BOOK REVIEW: THE ART OF THE NASTY

The Art of the Nasty by Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris

My horror addiction doesn’t just stop at DVDs and Blurays (and a very small quantity of laserdisc and VHS), I also have a far-too-large collection of horror related toys, novels, board games, video games and comics, but my favourite non-plastic disc collectables are my books ABOUT horror films especially of they take a specific aspect of horror cinema and completely dissect it. At the top of those books that sit amongst my favourites is the wonderful second edition of Nigel Wingrove and Marc Morris’s The Art of the Nasty.

The book looks at the ‘Video Nasty’ part of England’s VHS and cinema history. Honestly if you are a horror fan and don’t know about this or at the very least haven’t seen the documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide perhaps you should go outside and shake yourself, and then look it up before reading any further, but here’s a quick recap anyway: in the late 70s/ early 80s in the UK, during the rise of VHS, the politicians and media got stuck into home cinema because of the sex and violence contained within, and this may have been due to the way they were advertised and their lurid, and occasionally misleading covers which singled them out and basically lead to massive cuts as the British Board of Film Censorship (known as the BBFC, and the latter letter eventually changed to mean Classification) flexed its muscles and went on a cut-fest.

That’s basically what happened but obviously there is a HELL of a lot more to it. The effects are felt still today, as some films that have been released in other parts of the world uncut are still edited in the UK; Shameless’s The New York Ripper being a standout.

Anyway, this book is a celebration of the VHS covers of the time and just how the sex and violence of the contents were used to sell the film, seeing as how the covers were the ONLY selling point back in the non-internet days. Wingrove speaks from a firsthand experience in a lot of this, seeing as how he founded Redemption Films and Salvation Group and created the online experience Satanic Sluts. He also had his film, Visions of Ecstasy, refused distribution on the grounds of blasphemy!! His co-author, Marc Morris is a historian and broadcaster who mainly writes books about the middle ages, but also assisted Francis Brewster and Harvey Fenton with the book ‘Shock! Horror!’ another book about the art of the Nasty VHS.

The books opens with 2 forwards, titled The Nasties: A Personal View by Wingrove, one from the original edition from 1998 and the other more recently in 2009. The two forewards are definitely necessary as post-millennium so many previously banned films have been released, mostly completely uncut, and Wingrove discusses the change opinions in the new one.

The book then breaks down into chapter relating to different aspects of the Nasties. The Official Nasties, which covers the 39 films deemed obscene by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Nasties On Parole, which are the ones the DPP couldn’t get a conviction, Nasties – The Ones That Got Away, which are ones that completely avoided the DPP’s eye, Nice and Sleazy Does It, which looks at covers from the pre-certification era of VHS and finally The Good, The Bad and the Vomit-Inducing which is described as the best of the rest, still sleazy, but not to the extent of some of the others. The book concludes with a Video Company Listing which lists VHS companies and the films they released: essential reading for UK VHS collectors.

The book is, as you would expect, lavishly illustrated with some of the most striking images of VHS releases of the time and really, even as a devout horror collector, I am surprised by some of the images on these VHS covers (I don’t object to them, I just am surprised that middle class shop owners of the less-permissive early 80s would have allowed these images on shelves in their shops!!). All the images have a small blurb which tells the Original Title of the film, its country of origin, the director, the year and time and the video label that released that particular version. There is also a supportive paragraph which describes what the film was about and any interesting situations in which the film may have been involved. If I am to pass any criticism of this book, it is in these paragraphs as mostly I wanted more… but then again, the book is about the images, and essentially I can research any film on which I wish to gain more knowledge.

Each page also has a contextual historical snippet to show what was happening in the world at the time, which whilst not entirely necessary, is an interesting idea as it shows, now and again, what was happening in politics and other areas of pop culture at the time. It is a nice garnish to the feast that is the images and their accompanying text.

On the whole, this book is a horror gem, as inadvertently becomes a GREAT support to the aforementioned Video Nasties doco. It is well written and the bold images are an absolute treat!

Rating: *****

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