“One of the cool things about this project was that I got to revisit a lot of video nasties and ‘80s horror films – and discover new ones too – and call it ‘work’,” Prano Bailey-Bond tells us just after her debut feature CENSOR premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. “Some of my favourites are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria, Basket Case, The Evil Dead. Not all of them are on the official video nasty banned list, but they were all caught up in the moment in some way. There are a few cool ones that pop up in CENSOR too – Nightmare in a Damaged Brain, Driller Killer and Frozen Scream all make a quick guest appearance.”
CENSOR centres on Enid (Niamh Algar), a highly composed film examiner at the British Board of Film Classification [BBFC] during the 1980s, whose mind is triggered when the media starts blaming her for passing a film that may have inspired a grisly murder, setting her off on a path to uncover what may have happened to her own missing sister.
The setting of CENSOR is during a period that you weren’t even born in, I imagine. Was this an era that you’ve always been fascinated by and why? Or was it simply a means to an end to address your themes of interest?
“Despite my youthful charm I was actually alive during the period CENSOR is set, but I was very young, so didn’t experience the video nasty era in the way it’s depicted in our film. I grew up watching some of the films that were being deemed as ‘problematic’ during this time though, like The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I loved them. My first memory of being aware of censorship was when I saw this guy called Simon Bates introduce the classification rating at the beginning of a movie. He appeared on screen, bespectacled and suited, sitting behind a desk, and said something like ‘It is an offence for anyone under the age of 12 to watch this film’ and something about being prosecuted if you did. I was probably about 8 and my instant thought was that my mum was going to be arrested if I watched the movie. I ran to my mum really worried and asked her if we were going to get into trouble, but she said we wouldn’t and it was ok for me to watch the film if I still wanted to, which I did. The 12-rated film didn’t scare me, because I knew it wasn’t real, but Simon Bates and the idea of “prosecution” was very real – and that was terrifying. I think it’s interesting that even as an 8-year old I understood the difference between fiction and reality, but it seems like a lot of grown-ups in the video nasty era really believed that society was going to get these two things muddled up.”
What sort of research did you do into the period and the whole censorship board aspect of the time?
“The first place that Anthony Fletcher (my co-writer) and I visited was the BBFC. There, we spoke to a wonderful man called David Hyman, who is a film examiner working today and has been at the BBFC for many years. Him and his colleague Catherine Anderson were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. We also sought out all the newspaper articles from the period to read about what was being said about these films and the hysterical reaction by the press. I devoured all the documentaries and TV talk shows I could find on the subject, trying to soak up the period and everything that happened. There are a couple of great documentaries by Jake West and Marc Morris, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in a deeper dive into the period. In fact, it was via Marc Morris that I was put in touch with a film censor called Carol Topolski, who worked at the BBFC during the ‘80s. Carol was hugely insightful and is a huge horror fan too. One thing that was really interesting about speaking with film censors, was understanding how a censor needs to examine a film both objectively and subjectively at once. These are very intelligent, articulate people. And, whilst I imagine it’s not how people picture a film censor, they actually all love film.”
What do you think was the appeal of video nasties, both from audiences and filmmakers of the time alike?
“At the time I think it was partly because they were forbidden; they were illicit and they were going to “destroy your mind” if you watched them. What better advert is there for horror? So, in many ways, banning and outlawing them only made the films more appealing. The video nasty banned list pretty much became a guide for anyone looking for the next thrill.”
Was your background as an editor something that made the subject matter of CENSOR resonate?
“I think so yes. In some ways, Enid is an editor – she’s taking a bit of memory, a bit of reality, a bit of film, and she’s putting it all together to try to make sense of things. I’m interested in how we construct our view of the world – our reality – and how that can be made up of things that are real and imagined.”
Do you have a sister, and if so, what sort of relationship do you have with her? What about your parents? What do your parents think of the type of films that you make?
“I do have a sister and I love her very much. She’s one of my best friends. I definitely drew on my bond with her when I was thinking about how awful and tragic Enid’s backstory is. One thing I’ve always found really interesting about me and my sister is, while we’re very similar in many ways, we create work with almost polar opposite outlooks. My sister, Susila Bailey-Bond is an amazing artist – she makes beautiful paper cut out art of butterflies and dragonflies flocking – it’s all inspired by nature. Her focus is on making the viewer feel peaceful – in finding a moment of calm. I’ve always found it interesting that two such similar people, with a very similar upbringing and similar DNA, would express themselves so differently creatively. It really fascinates me. My whole family are very creative. My dad was a painter and photographer. My mum trained at RADA and worked as an actress in theatre and television. My brother is a musician (Stemtex – for the techno fans). My siblings are older than me and I always wanted to watch what they were watching when I was little, which introduced me to things like Twin Peaks when I was probably considered too young to be watching. I was obsessed with horror films throughout my childhood and sometimes my mum would joke that she didn’t know where my dark desires to watch this stuff came from. But she never worried about it or tried to stop me – she has always been 100% supportive of my interests and, even though we didn’t have much money when I was growing up, I was brought up with an outlook that you can do and be whatever you want to do and be if you work hard.”
“I’m excited to find out!”