CENSOR *****

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond.
Starring Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Michael Smiley, Vincent Franklin.
Horror, UK, 84 minutes, certificate 15.

Released in the UK in cinemas 20th August by Vertigo Releasing.


The glory days of the video nasty are expertly evoked in Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature directorial debut. Niamh Algar plays Enid Baines, a film censor who finds her days filled with watching extreme horror cinema, suggesting cuts or straight-out banning films in the misguided notion that she and her fellow censors are keeping the British public safe from having their minds warped by the wave of bloody and gory films that washed up in many a living room VHS. In the cigarette smoke filled offices and screening rooms filled with the noise of whirring videotapes and the on screen screams of terrorised women, Enid spends her days taking notes on how much eye gouging, slaughter and assault is allowed on screen.


However, Enid’s life, and possibly her sanity, starts to fracture when she views Don’t Go In The Church, the latest low budget, gory shocker from infamous, and mysterious, director Frederick North. A film that has uncanny parallels with an incident from her childhood where her little sister went missing, an event that soon becomes apparent Enid has never fully recovered from. Enid soon finds herself on a reality warping odyssey as she tries to uncover the connections between the mysterious film and her own past.


Over CENSOR’S brief yet packed eighty-four minutes, Prano Bailey-Bond successfully manages to evoke a number of elements of a mid-eighties Britain caught up in a hysteria manufactured by a judgemental tabloid press as well as professional busybodies like Mary Whitehouse. As a period-piece it succeeds without being too obvious or having to rely on the usual clichéd 80’s visual cues, but as a piece of transgressive horror cinema it succeeds even more with its slippery and increasingly hallucinogenic narrative. The colour scheme, drab and muted at first, gradually blends into the Hellish reds and neon colours that were a trademark of many of the Italian nasties of that time. Its storyline also becomes more bloodier and more outrageous as it progresses, managing to effortlessly slip under the skin of the viewer, staying there long after its ambiguous ending; an ending that could go on to inspire debate for years to come among its surely assured cult audience.


Niamh Algar’s excellent performance heads up an impressive cast of actors mostly familiar for their comedic roles. Whether its Nicholas Burns as Enid’s more academically minded co-worker or Felicity Montagu, instantly familiar as Alan Partridge’s long suffering assistant Lynn, as a strict secretary while Michael Smiley effortlessly unnerves as a slimy producer wo may know more about events than he is letting on. Bailey-Bond manages her cast superbly in these more strait-laced roles in the films down to earth atmosphere that soon shifts into something else entirely both narratively and visually.


Viewers of a certain age may recall those days of the 80’s and early 90’s of searching through video libraries or back page ads for uncut copies of numerous horror films that fell foul of the censors with mixed feelings. They should however accept this visualisation of those panic-stricken days with more open arms, whether it is due to its loving and convincing reconstruction of those low-resolution video nightmares where any household appliance or DIY tool was a weapon of bloody destruction. As a subversive tribute it succeeds but it succeeds even more on its own terms as an ambiguous, unnerving shocker that is very much of its own time with its own bloody and shocking attitude.


Iain MacLeod.


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