Video Nasties – moral panic censorship and videotape

Sweden, December 1980. On a cold winter night a group of anxious politicians and parents gather in a TV studio in Stockholm to discuss a topic that has them profoundly worried. The title sequence for the debate programme Studio-S rolls, and a few minutes later host Göran Elwin offers a warning to sensitive viewers before a series of clips from films like The Boogeyman, Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Toolbox Murders are transmitted to the viewers. Minister of Education, Jan-Erik Wikström, so disgusted by what he saw, says that the makers of these movies should have grindstones hung around their necks and sunken to the bottom of the sea. A comment he still stands by to this day.

Following the programme, moral panic strikes and police raids were carried out against video rentals, seizing tapes in their determination to stomp out the sinister video violence. The show and its aftermath later spawned a whole generation of Swedish genre fans.

At the same time, across the North Sea, video retailers in England were becoming anxious over what seemed as random raids on video stores. The government, flagging the obscene publications act, were slamming their iron fist down on the movies feared to be corrupting the youth. In a desperate move to avoid shock and awe raids, they approached the DDP (Director of Public Prosecutions) for guidelines of what material could be put on shelves and what could be considered obscene. The DDP replied with a list of movies soon to be known as the infamous Video Nasties list. A list of 72 titles banned from the video shelves of Thatcher’s England.

Thirty years later the Video Nasties are considered fundamental entries to any respectable cineastes collection and the phenomena still holds such a fascination that they have become subject of a feature documentary by author Marc Morris (Art of the Nasty) and director Jake West (Evil Aliens, Doghouse); Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape.

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