Let’s go behind the video store counter and into the secret back room to find out which were the real nastiest videos…
Compiling a list of the definitive video nasties is like putting together the perfect dinner menu. Everyone has different tastes and preferences, and there’s always someone who wants to pick at things. So rather than attempt to determine which films were best made (it would probably be a very short list) or most influential (there would arguably be too many), we’ve taken their notoriety and shock impact more to the fore.
All the titles on the list come from the original ‘Section 2’ list of films, with the majority being in the prosecuted part, which was the thirty-nine films successfully put before the courts as being ‘obscene’. We’ve avoided including titles from the advisory ‘Section 3’ list, as we know you just want to get to the proper blood ‘n’ guts shockers.
20 / DEAD AND BURIED (1981)
Back in 1981, a striking film poster with the words ‘The creators of Alien bring a new terror to Earth’ was enough to get hearts pounding with excitement, but Dead and Buried failed to find a cinema audience, attaining its notoriety on video instead. Which is a shame, because this film is an atmospherically stylish, slow-burning, striking-looking zombie film with a great cast and some memorably grizzly scenes.
A young Stan Winston provided the special make-up effects, and this is where Dead and Buried proved to be an open wound above the competition, with some truly uncomfortable, squirm-inducing goings-on which showed that Winston, already an Emmy award winner for his work on the superb TV movie Gargoyles, would be someone to watch. From burning men alive to a detailed autopsy and reconstruction, the film still has the power to shock. And that needle in the eye? It’s impossible not to look away. Well worth reviving from the video graveyard. | RM
19 / EXPOSÉ (1975)
Let’s be clear: Udo Kier can make everything better. In Exposé, he’s a writer of saucy novels (his next one will win a Pulitzer, don’t you know!) who is struggling for inspiration. Tucked away in the countryside might seem the perfect setting, but things soon get horrific.
Horror starlet Linda Hayden (The Blood on Satan’s Claw) spends as much time having a dirty rummage as she does typing for Kier, and apart from a rather nasty rape scene (there isn’t any other kind, really) - committed by Jacko from TV’s Brush Strokes - there’s little to raise this above the usual British horror. Perhaps the fact Fiona Richmond (a massive star in ‘adult’ magazines at the time) is front and centre in the promo material gave the wrong impression? | MU
18 / THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974)
Although marketed under an assortment of names in different territories, the UK release saw it adopt a title that celebrated the film’s Britishness. In fact, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue was a Spanish-Italian co-production, directed by Jorge Grau, which mixed police procedural with zombie bloodfest when an agricultural experiment inadvertently reanimates the dead. The action takes place in Cumbria, but the production roams across the hills of the Derbyshire Peak District. Italian studio sets made up most of the interiors, but Grau’s cameras did venture onto the streets of Manchester (where they filmed an irrelevant streaker) and most of the bloodletting was shot in a creepy hospital near Cheadle.
What attracted UK audiences to the horrors lurking in the Manchester morgue were the same delicious pleasures that appalled the British censors: rebellious young bohemians being pursued by bloodthirsty corpses (and incompetent coppers), gruesomely staged killings, immolation, wounding and graphic flesh-munching. That and zombies who often looked more bedraggled and bloodied than dead. | RC
17 / BLOODY MOON (1981)
Spanish exploitation legend Jess Franco set his devious eyes on the slasher genre with this sunny picture, filmed on the coast of the Costa Del Sol. Here, yet another scarred maniac returns to the scene of the crime years after the fact, terrorising the students of a lavish boarding school for girls. Although it’s well shot, Bloody Moon is undone by some terrible dialogue, delivered via unintentionally funny dubbing.
Although Bloody Moon isn’t quite as vile as some other movies on the list, the film baited controversy with its lurid cover art, which replicates a (somewhat hokey) scene in which a woman is decapitated in a sawmill. Franco’s film also includes the actual killing of a hapless snake and commits two of the BBFC’s biggest no-no’s: the use of everyday tools as murder weapons, and blood depicted on naked breasts. | CM
16 / FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
Despite being billed as Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein, it was Paul Morrissey (who worked within the artist’s ‘Factory’ and discovered The Velvet Underground) who directed this glorious gory camp classic. Udo Kier is the Baron, and wooden-but-striking Joe Dallesandro is the eye candy.
Disembowelling, decapitation, and physically unorthodox sexual assault is the order of the day, but it’s a surprisingly good movie, despite Kier’s trademark histrionics.
If you’ve longed for a film to literally throw blood and guts all over the audience, then you’re luck’s in - well, if you manage to see it in 3D, at least. | MU
15 / A BAY OF BLOOD (1971)
Mario Bava’s 1971 slash-fest A Bay of Blood may have had a hard time settling on a name (it can also be found as Carnage, Twitch of the Death Nerve, and Blood Bath) but it knew its purpose. Having reinvigorated Gothic horror with Black Sunday (1960) and blazed the giallo trail with Blood and Black Lace (1964), here was a new subgenre for others to emulate at their peril: the lakeside slasher. The plot is preposterous fun: a bunch of photogenic Italians with a stake in inheriting the beautiful, deserted bay and mansion of a Countess, converge there to kill each other in all sorts of nasty ways. Despite being regarded as Bava’s most violent movie - and Carlo Rambaldi’s make-up effects are a decided step into the future of cinematic gore - A Bay of Blood is still a classy number. Interiors are artfully photographed, the murders (all thirteen of them, including decapitation and some very bloody stabbings) are brilliantly staged and Bava, the master of macabre tension, keeps piling on the shocks. The shape of death to come. | MC
14 / ABSURD (1981)
Italian Director Joe D’Amato shot 1981’s Absurd as a pseudo-sequel to his own Anthropophagus the Beast, though the two films bear little resemblance beyond featuring writer and star George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori). Eastman plays a maniacal brute with Wolverine-esque regenerative powers, a result of a church-sanctioned experiment, who goes on a murderous rampage during, of all things, Super Bowl season.
What follows is a series of grisly and outrageous killings, including a young nurse taking a drill to the temple, a babysitter forced into a lit oven and, in the film’s goriest scene, some poor sap being whizzed through a worktop band saw. These scenes, as well as the film’s relation to its notorious ‘predecessor’, Anthropophagus, helped Absurd secure on a place on the DPP’s hit-list, despite it ultimately being little more than a dull Halloween clone. | CM
13 / CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980)
This Antonio Margheriti film is more a zombie or Vietnam flick than an actual gut-muncher in the vein of Cannibal Ferox or Cannibal Holocaust, but still manages to work in some choice moments. The alternate title, Invasion of the Flesh Hunters, sounds even worse than its original, suggesting everything from cannibalism to sexual depravity, which - considering some aspects of the film - isn’t too far off the mark. There’s an awful lot of biting and more shoot-outs than one would expect in a cannibal movie early on, but as Cannibal Apocalypse goes on, things get super-gruesome with some limb-lopping and eye-gouging. All this, and John Saxon, too. | NS
12 / BLOOD FEAST (1963)
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ movie was by far the oldest film to end up on the list, but despite its age, Blood Feast was still definitely one of the bloodiest. Over the course of its short runtime, Fuad Ramses hacks off a leg, removes a brain, rips out a tongue, cuts off a face, and drains someone’s blood. The splatter is depicted in Technicolor tempera paint red, accompanied by funny looks and Lewis’ creepy organ score. Those attending early screenings of the film were offered up vomit bags which stated simply, ‘you may need this when you see Blood Feast’. The fact that the stunt was repeated when it débuted on video in 1982 likely didn’t help its case. | NS
11 / THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1981)
Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato teamed up with The Last House on the Left star David Hess for this shockingly misogynistic home invasion flick. Inviting themselves as obnoxious guests to an equally obnoxious bourgeois party, Alex (Hess) and his submissive sidekick Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) decide to indulge in sick games once asked to leave.
What follows is an intense and thoroughly miserable hour of savage beatings, rape, razor-mutilation and cod philosophy on the class struggle. The many scenes of sexual assault are protracted and upsetting, backed by a mix of light-hearted music and dreadful disco hits. This undeniably sleazy title is yet to see a fully uncut release in the UK, entirely due to its brutal violence and Hess’ canary yellow leisure suit. | CM
10 / THE BURNING (1981)
This above-average revenge slasher from Tony (Split Second) Mayam made it onto many a ‘nasty I need to see’ list through its quality shocks and top-drawer gore. These days, there’s an extra frisson of sleaze to be extracted from The Burning because its producer and ‘creator’ was the future disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein who, with brother (and The Burning co-writer) Bob pitched his first production right here by a quiet lake in the hope of some of those blood-stained early-‘80s slasher dollars. The Burning’s hideous bogeyman Cropsy (Lou David) is a caretaker who we see in a flashback being burned half to death by some teens, only to return a few years later to take them out with extreme prejudice and a large pair of shears. Cropsy was based on a New York urban legend but takes to the countryside locale like a fish to water - from which he enjoys emerging without warning. The fire stunt at the start is genuinely terrifying, Tom Savini’s make-up effects are gasp-inducingly brilliant, the acting is uniformly good, and Rick Wakeman’s sinister soundtrack bristles with knowing giallo textures. Nasty but nuanced. | MC
9 / ANTHROPOPHAGUS THE BEAST (1980)
This Italian feature, directed by Joe D’Amato and written by and starring genre regular George Eastman is one of the most notorious titles on the Video Nasties list, only receiving its first fully uncut UK release in recent years. It tells the tawdry tale of a group of friends who travel to a Greek island, only to be attacked by the feral, cannibalistic Klaus (Eastman).
Anthropophagus is an often tedious affair, but rose to infamy during the video nasty era on account of one scene, truly among the vilest of the genre, when Klaus kills a pregnant woman before chowing down on her unborn child. At the time, this abhorrent moment caused the film to be referenced heavily in the mainstream press, regularly used as the go-to example of why the Video Recordings Act was required. | CM
8 / THE BEYOND (1981)
Seen today on beautifully remastered Blu-ray, few of the original video nasties still deliver the genuinely eyeball-peeling horror we sought on early-‘80s Friday nights as we sprinted like loons to the local video shop to get our weekend’s worth of Italian depravity. But trust the late Lucio Fulci - Emperor of the Eyeball Violence, Master of Maggots, Viscount of Violence (take your pick) - to have left some lurkers in the pan so genuinely disturbing no amount of “Lucio was a lovely bloke when he wasn’t being a total bastard” DVD retrospectives have diluted their impact. The midpoint in his (very) loose ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy (between City of the Living Dead and The House by the Cemetery), The Beyond is the grisly pinnacle of Fulci’s splatter period, a fearsomely kinetic thrill-ride of dimension-hopping zombies, cannibal spiders, exploding heads and dodgy dubbing. Fulci’s dream team of David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl are earnestly great leads and those amazing, gloriously pre-CGI make-up effects still hit home one hell of a home run. A remarkably distasteful (even by early ‘80s standards) VHS cover of MacColl with a giant knife to her throat was the cherry on the cake of a truly well-spent 99p rental fee. | MC
7/ THE BEAST IN HEAT (1976)
This scuzzy little slice of Nazisploitation, directed by Italian filmmaker Luigi Batzella, is one of many ‘Nazi Experiment Camp’ movies to flood the video market. Salvatore Baccaro plays the titular man/beast hybrid, a scientific creation of S.S. officer Dr Ellen Kratsch (Macha Magall). Kept on a diet of ‘mega-aphrodisiacs’, The Beast is let loose on a series of female prisoners, to predictably gross effect.
Like most films in the Nazi subgenre, The Beast in Heat is a marathon of abject cruelty. Torture, rape, mutilation and endless explicit nudity might have helped it score big in the rental market, but also found it drawn up on the DPP’s list in double-quick time. Incidentally, of all the films on the Nasties list, The Beast in Heat is the rarest, with its original video release valued at some four figures today. | CM
6 / NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981)
Romano Scavolini directed this tawdry tale of a psychiatric patient given an experimental procedure that ‘cures’ him, but resorts to his murderous ways when he’s released. There’s much more to it than that, obviously, but what you’re really interested in is the copious amounts of nudity and graphic gore. Despite the dubious depiction of the mentally ill killer, it’s a standard, if overly gruesome stalk-and-slash shocker with a reputation much greater than it deserves.
It became one of the most infamous video nasties mainly because the distributor (a notorious character named David Hamilton Grant) was imprisoned for eighteen months on behalf of his company World of Video 2000 - but not before he held a doozy of a publicity stunt by getting people to guess the weight of a real brain in a jar. Tom Savini was credited as creating the admittedly impressive effects but publically refuted it (despite being pictured on the set). | MU
5 / THE EVIL DEAD (1981)
Long before it turned into a TV series, before its hero travelled back in time to battle medieval demons… and even before he lost his hand, The Evil Dead was dubbed ‘the ultimate experience in gruelling terror’ by Stephen King, no less. Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic may have had its moments of black comedy, but it was anything but a sitcom. Even today, it retains the power to provoke shock and awe; its grisly practical effects, melodramatic emotion and brutal action are as effective as they’ve ever been. Witness the birth of a genre legend as Bruce Campbell transitions from meek leading man to deadite punching bag, before the quips and the confidence took over and turned Ashley Williams into an icon for the ages. | JH
4 / ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
With a title like that, the censors were always going to take notice. Up there with Cannibal Holocaust and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as one of the most salacious horror movie titles of all time (not to mention that VHS sleeve), Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters has the goods to back up its bluster. A deeply unofficial Italian knock-off of/sequel to Romero’s zombie movies, it boasts some of the most gruesome zombie makeup and gore effects in genre history, from maggot-ridden zombies to the infamous (and still very hard to watch) splinter-through-the-eyeball sequence. Even the story is a good one, eschewing the same old city climes for a sojourn to an idyllic desert island - which is also full of flesh-chomping zombies. All that, plus a zombie fighting a shark underwater. Zombie Flesh Eaters is more than just a title but, oh, what a title. | JH
3 / THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
If there was ever a better way of passing lazy summer Saturdays in the early ‘80s than watching video nasties with your mates, we can’t think of one. The sun may have been shining outside, but with mum and dad down the garden centre, we’d draw the curtains, fire up our Pot Noodles, turn off Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and bid VHS atrocity cometh (courtesy of Dave’s VideoTech on the corner). Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) was pretty much the perfect choice for such an occasion. A batshit bonkers mashup of Deliverance, The Virgin Spring and - with its bizarre use of light-entertainment jingly music, comedy cops and cheesy ‘You Have Been Watching’ end credits - The Benny Hill Show, it frequently founders in this ludicrous vomit pool of tones. But once our villains, led with feral glee by grindhouse cinema’s very own ‘King Leer’ David A. Hess (The House on the Edge of the Park), find themselves at the mercy of the parents of the girl they raped and tortured to death, everything clicks into place with a surprisingly cathartic thwack. Sex, laughs and ultraviolence - what more could a young movie enthusiast crave? A bloke getting his chap bitten off near a lake, you say? Done deal, sickos. | MC
2 / CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980)
Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most controversial films of all time - and not without good reason.
Ruggero Deodato’s pseudo-documentary film about Amazonian cannibal tribes is groundbreaking, controversial and brutal in equal measure. The film’s ‘found footage’ style of storytelling, infamous scenes of animal torture, and sexual violence have cemented its place in the annals of film notoriety.
Scenes of ultra-violence interweaved with shots of genuine animal torture create a visceral film that still has the ability to shock and repulse. The film’s attempts to blur the boundaries between what is real and what is not results in a viewing experience that is both pioneering and repugnant.
The full, uncut version has long been sought by gorehounds and video nasty collectors - the permitted UK edit still has 15 seconds cut (with the approval of the director). However, due to the ease at which modern day collectors can import films from across the world, the once-previous holy grail for VHS collectors is not the ‘white whale’ it once was. Clever social commentary or indefensible exploitation? The debate continues… | JB
1 / I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978)
Vile and deplorable… a feminist masterpiece… deeply problematic… feminist wish-fulfilment… I Spit On Your Grave has received numerous labels in the 40 years since it first shocked audiences, many of whom crossed hastily constructed picket lines, and has invited furore from various quarters, some who had never even seen Meir Zarchi’s film.
While there is no doubt I Spit on Your Grave wilfully courts controversy, for Zarchi it was a personal project after he assisted a young woman who had been raped. Though the film is profoundly exploitative and wears its extreme violence like a badge of honour, constant re-assessment delves further into the messages within; of struggle and hope, and ultimately of the cathartic release brought about through revenge.
More talked about than actually viewed, I Spit on Your Grave remains a flag bearer for the era, and though today we are more tolerant of on-screen violence, it is a film that retains the power to shock and disgust. A true video nasty. | JT
Written by Michael Coldwell, Chris Moyse, Nick Spacek, John Townsend, Joel Harley, Martin Unsworth, James Bridcut, Robert Martin, and Rich Cross.
Do you have a personal favourite video nasty? Let us know on Twitter @STARBURST_MAG
[This article was originally published in issue 451, August 2018.]