We caught up with filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond, director of the short film NASTY screening at the festival this year, discussed her upcoming projects with Film4, banned horror titles from the 70s and 80s and her perspectives on the history of VHS horror in Britain. Read on… if you dare!
A brief introduction to yourself as a filmmaker.
I’m Prano Bailey-Bond and my work predominantly spans the thriller-horror genres. I grew up in Wales on a diet of Twin Peaks and now live in London where I direct various film-type things. NASTY is my fifth short. I’m currently shooting my next short with Film4, and developing my first feature, backed by Ffilm Cymru Wales and produced by Silver Salt Films.
The film sets out to satirize the “terror of the VHS horror film home video”, would you say there was a significant moment, a particular film or films, that in your eyes landmarks the beginning of this genre?
Yes. In the UK it was a list of films… During the early 80’s when VHS first became available there was a boom in low budget horror being made. Films could now skip cinema release and go direct to the home on video and there was no form of censorship in place for VHS at the time. There was a lot of fear surrounding VHS horror and what it might to do the general public who watched them, so eventually after much campaigning by the Daily Mail and Mary Whitehouse, a list of 72 banned titles was drawn up. Most of these films were made during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and included ‘I Spit On Your Grave’, ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. This new ‘banned’ status made those films appealingly illicit, and became a kind of ‘holy grail’ for those who dared to watch them, thus giving birth to a generation of horror fans…
What is it people were so afraid of culturally, socially or even psychologically with the introduction of horror inside the family home?
There were a number of fears ranging from the supernatural to the *slightly* more logical. Becoming morally corrupt or “possessed” by the video nasties seemed fathomable to the Daily Mail, who wrote articles such as “‘Taken over’ by something evil from the TV set” and “Rape of our Childrens’ Minds”.
It was as if these films held some kind of metaphysical power that could change someone’s personality.
There was a real fear of what the video nasties might do to young people’s minds – were they spawning a generation of murderers and psychopaths? The reaction to comic books in the 50’s is comparable, and video games and Internet porn today – we seem to be terrified of the potential damage to the next generation. The fact that people could view these films in private, rewind and re-watch them, specifically the violent scenes, was a big concern, as people could ‘study’ the violence. To anyone who’s watched even a few of the nasties, this seems a bizarre notion; ‘studying’ them only further reveals the (sometimes terrible) visual effects. Perhaps the idea of this happening ‘behind closed doors’ was sort of seedy and frightening to people too – it was a new phenomenon. Anything with home items used as weapons, such as kitchen knives, axes, scissors etc were worrying as this could be easily copied.
It was as if people were afraid of the video nasty seeping into the real world somehow, and this is what I was exploring in NASTY. This conversation between fiction and reality really fascinates me.
Sigmund Freud once theorised on the notion of the “unheimlich”, that true horror is a result of the act of seeing the familiar in a new, unfamiliar context such as frightening objects or experiences within the stereotypically ‘safe’ family home.
With this in mind, can you talk briefly on the importance of the ‘mundane suburbia’ as the setting of the film?
Yes, video nasties fit this theory perfectly – they were the horror descending upon the familiar in the early 80’s, threatening to ‘possess’ your family members within your family home. Suddenly in this situation we all become afraid of Mum, Dad, Brother; an idea that recurs in many horrors, and in NASTY it’s about the family home and Doug’s mind being invaded by horror film itself.
Establishing ‘mundane suburbia’ in NASTY was also important in reflecting the appeal of the video nasties – they were lurid and sensational – all the things that grey 80’s Britain was not.
At a time when Thatcher ruled, job losses were rising and there was a great deal of social unrest, VHS horror was perhaps both a catharsis and a scapegoat for social fears. When Doug discovers these videos in the film, they offer him a new kind of thrill that he can’t find in the ‘real’ world… it’s scary, but an exciting kind of scary that really draws him in and eventually takes over.
And finally, why the term ‘Nasty’?
According to some, it was Mary Whitehouse that first coined the term ‘video nasty’. It was a UK term to describe what were considered to be unpleasant, indecent, offensive films, and I guess it’s become a sub-genre of horror in a way, although it definitely refers to an era. Using the term for our title is a direct reference to that era and its films. We play a lot on the titles of the time, for example the film Doug watches called ‘Evil Dad’. It’s unashamedly meta, and fun to incorporate into the narrative. Hopefully fun for those who recognise the references too, as it speaks to our own experience of those films, and our own relationship with horror.
Wow, that was awesome, thanks Prano!