Video nasties were the general term for the movies that were banned in the UK in the early 1980’s, criticized for the violence and sexuality. Some of them weren’t as violent as the British censors made them out to be. And some of them were. Either way, it may have been the most insane overreaction to movies in the history of cinema. Labeling these films as “video nasties” and banning them only contributed to the success of the films, but it was still pushed as part of this tirade to rid the world of “video sadism” as the censors and most film critics referred to them at the time. Here are some of the nastiest, most interesting or most infamous movies that made that list.
Right after the enormous success of Friday the 13th, makeup guru Tom Savini got a lot of offers to do much of the same thing. He became the “King of Splatter” in a very short amount of time. When Friday the 13th Part 2 came around, he turned it down to do The Burning which was also a summer camp slasher with a very similar plot. Ultimately, it was a wise choice and he did some of his best work on the film. It’s an underrated slasher with great gore effects that are always shocking and always unexpected.
Also known as Make Them Die Slowly, Cannibal Ferox is basically Grand Guignol theatre. It’s in your face, it shows you everything, and it ought to be dished out with an accompanied barf bag. It’s impressive in how gross and utterly disgusting as it really is. It’s a fairly straightforward cannibal movie and wants to make you feel like it really happened. Ultimately, it shows too much to succeed in that, but it has earned its reputation.
Cannibal Holocaust virtually does what Cannibal Ferox does, but does it better because this one actually does feel real. It is one of, if not the most disturbing movie ever made. It has a point, but it really goes all-out in exploring that point. It’s actually a little too far, as there are actually some scenes of fairly intense animal cruelty that’s impossible to justify. But the film ends with the unsettling question it poses to its audience: who are the real cannibals, them or us?
HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY
Lucio Fulci is one of the widely known masters of gore. Most of his most famous films were zombie films, and House by the Cemetery is the third film in his “Gates of Hell” trilogy. It’s interesting in that it is essentially both a zombie film and a slasher film at the same time. There’s a zombie in the basement of a house that sits on a gateway to Hell, picking off people one by one in increasingly grotesque and intense ways. While it’s not as strong as the first two movies in that trilogy, it struck a cord and its gore content is definitely high.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
This is another one of the most notorious horror movies ever made and it’s interesting because it’s a horror movie that even most horror fans don’t support. Because it’s about rape, and then it is about the woman exacting gory revenge on the rapists. It’s an exploitation film, but it was also seen as a threat against masculinity and male-dominated culture, which was not taken well. It’s a movie that’s earned a controversial reputation, but I think that’s because there’s a lot more to it than people are willing to admit.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT
The first film from horror maestro Wes Craven, The Last House on the Left is also a rape-revenge thriller. The difference here is that it is we start with a girl leading a fairly normal teenage life, but she is brought into the woods and raped and killed. Her parents find out what happened and exactly equally violent revenge on the killers. It’s a serious, powerful note. Sort of the flipside of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish because the way Last House explores the concept, they’ve gotten revenge and their daughter is still dead, and now they have blood on their hands, so what’s the point?
Tenebre is one of Dario Argento’s best movies and is particularly frightening to a writer of horror. It’s about a horror author brought in to help investigate a killer who is taking inspiration from the author’s books. The gore level is both intense and also beautifully shot, which only makes it more unnerving. It also has one of Argento’s best twist endings out of all of his films.
BAY OF BLOOD
Mario Bava’s thriller Bay of Blood is really the major prototype for the slasher film. There are sequences that were directly lifted by some of the Friday the 13th films. This was people together in an isolated location being picked off one by one as though they were in Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Only this featured some surprising, intensely gory sequences that really got under the skin of the audience of the time.
Now known as one of the most infamous zombie films ever, Lucio Fulci’s zombie epic is also one of the goriest. It has a notorious sequence in which a woman’s eye is gouged out by a sharp piece of wood. And the scene is incredibly slow. You think it’s going to pull away at any second, but it does not. And it’s incredibly painful to watch, not to mention the scenes of zombies eating and tearing human flesh that are actually excellently executed.
One of Fulci’s absolute best, most imaginative movies is The Beyond, in which a Louisiana hotel sits on a gateway to Hell that is attempting to open itself. It is gory, relentless and at the same time it is dreamlike. You never know which direction the movie is really going in, right up until the end. It’s part zombie movie, part satanic thriller, part acid trip… and this is all part of its success. There’s a scene that’s definitely not for arachnophobes, and a scene that’s a bit of a callback to the most cringe-worthy scene in Zombie.
THE EVIL DEAD
Rounding out this list, one of the biggest cult classic American horror films and (at the time) one of the goriest movies ever made. But it doesn’t fit in with some of the other movies mentioned here, because even the first Evil Dead really invited you to have fun with the gore. It was outrageous so as not to feel totally realistic, and only got more outrageous as the movies went on. Still, it was banned in the UK for quite some time, and even the comic Evil Dead II was nearly banned overseas as well.