I have a longstanding love affair with what's known as the 'pre-cert' video tape, which is short for 'pre-certificate'. The terms refers to any tape released before the Video Recordings Act of 1984, which enforced the crazy notion that the films on Britain's video store shelves really ought to be certificated and controlled by a central censorship body. Until then, the world of video had been an untamed, maverick paradise (sorry, did I say 'paradise'? I meant 'shamefully immoral den of sin'), which clearly would not do for any right-thinking Daily Mail reader.
So when the new laws came in, literally thousands of titles vanished from UK shelves - in some cases forever, because smaller distributors couldn't afford the fee to have their films certificated. Almost overnight, a collector's market was formed. Tapes which had been commonplace were now forbidden gold.
Pre-1984, back when I was two years old (ahem, cough), I vividly remember going into my local library, which had a video rental department. I gazed up at the horror section and saw this very title blazing back down at me...
Don't Go In The House. On the cover: a woman reduced to a burnt husk, hanging from the ceiling, as someone in what looks like a bee-keeper's outfit reaches for her.
And look at the tag-line. Back then, films had killer tag-lines: "In a steel room built for revenge, they die burning... in chains". You've gotta love that ellipsis. As if dying burning isn't enough... imagine being in chains too. That would really put a crimp on the whole experience.
My jaw slackened. I'd never be allowed to watch a film like that. Not that my parents are puritans, you understand - they're very cool. But I was young, and Don't Go In The House wouldn't be entering our battleship-sized VCR any time soon. So right now, I had to be content with those lurid video sleeves. And I could always touch, imagine...
My trembling hand reached up for this horrendous charnel house of a motion picture. I studied the front cover up close, marvelling at its horrific squalor. Then turned it over and saw...
Dear mother of God - it's a woman with her hair on fire! Those hair straighteners really can be a caution. I then absorbed the blurb on the back - oh, the blurb you used to get on videos. Blurb-reading Blu-Ray buyers don't know they're born. The blurb here begins: "Danny Kohler is sick. Very sick." No kidding.
A couple of years after I gazed with unrequited bloodlust at that forbidden video box, its contents became even more out of bounds. The video nasties furore began (read an article I wrote about that here - originally printed in an SFX magazine horror special) and Don't Go In The House was no longer allowed to be seen by anyone in the UK. An over-reaction which struck freedom-loving film fans as sick. Very sick. Yet, like the Video Recordings Act which followed, it made these banned flicks all the more juicy. All the more must-see. All the more collectable. Some of them have still yet to resurface on these shores... included, I believe, Don't Go In The House.
So decades on, I take writer/director Joseph Ellison's film down from my very own shelf and love the very sight of it so much, that I have to write a whole blog-post about it. Even though I really don't have time, and most people won't be vaguely interested. You've got to have passions in life - even if it's for utterly ludicrous, low-budget obscurities like this. I've long since bought Don't Go In The House on Region 1 DVD, but the iconic video nasty will remain on my shelf. Forever a foundation block of my life.
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