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: *****

Book Review: Portable Grindhouse by Jacques Boyreau

Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of The VHS Box

It has been said that I live in the past. That my obsession with my childhood heroes, comics and pop music from the eighties shows a lack of maturity, and an inability to grow up…

… but enough about my wife’s opinions of me.

I have to say though that I agree with her 100%: I love nostalgia. I am easily swayed by a bad movie if it has a character or situation that had something to do with my younger days… in other words, I am the guy who likes Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull, the ‘new’ Star Wars films and George Romero’s new dead trilogy. Some of the best books I have bought in the last 24 months have been ‘The Best of Smash Hits by Mark Frith (all about the legendary pop music mag of the eighties), Not Quite Hollywood by Paul Harris (a solid, if somewhat thin accompaniment to the hit film), Just Can’t Get Enough by Mathew Robinson and Jensen Karp ( a look at some of the coolest toys from the eighties) and this book: Portable Grindhouse by Jacques Boyreau, a look at the lost art of the VHS box.

Immediately, before I go into the contents of the book, I must state my utter admiration for the design of the book. Remember those old cardboard video boxes that sell through video cassettes came in? My movie collection actually started with a copy of Bloodbath at the House of Death, and I cherished that cardboard boxed film until I watched it so many times that I completely wore the bastard out. This book actually comes packaged in a slightly larger version of one of those boxes, and for those of us who haven’t seen one in a while; you will be wiped out by the wave of reminiscence that will wash over you.

So why is this book designed in such a fashion? Well, as the name may suggest it is a celebration of the VHS box, and its artwork, which was occasionally (usually?) of dubious quality. The introduction gives us both a look at the author’s discovery of the VHS, and then actually goes into the history of the format, and why so many people still love it.

The body of the book is a joy to behold: each double page features a look at the front and spine of a video box on one page (in a ¾ view), and a close up of the back, which gives either a synopsis of the film, or a look at other films released by the same company. For those of VHS age, or new collectors of the format, the distribution names will be familiar: All Seasons Entertainment, Media, Trans World Entertainment… the list goes on.

The films celebrated are mainly genre stuff, like My Bloody Valentine, Stunt Rock or The Tool Box Murders, and some more obscure titles like The Porno Killer, Midnight Intruders or Alien Massacre. There are some non genre stuff as well, all weird in their own way, like Roger Raglin Best Kept Secrets (a video bow-hunting manual), Gary Coleman: For Safety’s Sake (a guide to being safe in your home, hosted by Gary Coleman, with his assistants Jack and Jill Example, and Nurse Helpquick) and Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World (an animated feature which steals directly from Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

This book is the paper version of those trailer mix-tapes you used to be able to get, and are occasionally available on DVD (like All Monsters Attack). It’s not essential for your collection, but you will find yourself revisiting it often, and showing anyone who remembers these types of VHS Boxes.

My only problem with this book is that it feels as though the spine could crack if it is not treated with some degree of care: this is NOT a book you can open up on a flat surface without doing exactly that. Love this book, but be VERY careful with it. I will admit that this book would have gotten 5 stars if I could be confident of its resilience against repeated readings.

This tome is published by Fantagraphics Books, a company of whom I am a great fan as they have published some fantastic comic collections in the past. While it is not the be all and end all of VHS covers collections, it is a wonderful look at the cardboard box art of yesteryear. Let’s hope Boyreau can find his way clear to do more books of this type!

This really is the perfect book for the movie fan: light on text, heavy on image.

Verdict: ****

Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box

One from the reread pile…

Potable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box (2009)

It has been said that I live in the past. That my obsession with my childhood comic heroes, eighties pop music on vinyl and my persistent purchase of physical media shows a lack of an ability to move forward, and an inability to grow up…

… but enough about my wife’s opinions of me…

I have to say though that I agree with her 100%: I love nostalgia. I am easily swayed by a bad movie if it has a character or situation that reminds me of my younger days. In other words, I am the guy who likes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the ‘new’ Star Wars films (ok, NOT The Last Jedi) and George Romero’s new Dead trilogy, and most of my book purchases are based around older collections of comics, or books about films of the era I enjoy the most… which is why I purchased a copy of Jacques Boyreau’s Portable Grindhouse: The Last Art of the VHS Box.

Immediately, before I go into the contents of the book, I must state my utter admiration for its design. Remember those old cardboard video boxes that sell-through video cassettes came in? My movie collection actually started with a copy of Bloodbath at the House of Death, and I cherished that cardboard boxed cassette until I watched it so many times I completely wore the bastard out. This book actually comes packaged in a slightly larger version of one of those boxes, and for those of us who haven’t seen one in a while, you will be wiped out by the wave of reminiscence that will wash over you.

So why is this book designed in such a fashion? Well, as the name may suggest it is a celebration of the VHS box, and its artwork, which was occasionally (usually?) of dubious quality. The introduction gives us both a look at the author’s discovery of the VHS, and then goes into the history of the format, and why so many people still love it.

The body of the book is a joy to behold: each double page features a look at the front and spine of a video box on one page (in a ¾ view), and a close up of the back, which gives either a synopsis of the film, or a look at other films released by the same company. For those of VHS age, or new collectors of the format, the distribution names will be familiar: All Seasons Entertainment, Media, Trans World Entertainment… the list goes on.

The films celebrated are mainly genre stuff, like My Bloody Valentine, Stunt Rock and The Toolbox Murders, and some more obscure titles like The Porno Killer, Midnight Intruders and Alien Massacre. There’s some non genre stuff as well, all weird in their own way, like Roger Raglin Best Kept Secrets (a video bow-hunting manual), Gary Coleman: For Safety’s Sake (a guide to being safe in your home, hosted by Gary Coleman, with his assistants Jack and Jill Example, and Nurse Helpquick) and Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World (an animated feature which steals directly from Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

This book is the paper version of those trailer park Bluray and dvds you can get, like Umbrella’s Drive-In Delirium collections. It’s not essential for you collection, but you will find yourself revisiting it often, and show anyone from older movie fans who remember VHS days, to modern day VHS collectors.

One with this book is it feels as though the spine of the book could crack if it’s not treated with kid gloves: no opening this up on table for this book. I really dig this book, but the packaging I admire is also detrimental to its longevity. DO NOT lend this to a book abuser!

This time is published by Fantagraphics Books, a company of whom I am a great fan as they have published some amazing comic collections in the past. Whilst this may not be the be-all and end-all of VHS cover collections, it is a wonderful look at the box art of yesteryear. Boyreau has several other books of a similar theme, including Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters.

This is a great book, though maybe being light on text is detrimental to it being one you would revisit regularly.

Score: ***

Dustin Ferguson’s New Documentary

If, like me, you love a good… or even a bad… doco about cinema, you might be interested in this film currently about to hit production, by Dustin Ferguson, director of Robowoman and Horndogs Beach Party.

This documentary, titled ‘Direct To Video – Straight to Video Horror of the Nineties’ is certainly something I’ll be VERY interested in as personally, I think the i0s is the very WORST decade for horror, and of that opinion can be changed, I’ll be open to it.

Poster by Mancat Design.