Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part 2: Draconian Days DVD Review
Written and Directed by Jake West and Marc Morris
2014, Region 2 (PAL), 840 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 14th July 2014
James Ferman as Himself (archive footage)
Marc Morris as Himself
Jake West as Himself
Mary Whitehouse as Herself (archive footage)
Neil Marshall as Himself
Christopher Smith as Himself
A follow up to Jake West's entertaining 2010 documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. While you'd be forgiven for thinking that West might have exhausted the subject, he finds plenty to discuss in this sequel, exploring the inner workings of the BBFC and the furore surrounding the films they banned and cut during the 1980s. Ably assisted by the infamous Mary Whitehouse and the tabloid newspapers of the time, BBFC chief James Ferman successfully brought horror to its knees – complete with VHS burning and raids on horror fans' homes. It was Britain's real-life 1984 – it even had the 1980s setting.
Most of the focus in Draconian Days falls on Ferman, whose tenure at the BBFC saw many great horror films banned but hardcore pornography laws also relaxed at the same time. To say it was a tumultuous era to be a horror fan is an understatement. Ferman will be best known to viewers for his appearance on Ali G's TV show, and for suggesting that the lower classes shouldn't watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre because they might get the wrong idea about it. To be fair, they do tend to have easy access to power tools.
Yet Ferman isn't the out-and-out villain that Draconian Days could easily have made him out to be. An ultimately well-meaning man, his out-of-touch snobbery was only exacerbated by the films not exactly helping their own cause. West, Morris and their interviewees and audience are obviously aligned on the side of horror, but there's an acknowledgement there that we could have maybe toned things down a bit. And then Ferman, Whitehouse and the tabloids get involved, and everything is thrown out of proportion.
If anyone should ask me why I refuse to read The Sun newspaper, Draconian Days is the documentary I would show them. Entirely representative of the British tabloid press's penchant for hyperbole, manufactured outrage and out-and-out bullshit, it had me fuming just watching the documentary. Horror fans will recognise the headline 'Burn Your Video Nasty', which encouraged citizens to destroy their copies of Child's Play 3 following the tragic murder of James Bulger in 1993. The influence of horror films in real-life violence is an interesting discussion, but the British press are not the people to moderate such talks. If Draconian Days stops even one person from buying The Sun or Daily Mail, then it's a job well done.
Lacking in the first film's verve or Emily Booth, Draconian Days is a more sedate affair than its predecessor, but no less fascinating. Horror historians old and new should find much to enjoy in this documentary, not least its beautiful packaging and wealth of special features. Still, there is always a chance of it inciting the sort of moral outrage perpetuated by Whitehouse and her cronies in the 80s. Just see the previous paragraph, for example. Look, in case of moral outrage, keep repeating “it's only a documentary. It's only a documentary. It's only a documentary.”
Video and Audio:
As with the previous instalment, it looks appropriately grimy. The footage from the films discussed is shown in all its fuzzy, hazy VHS glory, while the interview segments have the appropriate documentary look about them. It lacks visual flair and is only occasionally interesting in its music cues, but the era being discussed is fascinating enough that it shouldn't really matter.
Discs two and three consist of 'The Section 3 List'. This is the additional 82 titles (such as Zombie Holocaust, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive) destroyed under 'section 3' of the Obscene Publications Act. Each title is presented with its trailer followed by a featurette discussing the history of each individual release. The whole thing just plays like a horror shopping list for fans of retro sleaze.