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An Interview with Tony Newton, Director of VHS Nasty

by Michael Haberfelner

September 2019

Films directed by Tony Newton on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie VHS Nasty - in a few words, what is it about?

 

VHS Lives 3: VHS Nasty is part 3 of the VHS Lives documentary film series, the schlockumentary delves deep into the video nasty debate on both the films and censorship as a whole. It's a look at the era by indie filmmakers and fans of the genre!

 

Before we go any further, could you quickly explain what a "video nasty" actually is?

 

A video nasty is a colloquial term used in the United Kingdom and Europe to describe a number of films which were distributed on VHS video in the early nineteen eighties which were heavily criticised by the press, parliament and various religious organizations for their content which contained strong use of violence, sex, nudity and gore. At the time of the introduction of home VCR video players and  recorders in the United Kingdom during the late 1970s, no legislation was in place to regulate home video content, and this meant that any films on the market and available from video rental stores had no certification as we know today. The Obscene Publications Act was in place and had been since 1959 entitled The Obscene Publications Act 1959, although the act did not govern home video, during the rise of the porn film industry in the late 1970's in 1977 the act was amended and did cover erotic/porn films but still not horror films. At this time the British Board of Film Censorship, which was established in 1912, only governed theatrical cinematic releases and was not in force to censor home video. This was due to a loophole within film classification laws at the time. Because of this in the early 1980's the market was flooded with low-budget horror films featuring gore, violence and graphic nudity. It didn't help that major film distributers with the introduction of home video were reluctant to join the VHS revolution mainly due to fears that less bums would be on seats in the cinema and for fears that their content on video would be pirated.

 


Due to the video nasty debate in both the media and parliament it resulted in a number of films being prosecuted in the early 1980's by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and following this the government passed the Video Recordings Act 1984, which meant in Britain all video releases had to appear before the BBFC for certification at a cost to the film's distributor. The reason the Video Recordings Act 1984 was in place was to protect children within the home so we saw a much stricter code and censorship within home video than we saw with theatrical releases. With campaign leader Mary Whitehouse and with the help  the likes of MP Graham Bright and even the support of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher they won the Video Nasty War.  The Director of Public Prosecutions released an official list of 72 films, a list that would end up being amended as more films were added and dropped, as the decision to whether the title was successfully prosecuted or dropped from the list with an unsuccessful prosecution. The courts prosecuted certain video releases which were known as the video nastiest for obscenity, believed to violate the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The Video Recordings act 1984 was then put into place, an act that governed film censorship in Britain and relieving the courts of their duty with this matter. With the implement of the Video Recordings Act 1984 the courts destroyed the video nasty  lists. The courts have no records of the VN DPP section 2 and 3 video nasty lists on file even within their archive to this day.

 

In the late eighties we used to use the term "video nasty" as a more general term that would be a horror VHS film.

 

What made you want to make a film about the video nasty subculture, and what did video nasties mean to your private life? And why do you think video nasties present such a lure in the first place?

 

I think the lure is literally because we were told at the time we couldn't watch these films, so we wanted to watch them...to find out what all the fuss was about!

 

I'm obsessed with video nasties and always have been! These films which were deemed to deprave and corrupt have always had a dark place in my heart! So for the documentary and book it seemed the perfect subject matter!

 



The video nasty era was a big part of history in Britain, it happened! As much as I hate censorship and detest the BBFC's choices in censoring films in the 70's, 80's and 90's, I secretly loved the challenge of trying to hunt down these VHS video nasties and banned VHS titles, the thrill of the hunt and the excitement watching every single one of them, the unity between collectors, the feeling as if you were living on the edge of society, depraved enough to watch this so called filth, rebelling in some way against the system. Video nasties introduced me to underground horror, since the 1980's I've been obsessed with finding obscure VHS titles like Nekromantik and the Guinea Pig films and trying to own every shot-on-video horror film in existence.

 

Some of your personal favourite video nasties?

 

I love all the video nasties but here is my top ten quick fire list!

1. Dawn of the Dead

2. The Evil Dead

3. Cannibal Holocaust

4. Zombie Flesh Eaters

5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

6. Night of the Living Dead

7. The Last House on the Left

8. The Beyond

9. I Spit on Your Grave

10. The Burning

 

Video nasties were a big thing in the 1980s, but now most of this films are available freely in the UK - so what do you think is the legacy of this rather failed policy?

 

It's a strange one because they won at the time, Mary Whitehouse and co got a good number of horror films banned and prosecuted! But as you say 99% of these titles are freely available now. It was a different time back then, so for the BBFC the legacy is... they did literally ban and prosecute and stop a majority of these films getting into the hands of children in the home, so it was a win for them (at the time?)! And a win for every film on the video nasty lists because we are still talking about them, watching these films and buying the latest Blu-ray with added commentary now in 2019. All the video nasty films are now in a time capsule so for Mary, James Ferman and co they actually created more of an awareness of these horror films that future generations can enjoy!

Thank you Mary Whitehouse!

 

What can you tell us about your directorial approach to your topic at hand?

 

I wanted the whole feel of the film to feel like you were chatting with your mates on the subject, to feel like you are watching a YouTbe video or media that you can relate to in the era of Smartphones. All the people featured in VHS Nasty are video nasty fans first and foremost and this shows!

 

Do talk about your interviewees for a bit, and why exactly these people?

 

I'm a huge indie underground horror fan, so instead of the usual names we see pop up in documentaries, I love to have indie guys and gals in my docs, like myself. There is a theme here with the VHS Lives films, you will see certain people return like Jim Towns [Jim Towns interview - click here], Dustin Ferguson [Dustin Ferguson interview - click here], Richard Mogg, Shawn C. Philips [Shawn C. Phillips interview - click here], Rich Chandler [Richard Chandler interview - click here], Peter Goddard and Mat Fisher to name a few, so it was nice to hear and see their views not on VHS per se but on the video nasty era. The following people feature in the doc, all of which are true indie film lovers and work within the genre, everyone of them have so much passion and love for horror which shines through in the doc: Jim Towns, Mathew Fisher, Dustin Ferguson, Gary Smart, Christopher Griffiths, Shawn C .Phillips, Peter Goddard, Rich Chandler, Jason Figgis, John West, Nathan Hill [Nathan Hill interview - click here], Jimmie Gonzalez, Julie Anne Philputt, Danny Filaccio, Domiziano Cristopharo, David Maggot McDonough, Richard Mogg, Lloyd Kaufman.

 


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of VHS Nasty?

 

It's gone down well and the pre-order DVD sales are good, VHS Lives Part 1 is even called a schlockumentary, so people know what to expect, they don't get a pretentious documentary, they get a movie doc that they can crack open a beer and feel like they are sitting with their friends chatting on the subject of video nasties, with awesome cover art by Mancat Design to boot! A documentary made by the every person ...created for the every person!

 

You also released a book about the same subject recently, also called VHS Nasty - so do talk about the book, and how do book and film complement one another?

 

The book VHS NASTY: The Essential Guide Book to Video Nasties is over 800 pages of nastiness... VHS video nasties, censorship and horror films! The essential guide to video nasties, banned films and censorship.

VHS Nasty : The Essential Guide Book to Video Nasties is an insight into the greatest era in horror and home video, told through the eyes of filmmakers, producers, authors and horror fans. Written by myself, co-authored by David Bond and a plethora of guest contributors who give some amazing exclusive articles and essays on the subject. I think they complement each other perfectly. I would watch the documentary first then read to book to find out more on the subject.

The doc itself is a fun look at the era and video nasties it's not a detail by detail account which there are already some amazing documentaries about the subject, this doc is a fun look at the video nasties from the point of view from true indie filmmakers who most of which were inspired by these films.

So to find out more and small details the book is the best thing to refer to.

VHS Nasty the book Is available here:

Via Amazon US: $1.99 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XSRSQ4R

UK: £1.60 - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XSRSQ4R

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I'm currently working on a horror documentary entitled Oh! The Horror!: From Celluloid to Snuff!, we will see some familiar faces from the VHS Lives series as well as some new faces! The horror doc will be talking on the birth of horror to the darkest depths of horror in film such as the existence of snuff movies, and a few trailer compilation films entitled, Schlock O'Rama, Previews of Coming Attractions and Trailersploitation, all of which have distribution in place and will be out next year! Also news on Creepypasta, the horror anthology, will be hitting very soon!

 





What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I started making short films in the back garden when I was in my teens, kind of shot-on-video films, but back then you had no way of showcasing these films and when you had the chance to tape a Hammer horror movie on a Friday night you would just tape over the garbage you created in the garden with tomato ketchup! Nowadays you can get in the backyard film a schlocky horror short and get it up on YouTube the same day and have people actually watch and critique your work! We are living in great times now, we really are, indie/underground horror has never felt so alive as it does now!

 

I have been working on anthology films since 2012/13, prior to that I have written film scripts, novels and been a script doctor on numerous film projects, and holding competitions which filmmakers from across the globe have their chance to have their horror short films featured in a distributed DVD and VOD. The first horror film anthology I worked on was Virus of the Dead which I started in late 2013. I based the idea for the anthology on my books The Zombie Rule Book and #I'm Zombie which are both published via Cosmic Egg Books. Virus of the Dead is now distributed by Wild Eye Releasing. With Virus of the Dead I was trying to encourage upcoming filmmakers from across the globe to submit videos with whatever technology they had at hand. With Virus of the Dead being found footage films being filmed on smartphones only added to the authenticity of the film.

 

Since then I have worked on over 30 anthology films most of which have been via submissions and competitions including the 60 Seconds to Die film series where I asked filmmakers from across the globe to submit 60 second short horror films creating one big anthology film, I even had a big company want to take the idea and reshoot and was approached the same with Virus of the Dead but declined as I wanted the films to be a platform for upcoming filmmakers so they could showcase their work. I've had filmmakers from schools, colleges and from all across the world including the poorest countries submit work and have had their work showcased in a distributed DVD, Blu-ray and VOD releases.

 

Anyhoo... so my love for film led to me work in a video shop, then part of a big VHS/CD retailer, years past then I started to write more and more, even doing ghostwriting on screenplays for theatre productions and love films. Then I started to write books, I had the most success with The Zombie Rule Book that was published with Cosmic Egg Books 2013, then I started writing #I'm Zombie, which was also published by Cosmic Egg Books in paperback. While I was writing #I'm Zombie, which is a book based online when the Z-Poc hits, so you would have a huge forum account of people going forth (damn, forums where huge back then! Where did they go?), and other online accounts online, while writing the book I had a light-bulb moment and thought this needs to be a film as we watch the zombie apocalypse unfold through webcams, found footage as if other survivors were watching these online during the Z-Poc, I started the Virus of the Dead idea in late 2013, then continued to create more anthology films and work more producing and creating. I have never had any training, yeah since I've sat in on a few film classes, but I think you have to look at the rule book and make your own rules as you go along, as the environment is changing all the time with regard to the internet, so we have to evolve with it. I won't name names but I spoke with a few companies in 2013/14 and big named directors who said to me I would never get Virus of the Dead made or distributed on a zero budget - and I'm talking zero -, well the film got made and distributed! And a company actually wanted me to can the film and create a bigger budget movie, which I declined, as I'm all about true indie underground horror.

 

Over the years, you have made a name of yourself for putting together anthology movies featuring works from directors from all around the world - so do talk about those anthologies for a bit, and what's the idea behind them?

 

I think when creating Virus of the Dead, as well as seasoned pros within the genre I have featured upcoming filmmakers. I am so passionate about indie filmmaking and the anthologies have been a great way to get upcoming filmmakers' names out there and the confidence to move on to create feature films.

I create and produce a lot of horror anthology films, all of the completed anthology films have been distributed by different companies including Troma, Wild Eye Releasing, Alchemy Werks and many other distributors. My passion is to encourage young and up-and-coming filmmakers to get into filmmaking and use whatever they have at their disposal, be it the camera phone in their back pocket to basically get out there and create art. We are in great times with technology and great films like Tangerine directed by Sean Baker and Unsane directed by Steven Soderbergh, both of which were shot on I-phones, were a huge success. We've had a lot of filmmakers come through our films to go on to make other films including short films at festival runs, and go on to make feature films as well as a lot of true indie filmmakers who hadn't had a film released or distributed before, and a mix of seasoned pro indie filmmakers. So for instance Virus of the Dead, it's a true mix of talent!

 

Other past films of yours you'd like to talk about?

 

I have to mention the Grindsploitation film series I produced, I have so much love for those films! Troma were a big influence to me growing up, so it's a great thrill to have these films distributed by the legendary Troma label!

 


How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

Well someone sent me a review recently, it said "You are the king of schlock" after watching the Grindsploitation film series! So I think that sums it up right there! I'll take that title any day! If I had a big budget I would still be creating schlocky films and backyard gore fests, I'm actually planning on a proper shot-on-video roots film next year, the more gore and schlock the better!

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Lloyd Kaufman, David Cronenberg, Daryush Shokof, David A. Prior, Herschell Gordon Lewis [Herschell Gordon Lewis bio - click here].

 

Your favourite movies?

 

This is a tough one, my list changes all the time, but as of today here are a few of my all time favourite movies: Der Todesking, House of 1000 Corpses, The Toxic Avenger, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, Eraserhead, The Witch, Videodrome, Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, The Love Witch, Midsommer, Dead Before Dawn, Slumber Party Massacre, The Bride of Frankenstein, Withnail and I, Jackie Brown, True Romance. I think that list sums up a good few of my all-time favourite films. We seem to be in such good times with the current state of horror with films like Hereditary, The Blackcoat's Daughter, The Ritual and some amazing foreign cinema like Raw and Amer. I feel truly blessed to be living in these times and being able to appreciate modern horror cinema back to the birth of horror with films like Noferatu and Häxan.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

This is a weird one, I always find something in most films! Be it great direction, production, score, but keeping with the horror theme I would have to say remakes like The Martyrs or The Wicker Man... Why? Just why did they bother?

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Heres some places you can keep up to date on future projects!

Twitter: @Tony Newton1

Instagram: @tonynewton1

https://www.facebook.com/TonyNewtonFilm/

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Coming out next year will be Dustin Ferguson's [Dustin Ferguson interview - click here] horror anthology VHS Violence Part 1, which will feature a crazy VHS style short of mine, and I co-produced part 2 of VHS Violence: VHS and Kill along with Dustin Ferguson which will hopefully be out next year as well!

 


I was also a producer on the horror anthology Deep Web XXX which is deemed too extreme by the mainstream and is out now on a limited edition Blu-ray and DVD via Unearthed Films: https://www.unearthedfilms.com/

 

I have just finished my new Horror Movie Poetry Book - the book is a collection of horror movie-inspired poems, from the creepy to the bizarre. A homage to horror movies, where imagery is turned into the written word. Horror films are a beast of their own! This was a really fun book to create while I was watching each of the horror films in turn mostly on VHS video I created a poem on my old vintage typewriter, then typed up on the computer fully unedited, so whatever came out of the trusty typewriter from circa 1920 is what we see on the page! Horror Movie Poetry is out now! https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07VM4759V

 

Also a few weeks ago I released Issue 1 on the VHS zine book Splatter Video - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XN4ZQK3

 

Feeling lucky ?
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USA  amazon.com

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Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

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You can check out the crazy the mad, the schlocky hair-raising homage to schlock movies of yesteryear, mixed with a British kitchen sink drama Toxic Schlock for free on Troma Movies for a limited time here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FXqpYkkJpA

 

Also myself and Sam Mason Bell (Trash Arts) [Sam Mason-Bell interview - click here] both directed Toxic Schlock have a few exciting projects up our sleeve for next year including In The Dark, a documentary on fear!

 

Vestra Pictures and Trash Arts' Home Videos 3 is set to be released on December 17, 2019 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WMM87N6/

So watch this space!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank you! I love reading your amazing reviews and interviews and always look out for more popping up so I can add more awesome films to my watch list!

 

© by Michael Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
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a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
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... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD