Filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond has said horror films were used as a “convenient scapegoat” to distract from the troubles affecting British society during the Thatcher era.
Video nasties, low-budget and violent horrors released directly onto video cassette prompted a moral panic in the 80s and the genre attracted criticism from parts of the press and various religious groups.
Bailey-Bond’s film Censor is set during that period and follows film censor Enid (Niamh Algar) as she discovers an eerie film with surprising similarities to her sister’s mysterious disappearance, prompting her to investigate further.
It is set against the backdrop of the UK miners’ strikes and Margaret Thatcher’s time in power.
Bailey-Bond told the PA news agency: “I guess I look back at this period and think about how video nasties and VHS horror were potentially scapegoats, a very convenient scapegoat for everything bad that was happening in society.
“In that clip there’s a clip of the police battering miners on a miners’ strike and I think the irony that everybody was so upset about this fictional horror in video nasties when that kind of thing was happening in real life.
“I just think there’s a certain hypocrisy there.
“But also you’re looking at bleak, 80s, oppressive Thatcher’s Britain. Lots of social welfare being cut and people losing their jobs.
“It was easy to blame all the bad things happening in the world on a few horror films, rather than actually look at what the Government might have been doing or could have been doing to help people.
“So in those few frames of seeing Thatcher and the miners, there’s a political statement behind that.”
Irish actress Algar, who starred in Shane Meadows’ The Virtues on Channel 4, said she and Bailey-Bond had exchanged films and other stylistic reference points online as they developed her character, and took influence from Natalie Portman’s performance in psychological thriller Black Swan for which she won the Oscar for best actress.
She told PA: “We had talked about Enid having this deep-rooted emotional trauma and someone who is physically trying to hold themself together in a way that it’s kind of painful.
“It’s painful for her and it’s also painful for the audience to watch and it is someone who’s terrified of their own emotions.
“We had looked at Natalie Portman’s portrayal in Black Swan, of someone who is peeling away the idea that underneath the exterior is something quite dark and sinister in a way.
“I think there were those moments where the character begins to lose her grasp on reality.”
However, Algar said the part offered “something that’s so original and new that you have to just create your own and find something that is going to be bringing truth, what’s on the page as opposed to trying to recreate something”.
Censor is out now in UK cinemas.