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Nightmare (1981)


In the UK, the film was shown to critics at secret screenings where journalists weren't even told the title of the film until the screening had begun. When the film was released to an unsuspecting public, it was promoted by the distribution of vomit bags, warnings placed in cinema foyers and fake ambulance crews on standby. This set a precedent for bizarre publicity gimmicks to sell the film in Britain that extended to the film's ill-fated video release. At a trade show held in Manchester during May 1982, the UK video distributors World of Video 2000 promoted their latest acquisition with a tacky guess-the-weight-of-the- pickled-brain competition. This explains the bizarre UK video sleeve which featured a shot of Baird Stafford, blood streaming from his eyes, apparently inside a pickling jar clutching an extracted brain!

Predictably, there were complaints and Manchester police raided the trade show and confiscated the brain-in-a-jar prop and it has been suggested that this was in fact all part of World of Video 2000's advertising campaign, that the raids were in fact fake. Unfortunately, it simply leant more ammunition to a British tabloid press hungry for anti-'video nasty' stories. It has been reported in various sources that the company took the gimmick on the road - certainly they tried to stage a show outside a video shop in Surrey and again the police were called.

It was only a matter of time before all this grandstanding attracted the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions who added the film to its growing list of 'nasties' and started arranging prosecutions against the film's distributors under the Obscene Publications Act. In October 1982, the police raided the premises of World of Video 2000's parent company, April Electronics and its three owners - David Hamilton-Grant, Malcolm Fancey and Roger Morley - were charged with possessing "obscene material" for publication and gain, specifically 212 tapes of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. The case went to court on 3 February 1984 and, after a viewing of the film, the jury took five and a half hours to reject the company's peculiar defence plea that the film was "in the public good" and Hamilton-Grant was sentenced to an 18 month prison sentence, 12 months of which were suspended. Fancey and Morley each received suspended sentences and fines and April Electronics were forced into liquidation. Hamilton-Grant served six months in prison, the first person to do so as a result of dealing in video tapes.

All this was despite the company putting up a spirited fight. They employed Geoffrey Robertson as their defence brief, a man who had tried - unsuccessfully - some years earlier to have videos excluded from the Obscene Publications Act, and called in critics Derek Malcolm and Marjorie Bilbow to comment on the film's worth. Sadly. it came to nothing, and even came close to farce - while Malcolm was trying to defend the film on the grounds that it was well made (a pretty tenuous defence as anyone who has seen the film will testify), he was famously interrupted by Judge Christopher Beaumont whose memorable quip neatly encapsulated the establishment's bewilderment over 'video nasties': "How is this relevant to the jury in deciding the case?" he demanded. "You might say the German tank invasion of Poland was well executed. Does excellence and camerawork help the jury to come to a conclusion in this case?"


Last Updated: 23 October, 2009


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