Suggested Audio Candy:
 Perturbator “I Am The Night”
 Perturbator “Humans Are Such Easy Prey”
There are periods of my life of which I have precious little recollection but, the day I turned ten-years-old is as clear to me now as it was way back then. It has nothing to do with puberty as I was yet to undertake that journey but has everything to do with my very first VHS toploader. After venturing to my local video store with my father to peruse their wares on numerous occasions and paying particular attention to their extensive horror selection, I was finally ready to sample the sickness first-hand. I had a reasonable idea what was in store for me after catching late-night Hammer House of Horror re-runs from the crack in the doorway when I should have been tucked up in my bed counting sheep like other kids my age. However, nothing could fully prepare me for the expedition I was about to undertake.
I turned ten in 1984 which seemed like bad timing on my part as the BBFC were busy stripping the shelves of anything deemed unsavory. Movies such as Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer with its wonderfully grisly sleeve art suddenly became eerily absent and so too did over seventy other offenders which had piqued my curiosity with their outlandish cases. It was one big shambolic mess and, of the films removed from circulation, many were totally undeserving of their infamy. Moreover, there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the chosen few that were named and shamed and it just seemed like a whole lot of clutching at straws. Knee-jerk was what it was, a panicked reaction from bigots who had precious little understanding of the situation and made their judgements based largely on fear as opposed to logic.
My case in point is this: Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse was temporarily removed from circulation as a result of a simple clerical error. Confused with Roger Watkins’ The Last House on Dead End Street which just so happened to be also known as Funhouse, it was banished to the dock even though it was almost entirely bereft of grue. Talk about misinformation, it is astonishing how mistakes like this happened, but speaks volumes for the imbeciles trusted with cleaning up our supposedly mean streets. Romano Scavolini’s Nightmares in a Damaged Brain came off worse than most and the luckless David Grant from Oppidan Films actually served a jail term for distributing the film in the UK in its unapproved format. It seems ludicrous now given that the film has been available in its uncut form for the past decade but, back then, it was regarded as utterly reprehensible.
Nobody was safe and even accomplished directors like the great Dario Argento came under fire for attempting to corrupt young minds. Tenebrae was swiftly prosecuted and, when it eventually resurfaced years later, its striking cover image depicting a woman sporting a hefty neck fracture had been tidily obscured by a red bow. Fellow Italian Lucio Fulci fared worse still with three of his most celebrated works regarded as despicable trash. Again, there was just no consistency. Both Zombie Flesh Eaters and The House By The Cemetery were successfully prosecuted whereas The Beyond was considered the lesser evil, despite featuring a young girl having her head blown wide open by a well-placed shotgun blast. To be fair, given the uproar, all three were probably deserving of being singled out as Fulci’s fascination with extreme zoom and linger did leave precious little to the imagination.
Some films weren’t quite as fortunate. Fulci’s The New York Ripper, Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik I&II and William Lustig’s Maniac never even saw the light of day, despite never actually making the official 72-strong list of video nasties. All are available now, of course, and admittedly all three are particularly mean-spirited pieces of exploitation although each has its own exclusive merits. Maniac, in particular, is now considered as a classic of its era and recently received the update treatment courtesy of Franck Khalfoun’s rather splendid remake with Elijah Wood in the titular role of Frank. Meanwhile, Maniac 2: Mr Robbie sadly never came to fruition despite Joe Spinell’s very best efforts in getting the project off the ground. In 1989, Buddy Giovinazzo directed a seven minute short as a teaser to help kick-start the project but Spinell died before it could reach the crucial next stage. Interestingly, the entire short is now available to watch on YouTube but your enjoyment will invariably be laced with frustration as it is destined never to be elaborated upon.
Anyhoots, I found it all rather distressing as it coincided somewhat inconveniently with my first taste of video rental. I scoured the shelves in search for the most hideous piece of exploitation to christen my new piece of hardware and, for some reason, my wide eyes kept returning to Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro. This had also been initially seized by police but no charges were brought against it and, once again, it was considered fair game. I’m as pleased as punch that it narrowly escaped the long arm of the law as I have decidedly fond memories of my time with Xtro. While unlikely to ever earn itself an Oscar nomination, it supplied all manner of grotesque imagery and rattled along at breakneck pace for 81 minutes I will never forget. My choice had been an astute one but, after watching a fully grown middle-aged man being birthed before chowing down on his umbilical cord and heading off to supply an alien love bite to his pre-adolescent son, where could I possibly go from there?
My summer consisted of dozens of rentals until which point as there was barely anything left to savor so I widened my search and found two other video stockists within my locality to raid for grue-soaked goodies. In addition, weekly visits from a mobile VHS library kept me well stocked with options, much to my dear mother’s bemusement. Eventually the video nasty debacle passed and things appeared to be calming down but, little did I know, that the censors were still having the final word over what the public should be exposed to. Two of my favorite eighties slashers, George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine and Joseph Zito’s The Prowler, were excessively trimmed and it wasn’t until recently that any absent footage was finally restored. Granted, I was blissfully unaware and both movies were more than decent enough to withstand their cuts, but I still felt cheated on belated receipt of such information.
One film which suffered princely at the hands of the censors was John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and, of all the dirty moves, this has to be one of the most filthy. Stripped to its bare bones of splatter, the end result was a woefully uninspired entry into the long-running franchise with little to commend other than a hokey premise concerning a telekinetic teenage girl that stretched the boundaries of logic to the absolute hilt. However, the 88 minute cut released was lacking a fair wedge of content and virtually every single kill was neutered to the point where it appeared relatively powder puff in comparison to other entries. This one still needles me now as the original footage has since been considered irretrievable and it is unlikely faithful fans will ever get to see the true version. I was fortunate enough to see the sketchy footage removed from the final print in its raw format and it would have made a significant difference had the censors not had the final word.
It is astonishing just how much attitudes have now changed and, while movies such as Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film, Kōji Shiraishi’s Grotesque and Nick Palumbo’s Murder Set Pieces are still capable of causing a stir, witch hunts are kept to a bare minimum. Video stores have now since been replaced by Video on Demand after Sky Broadcasting effectively wiped out the rental industry in the early nineties and this saddens me as, at heart, I’m still a wide-eyed child with loose change rattling around in my pocket and far too much time to kill. I fully understand that things need to change and wouldn’t refer to myself as a technophobe, but nary a day passes when I don’t miss the good old times. Just once I would love to walk into one of those dusty palaces and savor that comforting smell of mahogany for old time’s sake.
There is a common misconception that watching too many horror movies turns you into a raging psychopath but I take that one-sided opinion to task. I turned out just fine, despite being subjected to all manner of atrocities over the years courtesy of my favorite genre and believe that parenting has a lot to do with making the transition to adulthood with all screws firmly in place. At the same time, I have no intention of leading my five-year-old down my blood-soaked path of enlightenment as he recently watched E.T. for the first time and was left devastated come the closing credits so The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be a step too far at this point. Having said that, once he reaches a ripe enough age, and only if he shows interest of his own free will, I shall sit him down like my father did all those years ago, and take the pilgrimage together. Perhaps we’ll start with Xtro.
Deep Red Drop-In
How can I possibly close this particular piece without one of my devilish galleries? Practical splatter is a thing of great beauty and CGI can suck my lollipop as it just doesn’t hold the same appeal. During my first day on-set filming Matt Farnsworth’s The Orphan Killer: Bound X Blood, plucky first-time actor Katrina Aune had to suffer the indignity of being hog-tied while having her top box subtracted by a jagged blade. FX maestro Simpat Beshirian was pulling the bloody strings and it all got decidedly messy fast. When the time comes for me to take the next logical step into feature-length filmmaking, I fully intend on stocking up on blood bags. Here are a few choice cuts to feast your eyes on in the mean-time. Am I a sick puppy? Tickle my tummy and you’ll find out but I promise to lick your face afterwards.