Review: Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 – Draconian Days (plus Q&A Videos)

Video Nasties 2 - Draconian Days Review

Video Nasties 2 – Draconian Days Review

Director Jake West’s first documentary, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010), distinguished itself by being at once a work produced by a fan of the genre, but which also objectively presented the moral panic as it unfolded.

The sequel, Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 – Draconian Days, which premiered last night at The Prince Charles Cinema, continues the story with well-researched rigor and it’s important that it does.

All too often genre documentaries rely on the goodwill of an appreciative audience to cover up cracks in analysis, or rely on a rose-tinted view of the subject matter to prop up a sloppy narrative structure.

Draconian Days avoids these problems and could sit well in the in the citation appendix of any university dissertation on film and censorship, but with the added bonus of being infinitely more compelling and entertaining.

Draconian Days covers the 1984-1999 period of home videos. This is after VHS had become a common medium in UK homes and shortly after the introduction of an age-ratings system had brought a modicum of order to sales and rental – as long as a tape had a rating on it, police could leave dealers alone. Moral panic placated. Carry on watching.

However, the introduction of the age-ratings systems itself brings into focus the role of the BBFC and its chief, James Ferman, and this is examined in the first half of Draconian Days.

Ferman comes across as mixed character when it comes to censorship. At once recruiting a team of classifiers who themselves were skeptical about censorship (better that than an enthusiastic censor) and denying the cause-and-effect link between on-screen and real life violence, Ferman nevertheless had to navigate the political and media fallout from the Hungerford Massacre and Bulger case.

It’s in the wake of these incidents that Ferman’s personal idiosyncrasies on taste are highlighted (cutting ninja stars and nunchucks, for example). We see his personal views giving rise to formal mandates for cuts and, towards the end of his tenure, allegedly removing reviewers that didn’t fall into line and intervening directly in classification decisions with a pair of scissors.

The fact that Ferman’s last act was his unilateral introduction of the Restricted-18 certificate, without government consultation, and his opposition to MP David Alton’s censorship campaign in response to the two aforementioned cases makes it hard to paint him as an absolute villain, though. It’s more likely Ferman’s decisions were influenced by maintaining authority and control over at the BBFC.

A point raised at the QA afterwards was that the existence of a single organization like the BBFC actually makes it easier to explain to people how classification /censorship works and to hold decisions on classification to account.

However, once you begin talking about regulating movies online (which is ultimately where regulation will have to extend to remain relevant) it becomes more complex as it involves many more players like ISPs, software manufactures, government, etc.

And this is where the potential for most harm can be done: it would take place behind doors closed – or at least obfuscated – to the public.

The second half of the documentary focuses on the rise of tape traders and the underground market for uncut versions of films. Bootleggers arise in any regulated market where there is demand for unregulated or prohibited goods and videos were no different.

Narratively, this section could have been kept shorter. The culture of tape trading didn’t really go on to affect censorship laws or public attitudes towards sex and violence in a way that, comparatively, the illegal file sharing of mp3s could be argued to have brought about an increased comfort with people downloading music in general. That said, the anecdotes of enthusiasts passing through customs and the methods they used for circumventing the law raised more than a chuckle or two.

Given that Draconian Days covers the video nasty up to 1999, it omits the video nasty’s arguable resurgence and kindling of mainstream popularity through more knowing works like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), and the success of The Blair Witch Project (1999), of which its shaky camera work and grainy aesthetic heightened its illicitness and authenticity in the same way some third-gen copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters would have done.

These are minor things though in an otherwise important and well-researched sequel that continues to remind us of what to look for when others think they know better as to what we should or should not be watching.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 – Draconian Days is available to buy now from the Nucleus Films website.

Below are two videos I managed to film from the extended Q&A after the film finished. Enjoy!

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 – Draconian Days (Q&A Part 1)

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide 2 – Draconian Days (Q&A Part 2)

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