At the start of the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was encouraging the small businessman and the entrepreneur. A few years later, the courts and police forces would persecute many of the people who heeded the call, and her government would pass new laws that effectively forced them out of business. These were the video pioneers – the people who opened high street rental shops, and the indie labels who flooded them with obscure movies while the major labels still dithered over the ‘threat’ of home viewing and held back their releases. With no censorship laws in force beyond the Obscene Publications Act – then seen as applying only to hard core porn, and possibly not even covering video cassettes – the labels were free to release whatever they wanted. Often run by opportunist businessmen rather than film fans, these labels would often snap up the rights to films in bulk without even thinking about the content, and release them in whatever versions were supplied by the rights holders.
One such label was Go Video, run by former music executive Des Dolan. Go released a wide variety of titles, ranging from public domain cartoons and films to Euro softcore, comedy, action, drama and horror. There was, it has to be said, no sense that Go had a particular mission statement – they simply released whatever they could get hold of that seemed vaguely commercial. Some of the films were outrageous, some tame. Some contained material that the British censors would (and had) cut for theatrical releases; others, like The Violation of Justine, were the heavily cut BBFC editions.
Large chunks of the Go catalogue was European exploitation. They issued several Jess Franco films in their early days, for instance. The early Go titles are a masterclass in handmade design – roughly cut-out images and crude text that seem defiantly shoddy. They also show an admirable lack of restraint when it comes to the images used – the ‘muff shot’ cover from their first release of The Demons is crude in all senses (and recently reproduced on the Nucleus Films blu-ray). As the cover art improved, the lack of good taste continued, and it was the full-page magazine ads for Cannibal Holocaust and SS Experiment Camp that would be the cause of the ensuing moral panic. The SS Experiment Camp cover was a provocative image of a topless woman, crucified upside down with a swastika dangling from her wrist. The adverts in video magazines caused outrage, and Dolan’s defence – that the label had already censored the art by adding a pair of knickers to the naked woman – seemed to only inflame people more. Alongside VIPCO’s equally provocative cover for The Driller Killer, it was this shamelessly lurid promotion that first alerted the powers that be to the fact that high street video shops were awash with films that would never have been passed by the British censors. In fact, the whole of the Video Nasty panic was based more on the sleeve artwork and advertising – often overtly sensational in an effort to grab the casual browser – as it was on the actual content of the films.
When the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that the obscenity laws did extend to violent imagery and allowed test prosecutions of four titles, two of them were Go releases – SS Experiment Camp and Cannibal Holocaust. Both films would become mainstays of the Video Nasty banned list. Go’s release of Lamberto Bava’s Macabre – actually a subtle psychological horror film, but packaged in a way that emphasised the deviant sex and gory violence aspects – was held up at the 1983 Conservative Party conference as an example of everything rotten in the video industry and proof that censorship was urgently needed.
While these three titles brought Go to the attention of both the authorities and the gorehounds, they were actually the exception rather than the rule for the label. While a lot of the Go catalogue was of interest to European trash cinema fans, little of it was outrageous enough to attract the attention of the authorities (other than guilt through association), even if their advertising was still occasionally provocative. Certainly, the label suffered from losing stock of their best sellers and from video shop reluctance to buy more films that might be seized by the police. Later Go titles were occasionally interesting, but lacked the sensationalism and the commercial appeal of the earlier films.
Go would, like many labels, fizzle out as a combination of police raids, video store caution and closures, and the increasing presence of major distributors in the home video market made their titles less viable. By the end of 1983, Go Video had ceased to operate.
But the legend lives on. This is, after all, the label that arguably gave birth to the Video Nasty panic, and many of their movies remain cult favourites (though notably, a lot of the Euro exploitation films that Go released have yet to be reissued on DVD, let alone blu-ray). Along with VIPCO, Go Video is probably the most fondly remembered and iconic of the Video Nasty labels.
Here’s (almost) all of the Go Video sleeves, along with press ads, the seven page catalogue that appeared in Video Today and a few cassette labels. You can find complete sleeves and more advertising at fan site http://www.go-video-ltd.co.uk/. Additions always welcome.