Video Nasty Mayhem: The Inside Story of VIPCO Book Review
Written by Daniel Benson
Published by Bennion Kearny
Written by James Simpson
2019, 180 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on 18th November 2019
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: Great Britain in the early 1980s. The advent of home video brought about a renaissance for media consumption and a loophole in the censorship laws allowed uncertified material to be released on the then fledgling VHS and Betamax (and Video 2000 if you insist) formats. For me, a young horror fan, it opened up a world of opportunity to see films I’d only been able to read about previously. There’d be no chance of being admitted to seeing an X-rated movie at the cinema, but the local video store would happily hand you a tape containing depraved violence – a situation that would eventually lead to the Video Nasties furore, a change in the law that would usher in at least a decade of draconian censorship aimed at the horror genre and the eventual banning of all of the worthwhile (in the eyes of schoolkids hungry for gore) films.
While we were aware of films like Uli Lommel’s The Bogey Man (1980), Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer (1979) through title alone, one thing we didn’t realise was that they were connected by a single entity, distributor The Video Instant Picture Company, or VIPCO as it was more commonly known. Featuring lurid covers and enticing titles (sometimes unrelated to the film), VIPCO’s catalogue gained much infamy among the horror consuming kids of the ‘80s and are still sought after by collectors today.
James Simpson’s book, Video Nasty Mayhem: The Inside Story of VIPCO, is a labour of love that takes a look behind the scenes of the beginnings of the company, through to its eventual demise after the advent of DVD, in large due to its lack of quality control and respect for its audience.
Structurally, the book is slightly odd, alternating chapters between VIPCO’s history and having every other chapter as a series of reviews of VIPCO titles based on sub-genres such as zombies, cannibals and Video Nasties. As a voracious reader of books and fanzines on the subject of the Video Nasties scandal, the reviews bring nothing new to the table and only serve to interrupt the flow of the part of the book that is the most interesting: the VIPCO story. I found myself skipping the review sections to maintain the momentum of the core story then going back to them later for completeness’ sake. That said, Simpson does dig up some interesting snippets in the reviews that are, for the most part, unrelated to VIPCO itself.
The book also features the cover art for every VIPCO release, but given that – even by Simpson’s own admission – the vast majority of their releases were post-1984 (and the Video Recording’s Act that took most of VIPCO’s titles off the shelves) and at a point where the company was putting very little effort into its covers, one wonders about the value of seeing ‘art’ that consists of bold letters on a black background with clipart skulls for decoration.
That’s not to say there’s nothing of value here; Simpson has researched and gone into a level of depth on VIPCO that hasn’t been seen before. Even more enduring is the story of the man behind the company who wasn’t even a horror fan, but had a knack for licensing titles and, for a short while at least, creating cover art that would draw in consumers and create intrigue and infamy around his films and the label.
Video Nasty Mayhem: The Inside Story of VIPCO is a worthwhile read for anyone who lived through the company’s heyday and similarly for anyone intrigued with the era. Those well-read on the subject will find only a little value in the review sections, but for those who are coming fresh to Video Nasty history this is a solid reference for a previously unexplored little corner of horror film history.
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