In 1982, when the U.K. distributor of 1980 Italian mondo faux snuff film Cannibal Holocaust sent an anonymous letter of “complaint” regarding the obscenity of its new release to dowager, Thatcher acolyte and cultural watchdog Mary Whitehouse, it was merely hoping to drum up some free publicity. To the audience it was trying to reach, the ire of a cranky ninny would be the ultimate endorsement.
Cannibal Holocaust got Whitehouse's attention, all right: She responded by initiating a crusade against “video nasties,” a very loosely defined term Whitehouse coined to describe all manner of horror and exploitation film that could or should offend upstanding citizens and permanently damage the sensitive sensibilities of children and, as one conservative politician hilariously put it, “dogs as well.” A media frenzy led to the establishment of the United Kingdom's Video Recordings Act of 1984, under which 72 films were removed from distribution — meaning, government agents sought out VHS copies and film prints and had them burned.
For the 20-year anniversary of the panic, Cinefamily is hosting midnight screenings of selected video nasties throughout the month of October. From the list of 72, the Cinefamily programmers immediately weeded out anything Nazi-related, and anything they couldn't get as 35 mm prints. From there, says Cinefamily's Bret Berg, “The mission was to try to make it as user-friendly as possible while also making it as hard-core as possible.”
Berg notes that the program has been scheduled “in order of nastiness,” meaning that the films screening earliest in October were declared by the programmers to be the least offensive. The first week, which began Oct. 1, includes Dario Argento's Suspiria follow-up Inferno, on Oct. 6. Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead and Andrzej Zuławski's Possession occupy the middle ground in the middle of the month. Finally, Berg says, “We end with Cannibal Holocaust, which we deemed to be the most face-ripping awful thing on the list.”
The series even has a Survivor angle: Cinefamily plans to offer a free, one-year membership to the person who manages to sit through the most nasties over the month. –Karina Longworth