04th Mar2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Video Nasties – Draconian Days’ Review

by Phil Wheat


The highly anticipated follow-up to their critically acclaimed VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP & VIDEOTAPE documentary, director Jake West and producer Marc Morris continue uncovering the shocking story of home entertainment post the 1984 Video Recordings Act. A time when Britain plunged into a new dark age of the most restrictive censorship, where the horror movie became the bloody eviscerated victim of continuing dread created by self-aggrandizing moral guardians. With passionate and entertaining interviews from the people who lived through it and more jaw dropping archive footage, get ready to reflect and rejoice the passing of a landmark era.

I was a huge fan of Jake West and Marc Morris’ first documentary on the Video Nasties scandal of the early 80s and it opened my eyes to a period in time I was actually too young to really remember – at the time of the Video Recordings Act and the DPP’s prosecution of a number of films and retailers, my viewing took in the likes of the Star Wars movies, Transformers: The Movie and The Beastmaster. However this second documentary takes a look at the James Ferman era of the BBFC and a time when my film collecting days had blossomed and I was well-aware of just what was happening in terms of censorship – even if I was more concerned that the BBFC had banned Kickboxer 4 and Back in Action than had re-edited Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer to the point of changing the tone of the film.

Having lived through the period this film covers, and being an avid reader of The Darkside magazine at the time, I was also aware of the underground tape-trading scene that blossomed in the classified ads of horror mags and fanzines, but what I wasn’t truly aware of (well not from the perspective of those it happened to) were the raids on collectors by Trading Standards. Yes we all saw the salacious headlines in the papers and the media-frenzy that surrounded the raids but Video Nasties: Draconian Days also opened my eyes to what it meant to be a collector at the time – you were essentially becoming a criminal just to watch movies uncut! Completely bonkers!

If anything, Video Nasties: Draconian Days is a fantastic insight into James Ferman, the then head of the BBFC, and the way in which he moulded the British Board of Film Classification into his vision and how that, ultimately, became his downfall. I think anyone who was a movie fan in the late 80s and early 90s knew Ferman had some particular bug-bears: blood on breasts, nunchuks, throwing stars etc., but Jake West’s documentary delves deeper, into the heart of the BBFC at the time, and reveals that Ferman was not only laying down the law as to what we could and couldn’t see, he was also often over-riding his own staff on their classification decisions. In fact I’d go as far as saying Draconian Days paints James Ferman as somewhat of a power-mad manipulator – using every trick in the book to protect the British public from themselves (there’s a great interview with Frightfest’s very own Alan Jones in which he states even he fell for Ferman’s manipulations at one point).

Video Nasties: Draconian Days ends on Ferman’s downfall – his sacking of all the part-time BBFC examiners as some did not agree with his policies, the R18 certificate (which he initiated without consulting government) and his eventual replacement in 1999 as head of the BBFC by Robin Duval. This really is the story of one man and his [draconian] mission to save us all from the growing tide of filth and depravity… Even if that mission did lead to a relaxing of the very strict rules and the eventual, and legal, appearance of hardcore pornography on the shelves of sex shops across the UK. Oh the irony.

Yet another great documentary from Jake West and Marc Morris, Video Nasties: Draconian Days is a superb follow-up to the original Video Nasties and left me salivating for a third entry into what is essential viewing for film fans of all ages.

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