Interview: Jake West on ‘Season of the Banned’
November is Season of the Banned month on the UK’s Horror Channel. Director Jake West and Marc Morris (pictured above) will be hosting a slew of films that has been previously banned by the BBFC. The festivities kicked off with the premiere of Jake West’s film Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape (reviewed here). UK BrutalAsHell.com contributor Aled Ll Jones of MoviedromeDVD had the opportunity to had a chat with Jake West about the Video Nasties era, to include tapping into the current new wave of censorship under the BBFC, touching on modern films like The Human Centipede II and The Bunny Game.
Brutal As Hell: Given that we are more or less the same age what do you remember of the Video Nasty era?
Jake West: I was a teenager so in the early, pre-certificate part of it I would go into video stores and see all these amazingly odd films and wanted to watch them. Sadly I was too young but the covers alone were fascinating to me. Then when I turned 15 and the act had been passed me and my friends began collecting this stuff before they disappeared. We’d see films by Argento and Raimi and I’d heard of films like Last House on the Left and Cannibal Holocaust which were harder to find so we’d have to trade for them usually. The main thing for me was that it got me into Horror and got me into exploring the genre in general. Granted you may have to wade through a lot of rubbish before you found something great or at least found a print you could actually watch. I remember watching A Clockwork Orange for the first time and it was an eighth generation copy and you could barely make anything out.
BAH: I remember getting my first copy of A Clockwork Orange from my politics lecturer and it was all just a blur really.
JW: Yeah it was like you saw an entirely different version of the actual film. Now everything is perfect in Blu-ray and high def which wasn’t the case at all back then and I think the imperfect aspect of the prints definitely added something to the experience.
JW: Marc and I had already been doing the Grindhouse trailer compilations and we were just trying to think of ideas for projects in the future and this came up. Marc has already written some books on the subject and we were talking about that. We thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting to investigate why these films were banned in the first place? and that spiraled out of control into this project that has taken over a year to do. As we went ahead we actually found stuff out that we didn’t even know prior to beginning and then we got even more drawn in. The films coming up on the Horror Channel have an introduction explaining exactly why they were banned so it was a fascinating journey in the end. We also felt that people should know exactly what happened, as well.
BAH: Can you tell me what you found out that you hadn’t already been aware of?
JW: I had no idea that the commissioned Parliamentary Group Enquiry actually had nothing to do with Parliament itself and all the massaging of the figures which were revealed by Martin Barker was shocking to me. I hadn’t realized that people actually got sent to prison for distributing a film. That’s when things were totally out of control and shameful. People just seemed to accept it at the time and those against the so-called Video Nasties just got away with it completely. Thankfully today people are far more educated about the subject hopefully ensuring we never see that kind of thing again.
BAH: You mentioned Martin there. One of the most shocking moments in the film is when he’s on a panel show and is harangued by Mary Whitehouse and a priest. Can you elaborate?
JW: It’s just amazing and he told us how scared he felt at the time and he was very much a lone voice. He was seen as just part of the dirty mac brigade whereas, in fact, he was making articulate arguments and just getting shouted down by authority figures. The footage looks bizarre now to me and it just shows that the moral majority wants to get something over they just stick to simple statement with very little detail.
BAH: The film has its own villain, in a way, in Sir Graham Bright. He still doesn’t seem to want to listen to any argument against his action.
JW: We were surprised that since the 1980s he hasn’t changed at all and he doesn’t realize that these weren’t snuff films at all. He was only acting at the time on information received by the police but even now he seems to have the blinkers on regarding this issue. Maybe he feels he can’t go back and he’s still proud of his bill but I do find it fascinating that he cannot revise his view even slightly.
BAH: You mentioned that hopefully this wouldn’t happen again but only recently Human Centipede II has run into problems and The Bunny Game has been banned outright what’s your thoughts on that?
JW: The Human Centipede II had distributors ready to fight to have that passed as it really is a strong commercial prospect. But The Bunny Game is a much more independent movie and nobody is going to spend a lot of money to reverse that decision. Back in the 1980s when they decided to ban these films it was the same thing. Nobody could afford to hire legal representation to fight the decision. I don’t agree with censorship for fictional works but I think The Bunny Game will be a victim of this.
BAH: Given the Conservative party are back in power are we coming into another age when censorship will be on the rise?
JW: On the whole censorship has gotten a lot better since 1984 to 1986 when all Horror films got butchered in the James Ferman years. But now you have films in the extreme that are pushing buttons that could be problematic. For example you have a film like Irreversible that’s deemed to have artistic merit so is allowed to go forward uncut. So there seems to be an inconsistency at the BBFC regarding the view of what’s acceptable and what’s not. But I don’t think it’s like the 80s due to politicians not getting involved or using it as a platform for their own purposes to blame society’s problems on.
BAH: The Cronenberg film Crash seemed to highlight some years ago that the UK censor has problems with sex more than violence.
JW: No doubt, we always have problems with sex especially if it comes within the context of a Horror film. This is strangely something the BBFC seems to think we need to be saved from.
BAH: Of all the film being screened during this season on the Horror Channel which one would you choose?
JW: Can I pick two?
BAH: Yes, no problem.
JW: The simple reason I want pick two is due to the video nasty tag being so inconsistent given that the banned films were all so different. So for me The Evil Dead would be one as it influenced me greatly and it’s made by one of my favorite directors in Sam Raimi. The fact that it was a ‘nasty’ is just laughable today and the only scene that was problematic was the tree rape scene which brings us back to sex again oddly enough. The fact that it was banned is just ridiculous as it’s a great horror film that everyone should see. If you want a more difficult nasty choice then I would pick Cannibal Holocaust as it’s a much harder film to watch but extremely clever in how it’s made.
BAH: With the re-edit of Cannibal Holocaust now do you believe Deodato didn’t want to shoot the animal scenes?
JW: Who knows? It’s obvious that during the mondo era scenes such as those were sadly commonplace and would make the film more sellable. I would have thought that anyone would be uncomfortable shooting these scenes. Deodato is a very articulate and clever person so I can’t imagine him being comfortable with it. He has expressed regret and its now out without those scenes which for me is a better film anyway.
Thanks goes out to Jake West for the fantastic interview!