November 26, 2011

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974)


THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973)
THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974)

(UK, USA, Spain, Panama co-production)

Now that's what I call swashbuckling...

After many versions of Alexander Dumas' classic adventure The Three Musketeers, I'm only really impressed by this adaption that divided the story over two movies, Hobbit-style. The cast, comedy, adventure and quirky humour are somehow never at odds with the original story, using spectacular locations, lush cinematography, and historical accuracy.


Dumas wove fact and fiction together around historical events and characters. This story makes the most of existing locations (mainly around Toledo in Spain) to evoke the period and settings of 17th century France and England. The director of photography is David Watkin who'd filmed The Devils two years earlier. I think Ken Russell's approach  informed the look, approach and even casting of the two musketeers films, which re-use Oliver Reed and Michael Gothard (also the vampire villain in Scream and Scream Again).

While the photography isn't as dark as the candlelit realism soon to be lavished on Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), the lighting still evokes the period long before electricity, but with the slightly more romantic look of a Dutch master. Together with the astonishing costumes and palaces on display, this definitely deserves its new digitally restored Blu-ray release. The two films were popular hits perfect for the British summer school holidays of 1974 and 1975.


The movies raised a benchmark for realism by adding blood and exhaustion to the swordfights. Some are played for laughs, but you always know that the swords and sabres are deadly and that the bloody wounds hurt. Here, all the history is kept quirky because of the well-researched scriptwriter George MacDonald Fraser, author of the still-cherished Flashman books. (They too inspired a lavish location-rich movie starring Alan Bates and Malcolm McDowell, Royal Flash in 1975). Fraser also wrote a cutting book rounding up Hollywood's greatest historical inaccuracies.

The cast is an impressive mixture of European, British and American stars, but all convincingly cast. Watching it digitally for the first time, it was very apparent that the entire dialogue track had been re-recorded afterwards ('looped'). Even at the time, we could tell that some of the extras had had humorous dialogue added in later, such as the sedan chair carriers complaining about Faye Dunaway, ("She's put on weight..."), and passers-by commenting on Raquel Welch running around the streets in her nightgown at night, "Put some clothes on, you saucy bitch!". Also Jean-Pierre Cassel (actor Vincent Cassel's dad) as the confused French king, appears to be performing in English but sounds more like Richard Briers.


Producers, the Salkind Brothers, made news by filming The Three and The Four Musketeers back-to-back, with the cast under the impression it was one epic film. So despite the story being released as two movies, they'd only received one fee. Christopher Lee points out in The Authorised Screen History that the small print mentioned they were being paid for a 'project', not a movie. The producers tried the same manoeuvre five years later with the first two big-budget Superman movies. This time less successfully - director Richard Lester having to complete Superman II after the production lost actor Gene Hackman (a stand-in is used in many scenes) and director Richard Donner (who recently released his own more serious version).

The musketeers movies were apparently an easier coup, but listening carefully it sounds to me like the American cast didn't return to loop their characters' voices. Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch and Geraldine Chaplin don't sound like themselves in The Four Musketeers.


While Three is an outright funny adventure with almost non-stop action, Four has far more dramatic weight. No less brilliant, the many downbeat moments are worthy of any major historical drama of the time. While there's just as much action, I was initially disappointed (at the age of thirteen) that it wasn't as funny. But the shocks and dramatic turns still left a lasting impression. For both films to show such range, makes them all-round entertainment for all ages, without compromising on the source material or characterisations.


Each swordfight has a unique twist to keep them fresh, without being unbelievable. For example, set in a royal laundry, amongst a firework display, a convent, or even on ice, fight arranger William Hobbs choreographs it all impressively. He later worked on Ridley Scott's The DuellistsFlash Gordon, John Boorman's Excalibur and Terry Gilliam's Brazil among many others. He appears in the film and, like all the main cast, does his own swordfighting. He's best known to horror fans for the climactic duel in Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter. Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed had previously crossed swords in Hammer Films' pirate and civil war swashbucklers. Good practice, but that didn't protect them both from suffering injuries, Reed even impaling his wrist on a blade.


These are my favourite band of Musketeer actors. Michael York has never been less annoying and well cast as an over-enthusiastic, floundering upstart. Frank Finlay is excellent comedy relief, both physically and verbally, and rarely so well used despite the relatively small part. Richard Chamberlain is distinctive as an effete ladies' man. But Oliver Reed gets to deliver a sterling performance, somehow keeping his scenes deadly serious through most of the shenanigans, especially the heart-breaking showdowns in The Four Musketeers.


It's rewarding to see Charlton Heston back in period costume, effortlessly menacing as a behind-the-scenes villain, though still a fleshed-out character, Cardinal Richelieu. Note how aged he appears to be, knowing that this is inbetween his 'action man' roles of The Omega Man and Earthquake.


His brief sparrings with Christopher Lee are electric. An important role for Lee, as he tried hard to escape his Dracula typecasting, demonstrating he can act with the best of them, swordfight like a pro, and effortlessly play a drole, romantic baddie with Faye Dunaway as his lover.


Dunaway is at the top of her game, underplaying the villainess Milady. While Richelieu is the mastermind, the head of church trying to depose the king, Lee and Dunaway's characters do the Cardinal's very dirty work. Her touching performance rounds out her character so much that it makes it hard to fully condemn her. Her very next film would be one of her greatest - Polanski's Chinatown.

Raquel Welch plays the pivotal role of Constance the Queen's dressmaker as an accident-prone simpleton so well, that I initially thought she was indeed a bimbo. After seeing more of her films, I learned she was not just voluptuous but an excellent comedy actress. In Britain she was seen as the sexiest of Hollywood female stars. As luck would have it, Hollywood were keen to make movies in the UK at the time, meaning Welch appeared in many British comedies at the time, spoofing her image of a sex goddess. Hence she played Lillian Lust in Bedazzled offering two lumps with a cup of tea to Dudley Moore, and whipping half-naked slave girls in The Magic Christian.


Roy Kinnear almost steals The Three Musketeers as the hapless, maltreated sidekick Planchet, the workhorse of the many musketeers, often getting the last laugh in the comedy scenes. One of the biggest laughs in the first film is his character failing to steer his galloping horse around a tree. Although the gag is done by a stuntman, it's now no longer funny knowing that Kinnear would die following a horse stunt during the filming of latter day sequel The Return of the Musketeers (1989), which reunited many of the cast and crew from these two films, and again directed by Lester. I've not been able to face watching it, knowing that it cost Kinnear his life.

Richard Lester re-used many more British comedy actors from his time with The Goons and from The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night and Help!, like Graham Stark and Bob Todd. But best of all, Goons' writer Spike Milligan shares scenes with Charlton Heston (!) and a bed with Raquel Welch, who plays his wife! That's funny in itself, but Spike builds up his scenes, as well as showing a flair for more serious acting.

While the first movie maybe tries a little too hard to milk amusement out of every last onscreen character, there's little else to fault in these two gems.


Optimum has released both remastered films for DVD and Blu-ray (the sleeve says region A and B compatible). They're available either separately or in double-disc sets. While there are no extras, I'm very happy that these are in circulation in such great presentations. The lush soundtracks, by Michel Legrand and Lalo Schifrin respectively are both on CD.

November 23, 2011

ZARDOZ lands in the UK - March 1974



ZARDOZ arrives!
Films and Filming, March 1974

Preceded by a lengthy career interview with Sean Connery, Films and Filming magazine devoted a hefty four-page spread of publicity photos from John Boorman's sci-fi parable timed with its UK debut. Zardoz seems to be more popular now than it ever was, but as a benchmark for bad seventies' sci-fi. I think there's far worse out there, but not nearly as entertaining. I thought you might like this peek at it's original presentation.



In the reviews section, we're reminded that also on release in the UK that month, Zardoz was up against Enter The Dragon, Electra Glide In Blue, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (which I saw at the time), Magnum Force and Swallows and Amazons. Being too young to see Zardoz with its 'X' certificate, I had to settle for reading John Boorman's novelisation - which is pictured in my review of the movie.

November 20, 2011

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) - invades Blu-ray


QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
(1967, UK, Five Million Years To Earth)

A unified theory that explains pretty much everything that's wrong with the world...

For Halloween, we watched all three Hammer films featuring that unlikely sci-fi hero Professor Bernard Quatermass, prompted by the arrival of the new Blu-ray release of Quatermass and the Pit (above).

Although it's the third of the films and adapted from a BBC TV series, this low-budget movie pushes ideas that rival and even mingle with the extra-terrestrial plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey. As alien visitations go, it looks small scale, not showing the global reaction but just a few streets and buildings in the centre of London. Even so, its claustrophobic approach is still largely effective today, mixing up apocalypse, sci-fi and horror into a unique, fantastic story.


With three hours of TV scripts to cut down into a fairly short film, the story rips along, throwing up some very grand ideas along the way. An Underground subway extension project hits a wall when a large metal object is found buried in the clay. A huge futuristic missile that appears to have landed before the Stone Age. Archaeologists and military experts can only guess what it might be. The more clues they get, the less sense it makes. Only Quatermass's wild theories can explain it all. But while he tries to warn everyone away, curiosity and the need for public transport unleashes forces that threaten to destroy the whole city.

Thankfully, Nigel Kneale gets to adapt his best story for the big screen (unlike Hammer's The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II). Besides original scripts, Kneale was excellent at adapting other people's work for the screen, such as 1984 and The Woman In Black for TV, and HG Wells' First Men In The Moon for the Ray Harryhausen movie.





Andrew Keir (Dracula - Prince of Darkness) provides Quatermass's most rounded characterisation, better I think than even Sir John Mills in The Quatermass Conclusion. Besides his usual bullish attitude, the rocket scientist here shows warmth and even vulnerability. He's teamed up with a pair of experts as inquisitive and open-minded as himself, James Donald (The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Great Escape) and Barbara Shelley (also Dracula - Prince of Darkness, Village of the Damned), both of whom steal several scenes when it's their turn.



After her startling transformation from prim and proper wife into a ravening vampire, it was hard to imagine Shelley could top that. But she convinces us that she's possessed in several scary scenes that purely work due to her performance. A telekinetic troublemaker, years before Carrie.


In another brief scene that gives me the chills, a timid victim is cut down by the uncaring power of the silent majority. As chaos spreads through the city, blank-faced crowds mindlessly kill any 'others' with their telekinetic powers. It's like the Children of the Damned have all grown up and gone on a rampage. 

Admittedly, the special effects are stretched to their limits, considering it's a low Hammer budget trying to put on a Lifeforce city-wide catastrophe. Some of the exterior sets look too much like a backlot, but the London Underground station interior at the core of the story still looks excellent. On Blu-ray you can now check out all the Hammer movie posters lining the walls! It's clever the way that so much happens on the same street - every house, door and alleyway outside the station entrance gets its own scene.


Wires are occasionally visible, you can see them if you look for them, but not if you're following the story. Barbara's 'vision' is the lowpoint of the film in an over-ambitious scene.


After a lifetime of immediately unravelling every single movie special effect that has fooled my eyes, I now avoid certain 'making of' reveals. I want the creatures of The Mist and Monsters to continue to mystify me. I like to think of Teddy in A.I. as a character rather an effect, so I've avoided any behind-the-scenes footage or articles. I want to remember them the way they were in the story. Similarly, the final ethereal apparition in Quatermass and The Pit. I've no idea quite what I'm looking at - it might as well be real. I don't want to know how they did it - to me I'm looking at the thing from the pit.



While it was regularly shown on late night TV throughout the seventies and eighties, Quatermass and the Pit gathered a growing hive of fans through the years and its continuing popularity has inspired well-produced editions on every home video format.

The new Blu-ray, from Optimum UK, looks superb - it's never looked so sharp, so clean and colourful. The aspect ratio refrains from cropping the original 1.66 image down to the standard Blu-ray 1.77:1 (16:9) shape. So with the 1.66 ratio, there are thin black 'pillars' at the sides of the image, but these might not even be visible on a screen set to 'overscan'. I'd have liked even a little more headroom, but this is the best aspect ratio presentation for the film that I've seen in a long time.

 

In the extras (only on the Blu-ray) there's sadly no archive footage behind the scenes, but there is a commentary track from the late writer Nigel Kneale and the late director Roy Ward Baker. Plus a group of insightful and often funny new reflections on the Quatermass phenomenon, with The Pit being everyone's favourite. There are valuable stories from Kneale's widow Judith Kerr, some set recollections from star Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), reminiscences from expert horror fans Kim Newman and Mark Gatiss, (who made me laugh out loud with their descriptions of Brian Donlevy's acting), Hammer expert Marcus Hearn and an American perspective from Joe Dante. The US didn't get the TV series so the name Quatermass didn't mean anything, so it was renamed Five Million Years to Earth (a title which I still confuse with Harryhausen's Twenty Million Miles to Earth).

Several of the commentators tease the idea that Arthur C. Clarke's 1954 novel Childhood's End (to which I'd also add his 1951 short story The Sentinel) may have influenced this Quatermass story. There are several echoes and parallels between The Pit and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but as Newman observes, Kneale deals with the immense ideas a lot less pretentiously!

SPOILER-FRENZY: AVOID THE U.S. TRAILER IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM BEFORE! It's also included in the extras.




All six episodes of the original BBC TV series (from 1958) are also out on DVD - a low-budget TV production recorded as it went out live on air! The surviving episodes of The Quatermass Experiment and all of Quatermass II is also in this DVD set. The series expand on many of the ideas and scenes in the films. It maybe less distracting to read the TV scripts, which have also been re-published through the years (like the editions below).

  

Tristram Cary's scary electronic soundtrack offered in many scenes instead of an orchestral score were released on a couple of CDs (the best is pictured below, and includes a couple of surviving tracks from the first two films). The haunting closing track provides a fantastic end to the story, but was in fact a library track.




November 15, 2011

VIDEO NASTIES - THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE (2011) - when slashers were slashed


VIDEO NASTIES - THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE
(2011, UK)

A monumental entry point into the VHS era of extreme movies

As you may have seen from the earlier post on my many encounters with Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), I survived being a horror fan in the era of the 'Video Nasty'.

But even after reading many articles and books on the phenomenon, this new documentary is the ideal guide to it all. Unpleasant memories, new revelations, expert reminiscences and a lot of laughs! This is all assuming you have a stomach for the excesses of 1970s and 1980s exploitation, which pushed the boundaries of taste as far as they could. It's fascinating to see which classics got sucked into the debate and what pushed society's buttons then, compared to now.

The documentary (72 minutes) on the first of three DVDs in the set, begins with the most outrageous, bloodiest montage I've ever seen. A joyous parade of the most notorious censored footage of the time, all in one glorious extended sequence, a celebration of most of it now being legally available. It's like one of those respectful sequences you get in Oscar ceremonies, but with boobs, blood and, ahem, swastikas.

Kim Newman - author of Nightmare Movies
The style settles down a little after that, and we're guided by many of the movie experts who were out there on the front line watching and writing. We also hear from new horror directors inspired by the era, and meet the defiant opponents of nastiness, concerned viewers who speak for the masses, film censors and even MPs involved at the time. Media professor Julian Petley emerges as an unlikely hero, bravely slating censorship in a TV debate at a time when newspapers were attacking video dealers with the same level of venom now reserved for child-murderers. A voice of reason then and now, he signals the more underhand aspects of the whole affair.

One of the faked Faces of Death
Today, talking about swearing, sex and zombies might seem silly in retrospect, but this was all taken very seriously, with hefty fines, imprisonment and press hysteria driving dozens of the named 'nasty' movies underground. The madness is described and illustrated, as well as the tortured and underhand passage of the law getting through Parliament. I'm of the opinion that government and press enjoy these issues that distract the public from more important and complex societal problems (war, unemployment, corruption). They can scapegoat something (video games are copping it at the moment), demonise it, then be seen to solve it. BAN IT! Once banned, many of the films weren't legally available for the next ten years or more.

Watching the whole story in one hit, I was appalled by the lack of research sought by Parliament ministers, the arbitrary application of the law and the carelessness with which it was passed. It occurred to me that this was an example of maybe how all laws in this country are slapped together. It also implies a wider question on what other information is censored.

Dr Patricia MacCormack adding an Australian feminist perspective with a sense of humour
But it's not nearly that heavy and mostly debauched fun, with dismay and shock at the ridiculousness of the phenomenon. Though these horror experts occasionally appear unable to defend the scenes of rape, evisceration, and zombie pest control in their entertainment, and rarely talk seriously about the relation to nastier subjects in the real world.

Movie censorship is now relatively relaxed, and modern horror has moved up a notch to challenge what's acceptable. This remains is a thorough guide to the excessive censorship of the 1980s, its specific obsessions, and the key exploitation hits of the era.

In the rush to prosecute, classics by George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Sam Raimi were also on the banned list. Completely obscure movies that were included got given a boost in notoriety. Kim Newman observes that the behind-the-scenes story of their censor cuts are often more interesting than some of the movies themselves.

I didn't enjoy the opening assassination of the VHS format, accompanied by a digital approximation of what faults looked like. I was surprised at director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) berating videotapes at such length. The many faults highlighted were mostly the results of bootlegging, caused by incompetent copying and tape damage. It's an outburst at odds with the rising current nostalgia for the format. Other horror directors like Chris Smith (Creep, Black Death) also remember the influence of these films on theirs.

Alan Jones - is that his lounge or the Psychotronic video store?
Despite the controversies, writer and author Kim Newman always manages to find a humorous angle to the proceedings, keeping it in perspective. He's also far more enthusiastic about his favourites than fellow reviewer and Argento-biographer Alan Jones, who seems to assume that everyone's seen them all by now. Allan Bryce is similarly laidback but occasionally amusing, though I'm surprised he's actually involved here, considering the controversy that shut down publication of his magazine The Dark Side for six years.

My main quibble is that it's too short. I'd happily watch them all talk for longer, especially about something I've devoted so much time, money and energy on - collecting my favourite movies.
Many movies were judged by their covers
One aspect I'd like to have heard more about were the video covers. They briefly theorise that's why some films were banned (we aren't allowed to know the actual legal reasons for being on the list). But the covers were a key part of the problem and no-one mentions they ended up having to be approved as well as the content. If the sleeves had simply been cleaned up, more films might have escaped banishment. The industry even tried to pre-empt trouble by offering the famous double-sided insert sleeves for each video box, leaving the dealers the dilemma of which way to display each film.


Discs 2 and 3 impressively collects a trailer for every last film that was on 'the list', together with an optional informed introduction from the experts who appear in the documentary. All lovingly presented in anamorphic 16:9, in line with the rest of the set. These two discs are much longer than the documentary itself.

The term 'video nasties' always made them sound like a tempting challenge. This lengthy experience helps sort out which were dull, unscary, zero-budget or genuinely tasteless. Do you really want to see that?

Hours of entertainment, a very adult Halloween party tape, a cautionary tale, and a great round-up of what to pursue and what to avoid with a wide bargepole.

Video Nasties - The Definitive Guide is on DVD in the UK, region 2 PAL.


An extended interview with director Jake West about the project, here on Cinemart.

Very thorough review of the boxset and its extra contents, here on DVD Outsider.

A brief review that lists all of the movie trailers in this collection, on MyReviewer.

November 14, 2011

Ken Russell's THE DEVILS gets DVD special edition (next March)


I actually never thought this was ever going to happen. Ken Russell's The Devils is coming to DVD in March 2012. (See the official BFI news item here).

Three years ago I wrote this article about The Devils (1971). After appearing on VHS in the UK (cropped and strangely squeezed to 1.33), there have been no other home video releases. Mark Kermode showed many of the controversial sequences on TV in a revelatory documentary that should have sparked a DVD release, the same way that his programme on The Exorcist inspired an expanded re-release in cinemas. But even after the news that Warner Brothers had remastered an uncut version of The Devils, it never arrived. It briefly surfaced for a couple of days on iTunes, which was presumably a mistake.


But now, after several screenings of the fully restored version in London, one with the director himself in attendance, it looks like the film will finally debut on DVD in the UK, released by the BFI. But they've also confirmed that the controversial 'rape of Christ' scene cannot be used because it hasn't been licenced to them by Warner Brothers.

The DVD special edition will instead feature the original 'X' certificate version released in UK cinemas back in 1971, as well as commentary and many extras featuring both the director and superfan Mark Kermode. The TV documentary 'Hell On Earth' presented by Mark Kermode could be included but will presumably lose it's glimpse of the missing scene as well. BFI haven't officially confirmed all the extra features as yet.

Despite this not being 'the director's cut' fans were hoping for, this is still a magnificent film, spectacular in scale, subject and bravado. If you thought the exorcism in The Exorcist was shocking (made two years later), you ain't seen nothing yet. Like Russell's biographies of classical composers, The Devils is an exaggerated version of actual events (based on the heavily researched book by Aldous Huxley).

Terrific news, but you'll have to be patient until March of next year. Until then, ignore any other DVDs for sale online, they're not official releases and some have been 'bumped up' from VHS.

Of course there's always the hope that if this sells well, Warner Brothers will relent and release the missing scene, which has already been digitally restored. At the moment there are no plans for a Blu-ray release either.

Thanks to Jonny Sambuca for getting my facts right! (Entry corrected on 16th November...)

Details of the DVD extras are here at the ZetaMinor forum.

My extended look at the movie The Devils is here.

For news and updates on the release, follow this Facebook page.

November 07, 2011

ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS cost me an arm and a leg...


We are going to fleece you...

The awesome documentary Video Nasties: A Definitive Guide (2011) lives up to its name. But as I started to review it, I could only think of all the time and money I've spent on horror films over this period. For example, a case in point...

UK release poster
It's also called Zombie or Zombie 2, but I saw Lucio Fulci's first zombie epic as Zombie Flesh Eaters in 1979 in my local cinema in London's suburbia, four times in a fortnight. Despite being an 'X' certificate (no one under 18), it was censored for UK cinemas by over two minutes. The eye scene, the 'banquet' and all the throat-ripping was missing (and more). Some cuts were fairly obvious: on film, the image runs in front of the lens at a different point from the audio pick-up. If a shot is cut from a print, the sound that is removed on that section doesn't exactly match the images that remain. You still hear part of the removed scene! A split-second of screams and gory sound effects would tip off the audience that something was missing. These faults could also be heard on the VHS release.


Yes, the next time I'd see Zombie Flesh Eaters was on an uncertificated VHS, rented from the local video shop. The first release (above, from 1980) was the same version that I'd seen in the cinema, though of course I'd hoped that it would be less cut. Once I knew a film was censored, I'd always hope that the next time it would be more complete. Maybe the next incarnation...


In 1981 there was a special 'strong uncut' edition. Another VHS rental (too expensive to buy), totally uncensored but still 'pan-and-scanned', cropped to 1.33 from 2.35 widescreen.

But then in 1983 the government banned the film altogether. "Video nasties" had been singled out, even though this film had been legally shown in the cinema. Now it couldn't be sold or rented any more, even if it was cut. At the same time, every movie in the UK would have to be checked by the censorship board for its home video release. Even the sleeve art had to be approved, by a separate organisation.

It would be ten more years before Zombie Flesh Eaters was again legally allowed on VHS in the UK. In the meantime, many of the banned copies that had been available in the video rental shops hit the black market at high prices - the only way to see it, unless you risked a bootlegged copy. If a VHS was copied down several generations, you'd maybe see what you were missing without seeing it too clearly.


This widescreen version was released by Vipco in 1996. My first official copy, a 17-year wait. Not the three months you have to wait for a DVD. But now incomplete.

Wormface laserdisc
By this time, horror fans were looking abroad to countries where there was less censorship. American videotape was even poorer quality than the UK system, but laserdiscs offered better picture and sound, as well as widescreen. Zombie Flesh Eaters almost uncut, was available on this US laserdisc in 1998.

Fans would scour the world - finding which country had censored which scenes. US censorship was sometimes more, sometimes less than the UK cinema release. Japanese versions added subtitles, fuzzed out nudity but kept more gore. Take your pick. American laserdiscs were also about $30, Japanese at least double that. But an uncut bootleg VHS might cost just the same.


In this chaotic time (pre-internet) accurate information was scarce. One of the few guides to the many versions out there was Video Watchdog magazine. It saved me money because the obsessive writers had checked through everything. It cost me money by highlighting many wonderful and obscure horror films I'd not heard of. Video Watchdog became a bible for the next two decades.

Finally - uncut on DVD
James Ferman, the head of the censorship board who'd presided over movie classification in the UK, passed over the reins in 1999. There was finally a change in attitude, an acceptance that the internet had raised the bar far higher than what was on home video. Finally, many of the video nasties could be released uncut on DVD (and of course then again as a special edition). I had my complete version of Zombie Flesh Eaters after a twenty-five year wait (on DVD in the US in 2004, 2005 in the UK).

Special edition DVD
I'll soon get it on blu-ray, for the carefully restored version, in far better condition than the scratchy print I saw in the cinema.


But this is just one horror film and all the versions that I can remember seeing and buying (yes, all of the above). All the while, taking seriously the many issues surrounding violence and sexualisation in movies, TV, and video games. The press and even the government have thrown a barrage of psychologists and urban myths to muddy the debates, even linking movies to murders. I've followed many of the arguments through the years, read way too much research, all to justify me seeing a bloody zombie movie!

While improved quality and DVD extras now entice us into buying duplicate editions of a movie, it was the censor cuts that fuelled most of my expensive 'double-dips' in a variety of formats. At least the trail of tape, laserdisc and DVD makes it easy to track the evolution of releases, a 'paper' trail that will soon be lost in the digital world.

TV showings are no longer archived, movies are streamed or downloaded. Working out which version of a classic film you own is going to be hard. Without packaging or release dates - how will you know you've got a director's cut or an original? Which is which, which was first, which is the best?

Journey's end - me with two stars of Zombie Flesh Eaters -
Al Cliver and stuntman Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (Wormeye!)

Thanks for all the hard work done by Melon Farmers, for tracking the many censored incarnations of, well, everything through the years. I'd never have remembered all those release dates.

Brooklyn Bridge, 2000 - my own little zombie (flesh eaters) walk

Next up will be my actual review of Video Nasties: A Definitive Guide which got me into this rant in the first place...

Yup