Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor is a mind-bending examination of the Video Naty hysteria that gripped Britain in the late 1980s. The film features a brilliant performance from Niamh Algar (Raised By Wolves) as Enid Baines, a prim-and-proper film board censor with a tortured past. She’s kept the lip sealed on that well of woe for years but when a new, eerily familiar film comes across Enid‘s desk she is forced to face the darkest recesses of her mind in a search for answers to what really happened the day her little sister disappeared.
Censor celebrated its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and is currently playing in select theatres, with an OnDemand release coming June 18, 2021 through Magnet Releasing. I recently sat down with director and co-writer Prano Bailey-Bond to discuss the Video Nasty craze, whether the film censors of that time regret their involvement in the hysteria, and the lengths she went to craft a period-appropriate flick bathed in the neon glow of shot-on-video horror.
“…we shot most of the movie on 35mm and there’s also in there 8mm and VHS […] we all wanted it to feel as authentic and sound as authentic as possible.”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: So where did the inspiration for Censor come from?
Prano Bailey-Bond: The initial seed of the idea came from reading an article in a horror magazine about the Hammer Horror era. So, slightly earlier than when Censor is set, but this article talked about this thing that censors in that era would always cut the image of blood on the breasts of a woman because they believed it would make men likely to commit rape. I was like, “oh!” and then I was like, “weren’t a lot of the film censors during that period men?” and if they were able to see this, what stopped them from losing control if these images are meant to make us do these terrible things. So I started to feel like a film about a film censor who started to have some kind of strange relationship with the things that we were seeing on screen, that was really intriguing to me.
I started to read about film censorship throughout the ages and very quickly landed in the Video Nasty era because, in the UK, the reaction to essentially the birth of VHS, which created this boom in low budget film making being available in the home where anyone could get their hands on it, lead to a moral panic around what these films were going to do to us. I loved the idea of exploring somebody who maybe thinks that deep down they could be a terrible person and this seemed like a really great period to set that in because that was the conversation going around horror at that time. It was almost like they believed that you could watch a Video Nasty and then throw your moral compass out the window and grab your closest hammer and your off. I just don’t know if that’s how the world works but we’re able to look back at that period now in a more objective way. That’s an interesting thing for me, when it comes to things like censorship and this kind of hysterical reaction to certain types of art that have happened throughout the ages.
Hot at the Shop:
NOFS: I know most of the claims were eventually disproven but were there ever any crimes that could be linked back to Video Nasties?
PBB: There were loads in the paper but whether they were real or not is another matter. A couple that really stuck out to me- one of them was this very small article in the newspaper that was titled “Pony Maniac Strikes Again”. There had been this attack on these ponies on Devon. I don’t think it was a violent attack but the police statement in this article that was quoted is that the police said this was probably influenced by either Video Nasties or the full moon. So, now not only are Video Nasties making people go out and do terrible things but also, we’re affected by the moon.
There was another one which was about a guy who had killed somebody and he said that when he woke up he’d thought he had a terrible dream about killing someone, and then he saw dirt on his hands and realized that he actually had garrotted someone he knew to death with a shoelace, but he said that he’d seen a Video Nasty the night before so that was probably what had made him do it. I just think, oh how convenient. People could just be like, “sorry, I didn’t mean it. It was because I watched a horror movie, and that’s why”. It’s like a really easy scapegoat and that’s kind of what was going on politically in the UK as well because Thatcher’s Britain where we’ve got cuts to jobs, cuts to funding for social care so, obviously, people aren’t in the best state but the rise in crime can easily be blamed on Video Nasties. Like, let’s try and look at what are the societal causes and the mental health causes of these things and get to the root of it rather than continue to blame art which is probably an outlet for these people.
“…I think it’s surprising how many film censors love horror. I think a lot of people are surprised because they’re kind of the horror fan’s enemy in lots of ways.”
NOFS: In your research, did you get a chance to talk to any film censors that were working during that Video Nasty era?
PBB: Yeah, I mean, the first place that me and Anthony Fletcher who I co-wrote the script with- we first visited the BBFC quite early on in the writing process. That’s basically the British Board of Film Classification over here and they were really helpful, and they let us look at the files from that period. When a file gets to a certain age, you can book it out to look at what they were talking about. We looked at The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Evil Dead, The Last House on The Left, Driller Killer, you know. You could go in and you could actually read what they were talking about in relation to these films which was absolutely fascinating, but then also I managed to track down a couple of film censors who had worked during that period, and I was really amazed.
The first woman I spoke to, Carol Topolski, I was like “so, do you love horror films?” and she loved horror films. She saw the benefit in horror. It was really refreshing that she spoke about horror like that, but then I talked to a woman who didn’t feel comfortable watching horror at all and found that sitting in a dark room, day-in-day-out watching films of women having their throats slit made her feel quite nervous in the outside world and when she would leave work at night. So it was a mixture but I think it’s surprising how many film censors love horror. I think a lot of people are surprised because they’re kind of the horror fan’s enemy in lots of ways.
NOFS: What did they think about what they were doing 30 years later? Did any of them have a different viewpoint on why they were censoring what they were censoring?
PBB: One of the most interesting things on that front was actually looking at the film for The Evil Deadbecause you read through the comments that they were making at the time and- The Evil Deadwas heavily cut, it wasn’t banned, but then they revisited The Evil Dead something like 7 years later and one of the same film censors was looking at the film again and he said in this report, “I can’t believe we reacted like that, There’s obviously a sense of humor in this film but within the context of what was going on in the papers, politically, the atmosphere of the time, maybe we got swept up in it”. It was really interesting seeing that reflection on the period from someone who had been there.
NOFS: I wasn’t surprised to learn, just given the time period of the movie, that you did everything as analog as you could but I was surprised to learn just how analog the entire shoot was.
PBB: Yeah, we shot most of the movie on 35mm and there’s also in there 8mm and VHS, there’s a shot on an iPhone, and there’s digital so we got pretty much most of the formats covered. Sound-wise, we shot the actual sound digitally but then in the post-production, me and my sound designer- it was a lot of fun the techniques that we used. He would incorporate cool things like. One thing was just going to tape and playing with the tape to make it become really distorted and having that authentic tape sound. So you make take the whole of a scene, for example towards the end of the film, and then just put it all to tape and then be able to play with those textures coming through in the background.
They also used this thing called a transducer, which is a way of using an object to process sound. You can use this device to process the sound through, say, the back of a piano, and then you use a contact mic to record the sound of that object. So what that does, for example in the dreams- you’re using that process to create this really surreal version of the scene and then again you can layer that behind and play with where that surreal stuff comes through. The VFX guys also went to VHS for some of the effects. Sometimes I was like, the VHS looks so cool but we kind of need to take out some of the VHS because you can’t really see what’s happening. It was a bit of a balance but we all wanted it to feel as authentic and sound as authentic as possible.
NOFS: So, for anyone that’s looking to put together an at-home double feature with Censor, what’s a maybe lesser known Video Nasty that you would recommend they pair it with afterward?
PBB: Oooooo. Well, I’d say a really interesting double-bill would be The Witch Who Came From The Sea if you want to go deep and go more into the psychological trauma side of things. If you just want something really fun then I’d say Basket Case, one of my favourites. It’s just so much fun and, to be honest, I managed to screen that film a couple of years ago, I think it was a 16mm print, in a cinema, and watching it in a cinema with an audience was just amazing. That’s the kind of movie you want to watch with a few friends.
“…let’s try and look at what are the societal causes and the mental health causes of these things and get to the root of it rather than continue to blame art which is probably an outlet for these people.”
Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor, released by Magnet Releasing, is playing in select theatres now and will be available OnDemand June 18, 2021. Are you exicted to see this mind-bending journey into the mind of a film censor subjected to countless hours of Video Nasties?? Read our full review of Censor HERE and share your thoughts on the film with us over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.