If you’ve never seen a “video nasty” then you’re in for a dubious treat this Halloween. This was the name the tabloid media slapped on a string of cheap, unpleasant, and gory horror and exploitation films released in the U.K. during the 1980s, forcing a confused and unprepared government to ban the worst offenders.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) created a list of 72 titles deemed likely to “deprave and corrupt” the poor, unsuspecting, and innocent public, and eventually went on to outright ban 39 of those films. Anyone caught distributing them faced jail, and the scare eventually led to the government bringing in official certifications for movies released for home viewing.
What it also did was create a wish list of films to watch for horror fans. Today, many of these films are legally available and uncut, meaning you can happily be depraved and corrupted in your own home without fear of the police knocking your door down. For Halloween last year, we selected five movies from the DPP’s list to recommend, and in true horror fashion, we’re back again this year with five more.
Here are five more banned horror films to watch this Halloween, and only you can decide if our sequel improves on the original.
For such a short film, it takes absolutely ages to get to any axing in Axe, and the trailer makes it look a lot more exciting than it actually is. Ponderous nature aside, this home invasion horror has a grimy, unpleasant tone, and is probably the lesser-seen entry into the genre from the banned list, after Last House on the Left and House at the Edge of the Park. Axe follows three hitmen who escape the city after killing a target, and decide to hide out in what appears to be an abandoned house.
Unfortunately, it’s occupied by a girl and her paralyzed grandfather. The girl, Lisa, looks helpless but is surprisingly handy with a straight razor, and doesn’t take kindly to her unwanted guests. It’s almost impossible to understand what the censors had against Axe back in the 70s. It’s not particularly violent or gory, and while its tone and some situations are horrid, it’s never really explicit.
Its notoriety may have solely come from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a risky title change from the original Lisa, Lisa, to the more lurid Axe. There’s a great piece on how Axe came about here, and when you watch it knowing the background, it’s actually far more interesting than if you watch it as a horror film. Oh, and it’s 45 minutes into the 66-minute film before Lisa picks up an axe.
You can stream Axe for free on YouTube.
Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981)
I eased you in gently with Axe, preparing you for what is one of the more disturbing entries on the banned list and this time, it’s obvious why the DPP took exception to Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. It’s nasty from the outset, and is definitely not the most modern or progressive examination of mental illness.
George Tatum is terrorized by nightmares based on childhood trauma, but is given a cocktail of new drugs to control them and then sent back out into the community. Predictably, the drugs don’t work, and Tatum is soon out of control and on a murderous rampage. It’s a definite “I need a shower when this has finished” movie, but there are some redeeming features, from the incredible scenes of 42nd street in New York during the late 70s, and the effective jump cuts showing Tatum’s worst nightmares, to lead actor Baird Stafford’s harrowing performance.
A precursor in tone and style to films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain is sleazy, violent, and disturbing. It’s obvious why Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (it’s also known simply as Nightmare) caused problems in the ’80s, and it’s equally unpleasant to watch today.
Nightmares in a Damaged Brain isn’t streaming anywhere, but is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Bloody Moon (1981)
Thought Nightmare in a Damaged Brain was a bit grim? Bloody Moon doesn’t hold back either, mostly in the gory deaths department. Disfigured Miquel is institutionalized after murdering a girl at a party, then released into the care of his sister at an international school of languages. Miguel becomes obsessed with one of the students, and soon her friends start going missing.
Director Jesús Franco managed to get three movies on the banned list in the U.K., and Bloody Moon is arguably the “best” of the three, delivering all the standard ’80s slasher fare — elaborate murders, topless teens, cringy disco scenes, and mediocre acting. It’s mostly dull, though, but stick around for the murders and the film’s most famous scene, where a victim meets an unfortunate end via a big, spinning power saw.
The characters are quite annoying, so you won’t care when they get bumped off, and by the time you get to the end, you won’t care who the killer is either. But it’s an excellent example of the trashy, ugly side of the slasher genre that so irked the U.K.’s censors during the ’80s.
You can stream Bloody Moon for free on Tubi.
Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)
If the three movies on our list so far haven’t hit the horror spot, then Zombie Flesh Eaters (also known as both Zombie, and Zombi 2) is what you’ve been waiting for. It’s not just one of the best movies on the banned list as a whole, but one of the best zombie movies ever made. A woman, Anne, teams up with journalist Peter to discover the truth behind her father’s disappearance, which leads them to a tropical island where the dead are coming back to life.
I really like this film and the zombie genre of the time as a whole, but there are two classic scenes in Zombie Flesh Eaters that elevate it above the many others out there. The first is the famous shark vs. zombie sequence which is genuinely audacious and unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere, and the second is the original “eye trauma” sequence, where a splinter-through-the-eyeball will make you squirm in the best way possible.
But what’s great about Zombie Flesh Eaters is that the acting is good, there’s some startling cinematography, the special effects are suitably gross, the locations are exotic, the score memorable, and the story compelling. In other words, it’s a proper film, not just horror fluff that was banned for showing a bit of blood on a naked body. Like Bloody Moon’s director, Lucio Fulci also has three films on the banned list, but unlike Franco’s entries, all of Fulci’s are worth watching, but I think Zombie Flesh Eaters will leave the most lasting impression.
You can stream Zombie Flesh Eaters on Pluto TV for free.
A Bay of Blood (1971)
Banned movies don’t get much more stylish than Mario Bava’s atmospheric giallo, which appears to take an unusual approach of revealing the killer in the opening scene, but then pulls the rug from under you at the last moment. The opening murder of a woman by her husband who wants to inherit her fortune is just the first in a string of similar killings, as others attempt to take control of her lucrative estate.
It takes a while for the death scenes to arrive, but they are gorily effective when they do, and horror aficionados will recognize at least one from future Friday the 13th movies, including two lovers being impaled together with a stake. But to focus only on the violence is to miss what makes A Bay of Blood (which is also known as Carnage and Twitch of the Death Nerve) important.
A Bay of Blood should be considered a key template for future slasher and giallo films, showcasing everything from murdered teens, black-gloved assassins, and weapons isolated on screen before striking, to creepy first-person shots concealing the killer’s identity. All wrapped up in a beautifully shot film that blends gothic homes and lakeside locations, again predating another slasher trope. The ending wraps everything up in an unexpected way, too.
These five films highlight the variety of horror that was banned in the U.K. during the early 80s, with nonsense like Axe and Bloody Moon, genuinely unpleasant movies like Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, and true classics like Zombie Flesh Eaters and A Bay of Blood that went on to influence entire genres, and are still enjoyable today.
You can stream A Bay of Blood on AMC+.
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