Christopher A. Brown's new book, The Video Nasties Moment: Examining the Films Behind the Scare, is a new self-published history of the 1980s panic regarding the direct-to-video release of numerous films of salacious, violent, and otherwise morally suspect films, and the subsequent investigation and/or banning of them by the Director of Public Prosecution and the British Board of Film Censors.
The placing of these films within a broader sense of film history is what really sets it apart from most books on the panic. For example, comparing Nazi exploitation films with other, more critically acclaimed pictures on the same subject such as The Night Porter, really drives home the fact that some of these nasties were mere attempts to cash in on their subject matter, with emphasis on the more salacious elements.
Brown is also willing to appreciate when a film has something to say, however. As much as animal destruction and brutal rape are integrally stomach-churning elements of Cannibal Holocaust, Brown will allow that the film is attempting to make a broader statement on human development and commercial progress, and not just presenting the on-screen carnage for shock's sake.
By delving into the background behind the directors' past works and examining the nasties' influence on their future endeavours, the author is able to make a broader points regarding the DPP banned films, rather than simply commenting on their individual qualities. Those individual qualities are important to the book, obviously, but the nasties are also examined as a collective, both in terms of social influence and their aesthetic appeal.
Brown's book has an excellent flow, and dividing the films into thematic chapters allows him to take advantage of the ability to compare and contrast films, demonstrating some film's deserved place on the last, while wondering how some ever saw inclusion.
The downside to self-published books such as this is that while there's an excellent conversational flow to Video Nasties – anyone who's ever listened to Brown's podcast will surely be reading this in his voice – it's littered with sentences, which need a lot of reorganization. A weekend with an editor's red pen would have made this a truly excellent read.
It's a wonderful book that offers up a sense of history and place for all 72 of these films, never once degenerating into a collection of reviews and plot synopses, but the lack of consistent formatting – italicized film titles, elimination of sentence fragments and so on – make this a bit of a rough and bumpy read, eliminating a bit of the pleasure one would otherwise derive.