LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Brand New - Interview About Censorship With Allan Bryce
By James Whittington, Wednesday 6th October 2010
During FrightFest 2010 Jake West premiered his new stunning documentary, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape which forms part of a 3-disc set entitled Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. Afterwards a team of experts took to the stage to discuss the subject. One of them was Allan Bryce, a man who has written books on such a subject and was editor of Dark Side Magazine for two decades. Here he discusses the subject of video nasties as well as his opinion on censorship.
HC: Have you always been a big fan of horror cinema?
AB: Yes, I guess because when I was growing up in the 60s my imagination was stimulated by shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone and particularly Tales of Mystery and Imagination and Jonathan Miller’s wonderful Omnibus adaptation of the M.R. James story, Whistle and I'll Come To You. I was too young to get in to see all the 'X' certificate movies and spent a lot of time fantasising about how scary they would be if I could! Mags like Famous Monsters fed my interest, and I was a voracious reader of sci-fi and horror, my favourite authors being Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch and the underrated Fredric Brown (The Screaming Mimi). Fredric Brown's Nightmares and Geezenstacks was my favourite book for a while… must buy a new copy some time. I used to buy the Aurora monster models too, and my bedroom wall was plastered with posters from 50s horror flicks. My parents were very worried about my mental health, as I recall. They still are, come to think of it.
HC: What was the first title you saw that was actually classed as a video nasty?
AB: Probably the 'Strong Uncut' version of Zombie Flesh Eaters released by VIPCO. I’d seen this earlier at the cinema in a cut version alongside The Toolbox Murders and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. The uncut one was a revelation, however, that eye-popping shower scene and the zombie scoff sequences shown in all their offal-spilling glory. I must have screened the video dozens of times for my mates back in the day. It also made me realise just how much we in the UK had been missing out on thanks to the squeamish interfering nannies at the BBFC.
HC: Did you think it deserved the “nasty” label it had been given?
AB: Not really. Yes, it was fairly nasty, but the violence was not sexualised and it was rooted in pure fantasy. To me, Zombie Flesh-Eaters was like an EC horror comic brought to life, and the gore scenes were absolutely necessary to its appeal. If I were to apply the nasty label to any films on the list it would have to be films like Last House on the Left, I Spit On Your Grave and some of the Nazi-themed flicks like Beast In Heat, which did indeed leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
HC: There was a “witch hunt”, where video stores were raided for banned titles and lots of innocent tapes were confiscated; can you recall which titles got caught up in it?
AB: This has been fairly well documented over the years, but the one that amused me the most was Samuel Fuller’s WW2 drama The Big Red One, which was seized by some overzealous boys in blue. I’ve always tried to figure out what they thought the movie was about. The Big Red… What? Any film with Zombie or Cannibal in the title was fair game also. A friend of mine, Mel Donovan, had a company called Colourbox, and he distributed Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. He wasn’t allowed to write the word ‘Chainsaw’ on the video sleeve, so he had to draw a picture of one in between the words ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Hookers.’ One that has always confused me on the list was The Funhouse, because Tobe Hooper’s film was a relatively respectable Universal picture that got a mainstream cinema release. I’ve been told that this was because of some confusion with The Last House on Dead End Street, a grim little no-budgeter that was also known as The Funhouse… but I never saw a copy of this in the UK until it was put out on DVD Stateside some years later.
HC: Some of the cover art was extremely poor or deliberately shocking; do you have a favourite and if so why?
AB: I Spit On Your Grave was by far my favourite cover. The first time I saw it on a poster beside a stall in Epsom market renting DVDs, I sort of stopped dead in my tracks, gawping! I think it sums up the sex and sleaze elements of Video Nasties to perfection. I also have a fondness for The Amazing Mr. No Legs, though this never made the Nasties list.
HC: Do you think films and computer games can influence people in real life?
AB: We are all subject to many different influences in our day-to-day life, including things our friends say to us, stuff we see on the news and read about in newspapers, books and magazines. So in this respect it may be possible to make a case that films and computer games have a big influence on our lives. Most of us are quite sensible enough to deal with those influences and carry on as honest and decent members of society. I personally believe that trying to blame your bad deeds on watching video nasties or violent video games won’t wash. There are some bad people out there. I believe Hitler liked watching Hollywood musicals.
HC: What are you thoughts on censorship as a whole?
AB: At one point I thought it was a bad thing, now I just think it is pointless. In the Internet age there’s nothing that’s taboo any more. Censorship in the UK is a revenue-raising process just like traffic cameras. We must all be our own censors. Obviously as a parent there are things I don’t want my children to see and be disturbed by, but only up until they are old enough to make their own decisions.
HC: Do you think any of the titles that were on the DDP and remain unreleased should be on shelves and uncut today?
AB: Very few remain unreleased, and I can’t honestly say that I’m desperate to see the few that haven’t been. The big joke of the whole Nasties phenomenon is that it granted undue gravitas to a lot of movies that would otherwise have been long forgotten.
HC: You were the editor of Dark Side Magazine for over twenty years, how sad was it for you when it ceased publication?
AB: Fairly sad, although the situation was that my partner in the business was in poor health and had other problems to deal with. Ken and I had been partners for 20 years and we always got on well, which is quite a feat in itself. I like to think we were quite influential back in the day, and I know the magazine is still looked upon with great fondness. I’m currently negotiating to bring Dark Side back with a different publisher so we’ll see what happens on that. I’ve never made any money out of the title but enjoy doing it as a tribute to the monster mags of my youth, plus it gives work to a lot of aspiring genre writers out there… yourself included, James!
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
AB: I’m editing and producing a great many ‘top shelf’ magazines under a bewildering number of pseudonyms, working on my first novel and screenplay, and writing EPGs (Electronic Programme Guides) for Sky, so probably busier than ever. Onward and upward…
HC: Allan Bryce, thank you very much.
You can see Jake's documentary in the stunning 3-disc set Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide which is out on DVD October 18th with a RRP of £24.99.
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