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'Censor' Review: Prano Bailey-Bond's retro horror in the era of 'Video Nasties'

'Censor' - Prano Bailey-Bond

There was a strange time when the world of explicit filmmaking was reserved, not for the strangest digital corners of Amazon Prime, but the physical shadowy realm ‘under the counter’ of video stores. These films, including the likes of The Driller Killer and Faces of Death, were dark, dirty and often of poor quality, all sharing the same smug notoriety of being ‘banned’ due to their violent nature. 

Donned ‘Video Nasties‘ during the 1980s, these films were consistently blamed for real-life outbursts of violence and, as such, sparked a moral panic that demanded their censorship. Depicting the life of such a censor during the era of Video Nasties, the new debut film from director Prano Bailey-Bond picks this public terror apart and considers whether film violence imitates life or if it’s the other way around. 

Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) is the titular censor, a perceptive young woman with sharp professionalism for her job that involves sitting in front of a small boxed television watching graphic scenes of rape and violence. Noting down which parts need to be cut in order for the film to be passed by the censorship board, Enid is particular about what needs to be removed without being ultra-conservative. Unusually cold to the violent acts depicted on screen, Enid’s co-worker, Anne (Clare Perkins), asks her following a particularly graphic screener, “Didn’t that get to you?”, to which she replies, “I just focus on getting it right, don’t really think about anything else”. 

Forcing the visual acts of torture and violence out of her mind, Enid is being psychologically selective in what she sees and what she doesn’t, effectively slicing the events of her own memory. Such becomes a crucial foundation for Prano Bailey-Bond’s largely compelling horror film that begins to pick apart the inner workings of Enid’s mind, undeniably affected by the films she’s absorbing as well as her scarred past. 

Imbuing the film with an unstable aesthetic of imperfect retro technology, Censor crackles and jolts as if going through a digital seizure, creating a retro texture reminiscent of Italian Giallo horror and the Video Nasties themselves. Weaving in and out of the white noise of television screens and film sets, Enid’s perception becomes disjointed and untrustworthy, unsure of what reality she’s really living in as she spirals into apparent madness. 

Sparking into life in the final act, the journey of Censor is a rather unstable one, taking a while to really grasp hold of its own intentions until the neon-tinged creativity of its conclusion. Approaching the genre with an innovative eye, Prano Bailey-Bond’s film is certainly nothing like the cut-and-paste terror of a Video Nasty VHS, finding a new vein of horror yet unexplored in the beating heart of the genre.  

Successfully transporting audiences back to the beige era of 1985 Britain, complete with VHS rental stores, indoor smoking and the shadowed loom of Margaret Thatcher’s conservatism, Bailey-Bond creates a fascinating retrospective on the effects of such a film movement on an individual who felt surrendered to its impact. Though flawed, Censor remains a stylish, compelling and highly original piece of debut filmmaking.