000 – with 80 or so pages examining the black market and pirate trade that developed, including useful first-hand testimonies that show just how messed up the whole censorship/obscentity law situation is in the UK, and two more general chapters on media violence debates and more recent causes celebre.

The final two chapter were, for me, was where the book was weakest. The focus is less sharp, the area too broad and many of the questions broached simply unanswerable. This said, I still found Kerekes and Slater's discussions to be preferable to sometimes awkward half academic half-populist collections like Screen Violence and Ill Effects.

And, had it been possible, I would have preferred to see an updating of the black market and pirates story to take into account the internet and DVD and how they have changed the rules of the game utterly.

But, on the whole, this is an excellent study of the video nasty phenomenon that consolidates Kerekes and Slater's position as two of the best writers on fringe cinema and culture out there. The section cataloguing the nasties is, in itself, worth the purchase price.

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