The Video Nasties #36 – Women Behind Bars (1975, Jess Franco)

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‘Men are all rotten.’

‘True, but you still miss ‘em’.

Well this was a surprise. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to watching any of the Women In Prison/Nazisploitation movies on the list, and this one has a particularly poor reputation. And yet it turned out to be a good ‘un!

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The start is not promising. We learn in voiceover of a tremendous jewellery heist, and then watch it play out. Except, we don’t really. We see three masked robbers run out of their car and onto a boat. The camera stays outside. There are gunshots, and the three run back into their car. Oh well, I guess that was the heist then. Would have been nice to have actually seen it, but whatever…

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The bulk of the film concerns Franco’s regular muse (and eventual wife) Lina Romay, who has been incarcerated after killing her boyfriend, the head jewel thief. She goes to a small jail dressed in skintight flares and a top that is pushing the buttons to breaking point. Sadly, this does not turn out to be the regulation prison outfit, though I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had.

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By this point, I’m expecting the worst. Like Love Camp 7 before it, it is surely only a matter of time before the poorly lit, grotty softcore fumblings begin. Instead, we are given a mystery. Everyone wants to know what Lina did with the missing diamonds from the robbery, and will do anything to find out. Lina, carrying the film effortlessly with a cool and sexy performance, plays innocent so well, but we know she’s hiding something.

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It’s a stronger than usual script for Franco to be working from, one part noir crime film (a genre he would dabble in from time to time) and one part prison movie.  Despite this, there are the usual Franco touches, guaranteed to fascinate and irritate in equal measure. His penchant for zooms is very apparent. I think the problem people have with the zooms is that he doesn’t just zoom in, but nearly always loses focus, before zooming back out and this time losing the framing, then zooming back in again. It’s ugly to look at, but in general the film is pretty good looking.

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Franco’s usual eye for great locations rarely lets him down, and he gets good mileage out of the sunny coastline (an unusual setting for a prison movie!) and a long tunnel that characters seem to endlessly walk up and down.

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Franco films often have a melancholy air about them, and Women Behind Bars is no different. Scenes in the prison of Romay gazing through the bars, while a fellow inmate sings over a demented version of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring are quintessential Franco, while the murder of a fellow inmate while she sleeps is handled brilliantly, another stunning combination of sound and vision.

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Look, I know Franco has directed some garbage in his career. Hell, when you’ve made over 200 films, there’s bound to be some stinkers in there. But I honestly believe that when he’s at his best, in films such as A Virgin Among the Living Dead or Vampyros Lesbos, he’s untouchable for fascinating dreamlike imagery. I wonder how much of his poor reputation in this country stems from the films of his that appeared on the Nasty list? Bloody Moon, Devil Hunter, even this film are not anywhere near Franco at his best, and yet these were a lot of people’s first (and often last) taste of Uncle Jess. Argento gets represented on the list by Inferno and Tenebrae, while Fulci gets no less than three masterpieces. All I’m saying is, don’t dismiss this film out of hand, it’s got some surprises up it’s sleeve.

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It’s pretty apparent why the film was banned. Despite there being only one sex scene, well over halfway into the film, there are two torture sequences that no doubt set the DPP’s pulse racing. A whipping scene followed by a pretty nasty bit where Lina has electrodes fitted to her genitals are enough to mean the film will probably never get an uncut release in the UK.

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If you’re new to Franco, then please skip this one for now and go straight to something more mainstream, perhaps Faceless or Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion. But otherwise, this is a cautious recommend for me.

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The Video Nasties #35 – The Werewolf and the Yeti (1975, MI Bonns)

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‘You’re not an ordinary woman…you’ve got personality.’

Near the start of The Werewolf and The Yeti, there’s an establishing shot of London, with Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament visible. The choice of soundtrack? Scotland The Brave. Close, guys. So very close. Unfortunately, this mistake is indicative of the whole movie, which keeps getting close, so very close to being a great movie, without ever quite getting there.

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The Werewolf and The Yeti is notable for being one of only two Paul Naschy films on the Nasties. Wait, you thought there was more? No, you must be thinking of the Video Naschies.

Sorry guys, I’ll stop now. For those unfamiliar with the man, Naschy (real name Jacinta Molina Alvarez) is a one man Spanish horror film making institution, whose films generally harken back to a more innocent time. He specialises in outrageous monster mash-ups, with titles like The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman and Dr Jekyll and The Wolfman. Yeah, there’s a lot of wolfmen, as his most famous recurring character is Waldemar Daninsky, the tortured lycanthropic hero of this film.

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Waldemar begins this film uninfected with the curse, roaming around Tibet looking for The Yeti, who we saw murdering some mountaineers in the opening. Remember this, because you’re not going to see that yeti again for a long, lo-o-o-ong time. He stumbles upon a cave where two beautiful women live, who decide to keep him alive as he would make a ‘passionate lover’. Of course, they turn out to be werewolves, and before Naschy can kill them he is bitten.

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Meanwhile, a group of Naschy’s pals back at base camp head out to rescue him, despite the numerous warnings of bad weather, bandits and yetis. By the the end of the film, the entire group has died trying to rescue old Paul, apart from – can you guess? – a beautiful woman. You see, in Paul Naschy movies, he is irresistible to women, despite having the hair of a Lego man.

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I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but this is another one of those films that does not belong on the list. Despite some mild gore and bare bums, at heart this is an old fashioned adventure romp, with the main antagonists being neither the werewolf women nor the yeti, but a gang of bandits. The most violent scene is when a nude woman has the skin from her back flayed, but it’s certainly no worse than some of the stuff Hammer was putting out at the time, and even in the early 80s this must have seemed pretty tame. Perhaps the man impaled on a spike gave the DPP Cannibal Holocaust flashbacks or somethin’.

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Regardless, this is one hell of an entertaining film. It’s not a patch on Naschy’s best work, which often transcended camp to become genuinely twisted and weird, but it’s a solidly entertaining action film. The climax sees Naschy taking on the chief bandit in a hair-raising duel that sees him just barely ducking out of the way of a real flaming torch and avoiding booby trapped spiked floors. It’s like Raiders of the Lost Yeti, which is 100% a film I would pay to see.

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Then finally, the yeti (remember him?) puts in a last appearance for a knock down drag out scrap with our hombre lobo. The last shot sees our two lovebirds (Naschy and his woman, not Naschy and the Yeti) walking off into the snow together, presumably to die of hypothermia, while the happy music swells.

Naschy’s deep love for cinema is apparent in every frame, and his enthusiasm infectious. It’s not exactly a ‘Nasty’, despite it’s prosecution by the DPP, but it does make for a fun afternoon.

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The Video Nasties #34 – Suicide Cult (1975, James Glickenhaus)

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‘It’s been five months, for God’s sake make love to me!’

There’s a sequence towards the end of Suicide Cult where a government agent/astrologer attempts to assassinate a cult leader by shooting him with a tranquilliser dart and attaching electrodes to his head. Using these electrodes, she plans to transmit footage she shot earlier of a body double of the cultist killing himself, in the hopes that the leader will wake up and also try to kill himself using a knife that she has covered in poison.

What. The. Eff.

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Don’t get too excited though, as is the closest Suicide Cult gets to anything even remotely resembling action. It’s one of the most relentlessly talky, confusing, poorly scripted and downright boring movies on the list, and yes, that’s including I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses.

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It shouldn’t have been like this. I was really looking forward to watching Suicide Cult, as director James Glickenhaus was responsible for such trashy action classics as The Exterminator and Jackie Chan’s The Protector, but none of his schlocky excesses are in evidence here apart from a reliance on stock footage of real life corpses, which is always a sure way to kill any sense of fun or entertainment in your movie.

If this movie reminds me of anything, it’s a conspiracy episode from late period X-Files. Like those, Suicide Cult opens with footage of space and the sun while an impenetrable monologue drones on in the background, something about ‘Alexie’ and ‘InterZod’ and ‘the second coming’ and ‘zodiacal potential’.

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See, the film is about a scientist called Alexie who has turned astrology into an exact science, and using someone’s birthday can tell whether they are going to lead a good or a bad life. When Alexie tracks down the Virgin Mary’s birth certificate (!) he discovers that either his virginal wife or a sinister Indian cultist may be the second coming…

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Somewhere in there is a terrific plot about religious horror, the apocalypse, the birth of the Anti-Christ and a top secret government cabal trying to stop them. It should be a thrilling globe trotting adventure, but instead we get men in suits talking to each other. Sometimes they’re in a bar. Sometimes they’re in an office. One time, in a rare highlight, they sit and talk on a plane. For a desperate race against time, no one seems to want to do anything. Again, it feels very like a filler X-Files episode, lots of shadowy men discussing world-ending conspiracies in hushed tones.

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Thankfully – thankfully – there is the cult leader himself, Kajerste. He’s barely in the film, but anytime he is things pick up considerably. This is a guy with such a following, he even has a man to pull his pants down for him before he has sex with a sacrificial virgin as part of a weird slow motion sex-magic ritual. Later he makes a woman stab herself in literally the only bit of violence in the whole movie. Despite his potential for bringing about the end of the world, he’s arguably still preferable to his counterpart Kate, who’s introduced to us visiting a fortune teller. The fortune teller tells Kate that she must strip away her pretences and asks her to take all her clothes off, which Kate dutifully does! Come on Kate, don’t fall for that, it’s the oldest trick in the pervert book! You’re supposed to be the second coming of Christ or somethin’, try and demonstrate some street smarts.

One of the more inexplicable inclusions on the Section 3 list, I can only assume some dum-dum saw the word Suicide and figured it would encourage children to hypnotise each other into stabbing themselves with poisoned knives. There’s also a moment that would be severely frowned upon post 9/11, where our hero Alexie makes a joke about an airplane crashing into the LA Coliseum during Super Bowl and gets a big laugh out of his class. Alexie you bastard, you have a zodiacal potential machine! You could have stopped it!

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The Video Nasties #33 – The Love Butcher (1975, Don Jones & Mike Angel)

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‘Do you enjoy this? Being a ghoul?’

The Love Butcher is the delightful tale of a recently widowed small town butcher who, in between preparing his delicious sausages for the hungry townsfolk, dispenses sage advice in the matter of love to all the residents. But one day, a beautiful woman looking for a man who knows his beef walks into his shop…and into his heart.

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Nah I’m just fucking with you. The Love Butcher is actually about a disabled gardener who’s a necrophiliac serial killer with multiple personalities, thank goodness. We’re back in Don Jones territory, and though the sleaze quotient is lower than Abducted, the film is even better than that unexpectedly interesting movie.

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Initial signs are not good. The first shot is of a girl with a pitchfork through her chest, followed by a rose being pruned, which I believe is Chapter 1 of Symbolism for Dummies. We quickly find out that the murderer is Caleb, the ‘crippled gimp’ gardener, who’s brother is actually a polystyrene tailors dummy. I was initially worried that this was going to be a twist in the same way that the obvious reveal at the end of Abducted was, but no, Don Jones knows we’ve seen that old trick too many times. He gets good mileage out of that dummy though, and scenes of Caleb arguing with it while the dummy wears a wig and smokes a cigarette hit the perfect blackly comic tone. Erik Stern plays Caleb and his imaginary brother Lester and gives something of a tour-de-force performance, using every accent in his Big Actor’s Book of Tricks. And if he just happens to look exactly like Larry ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ David while playing Caleb, then so be it.

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There’s even some intentional broad humour in the film which, as expected, fails to come off. The addition of comedic sound effects and ‘wah-wah-wah’ music is a real mis-step, but Jones makes up for it by trying again for some of the more unusual and artistic touches that were found in Abducted. There’s a stunning sequence  where Caleb/Lester (let’s call him Calester) murders a nude woman with a hose down her throat, which ends with Calester dancing in front of mirror flashing back to how he imagined her supposedly seducing him. He dumps her body in the bath and turns the tap on, the bubbles obscuring her face as she sinks down under the water, now just a body with an indiscernible face, which is how Calester seems to see all women.

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Later there’s a similar scene that plays with perspective and imagination, when one of Calester’s victims sees her boyfriend standing at the window. She runs to him and he changes into a corpse who crashes down on top of her in super slow motion. It’s a moment that is more Brian DePalma than HG Lewis, which is ironic as the plot is very similar to DePalma’s later crackpot thriller Raising Cain.

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Jones throws everything he’s got at the last half hour, with a couple of genuinely shocking and unexpected murders and a final shot that is beautifully strange and inconclusive. In between those comes the reason for the films inclusion in Section 3, a nasty scene where a woman is stripped naked and beaten with a rake. Apart from that, there’s a general air of misogyny about the film and the women are almost as helpless as those in Abducted, though at least a couple of them try and fight back in this film before being easily overpowered by a man.

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Don Jones clearly had ideas and talent. It’s a pity that neither The Love Butcher nor Abducted ended up on the Section 2 Nasties lists, as I have a feeling he would be much better known and more respected if that had been the case. It’s criminal that trash like The Beast in Heat and Love Camp 7 are more desirable titles than The Love Butcher just because they made it onto the list. This film easily matches them for dry, passionless sex scenes whilst adding such niceties as decent performances and an understanding of editing and pace, something I wish more Nasties had…

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The Video Nasties #32 – Exposé (1975, James Kenelm Clarke)

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‘You really look good y’know. Yes, really good.

You look very good. You look very, very good indeed.’

As if you couldn’t tell from the Salvation Army brass band, the rain and the 30-something thugs on bmx’s, Exposé is the first truly British movie to feature on our list. Oh sure, The Living Dead was filmed in England, but by Spaniards and Italians. Here, we have the quintessentially English, errr, Udo Kier, with Ken doll hair and a necktie so wide you could strap it to a yacht and go sailing. Sadly, those hoping for a repeat of his manic performance in Flesh for Frankenstein will be dismayed to know that he’s been dubbed here. More’s the pity.

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The plot concerns Udo as Paul Martin, an author working on his second book. He hires the always welcome presence of Linda Hayden to be his secretary, and things rapidly spiral into a weird psychosexual melodrama. The whole film actually plays out like a proto-Basic Instinct ‘erotic thriller’, sadly lacking in both eroticism and thrills. I mean each to their own and all, but my idea of sexy is not Udo Kier wearing rubber surgical gloves while 70s British glamour starlet Fiona Richmond (you know, star of such films as Let’s Get Laid) grinds against him through the prism of a distorted lens, bucking and screeching like she’s being eaten by a crocodile. And this is how the film opens!

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In what are easily my favourite sections of the movie, we see Kier dictating his masterpiece to Hayden. I think the only proper thing to do is to transcribe it for you, dear reader, much like Linda Hayden is doing in the film. How delightfully meta! So buckle up and prepare yourself for a passage from Paul Martin’s latest opus. I have written it exactly as he describes, so the punctuation is all his. Guys, it’s about to get real saucy in here.

‘He felt soft under the sheets warm, gone was the formal exterior that had presented itself so fearfully this last week. Here in his arms was a sensitive being. Passionate and demanding. Then Angus’ tongue starts it’s slow exploration starting here arousing there playing on Anna like a virtuoso with a Stradivarius or a Steinway, a great wonderful catharsis of lust. Anna’s legs slowly pointed and each caress urgently moving, demanding she was wet with anticipation.’

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There you go. If only someone had written and published the whole book as some kind of delirious promotional tie-in. What a collectors item that would have been! I guess the world just wasn’t ready for such a great wonderful catharsis of lust. And to think that Kier claims the book was in line for the pulitzer prize! What a sorry year for literature 1975 must have been.

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What’s that? You want more? You got it.

‘They turned in at the end of the drive, and Angus stopped the car quietly. Their kiss was neither tender nor affectionate, it was carnal, it was lustful, wet and greedy, lingering, passionate but with warmth; possessive but with calm “I love you” Angus’ voice soft in the interior. Ice crystals forming on the windscreen of the russet sky, an ironical setting after all there had been.’

Fucking hell! Of course it’s later revealed that he had stolen his first book and driven the actual author to suicide (whoops, pretend you didn’t read that) so I guess it makes sense that his book was not quite up to scratch.

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With Kier dubbed, it’s up to Linda Hayden to keep things entertaining. Thankfully, she was one of the brightest stars of the 70s British horror scene, with memorable turns in films like Blood on Satan’s Claw. Here, she spends much of the film nude or masturbating or both, while still finding time to go on a murderous rampage, culminating in a very graphic shower murder that was certainly the reason that this film was banned. And guys, none of that is a spoiler. The original VHS cover spells the whole thing out, giving you the entire plot right up to the final twist!

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It’s not a film I’d urge anyone to seek out. Instead, why not seek out an alternate dimension, where Udo Kier is Paul Martin and has written the novelisation of this film, playing on it like a virtuoso with a Stradivarius or Steinway, his legs slowly pointing and each caress urgently moving, wet with anticipation.

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The Video Nasties #31 – Deep Red (1974, Dario Argento)

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‘Have it your own way, stupid.

I’ll carry out my own investigation and we’ll see

who comes out on top.’

Part murder mystery, part screwball battle of the sexes comedy, Deep Red is one of the high points of director Dario Argento’s career and therefore one of the best horror films of the 70s. I just wish it wasn’t so damn long!

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I’m not going to give away too much of the plot, because I’d like to think I’m not a total jerk. Let’s just say that Jazz pianist Marc witnesses a murder and finds himself a target of the killer along with brassy reporter Gianna, played by Daria Nicolodi, who would marry Argento shortly after meeting on this film. Dario and Daria – somehow, I can’t imagine dating someone who has pretty much the same name as me, but I guess they made it work for a while. The whole film is practically a love letter from Dario to Daria – she’s always beautifully lit, and even simple shots like the twirling of a cigarette or walking out of a room are staged with an operatic grandeur.

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The whole film has the swagger of a young director reeking of confidence, and rightly so; here Dario is working with possibly the best cast, crew and script he ever had. The story is a typical giallo, but with the addition of some subtle supernatural overtones – I love the fact that one of the characters is a genuine psychic is readily accepted by everyone, no questions asked. Oh Helga? Yeah, she’s a psychic. Don’t worry about it.

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Argento’s confidence is staggering – from the prowling, roaming camerawork to using the background of a scene to homage Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks – but it can also be his undoing. During the last 40 minutes of the film, over 15 minutes are spent watching Marc investigate a house (twice!) and a school. It’s hard to be mad because the sequences are shot with such verve and style, but in a 126 minute movie I can’t help but feel they could at least have been shortened. In fact, the version that nearly made the Nasties is the shorter 105 minute international cut, which in some ways improves the pacing of the film, though sometimes at the expense of some amusing character moments between Marc and Gianna. In particular, the absence of most of the police inspector’s scenes are an absolute godsend. I could also do without the flashes of animal violence, such as the fighting dogs and pinned lizard, but it’s not like we’re watching Faces of Death or something.

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In a way it’s surprising that Deep Red didn’t end up with the Section 2 films. The violence is fairly drawn out and sadistic and, worst of all, relatable. A woman being burnt with boiling water and a man smashing his teeth off a table are the sort of awful things that could easily happen to anyone, and make the scenes truly wince-inducing. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have a death at the end of the film that is so spectacular and drawn out that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn it was the basis for the Final Destination movies.

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Deep Red is such a definitive example of the gialli that Argento left the genre behind for several years, instead fully embracing the supernatural elements that this film only hinted at with Suspiria and Inferno, both of which will be making an appearance shortly.

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On a personal note, when in Rome in 2015 I visited the Profondo Rosso store, Dario Argento’s horror memorabilia store run by his friend and fellow Nasty director Luigi ‘Contamination’ Cozzi. Downstairs there’s a museum of horrors that features several props used in Dario’s movies – from Deep Red there’s the knives and, of course, the painting that plays such an important role. After a long day my fiancée and I got back to the hotel and switched on the tv right as Deep Red was starting in unsubtitled Italian.

Did we sit and watch it? What the hell do you think, pal? When in Rome…

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The Video Nasties #30 – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

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‘I just can’t take no pleasure in killing.’

Well, what do you want me to say? It’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, isn’t it? If you’re reading a blog on the Video Nasties and you’ve never seen it I’d be quite surprised. One of a handful of designated ‘classic’ horror films alongside The Exorcist and The Shining, the title has permeated deep into popular modern culture. Hell, even my granny would know the title.

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All of which means there’s very little left to say about Tobe Hooper’s film. The ultimate goal of this blog is to try and shine a light on some of the forgotten, neglected and misunderstood films of the Nasties. I don’t honestly think I need to sell you on seeing TCM – suffice to say that it’s still as powerful today as it ever was.

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From the dread inducing opening that finishes on a transcendently beautiful shot of a desecrated corpse wired to a gravestone, to the apocalyptic intensity of the final dinner scene, Chain Saw holds up, its malevolent power undiminished by age or time.

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Some films suffer from being transferred to Blu-Ray, their faults and flaws exposed for all the world in unforgiving high definition – not so here. This is one of those rare films where everything seems to have fallen into place – the setting, the performances, the atonal music, the strangely elegant cinematography. Special mention should be reserved for the razor sharp editing and the production design. There should be some kind of horror IKEA that deals in replicas of the furniture and ornaments of the family home featured here.

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That Texas Chain Saw Massacre is featured on the Nasties is no surprise. That it failed to feature alongside the Section 2 Nasties is a surprise. The film had been banned in the UK for 6 years prior to its video release (videos did not have to be certified by the BBFC at the time) due to its disturbing tone, so quite how it avoided prosecution is a mystery. Confusion and double standards within the Video Nasties? Say it ain’t so!

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