• Censor (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 26th, 2021.
    Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
    Cast: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller
    Year: 2021
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Censor – Movie Review:

    Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, who co-wrote the script with Anthony Fletcher, 2021’s Censor is set in England in the eighties and follows a woman named Enid Baines (Niamh Algar). She works as a film censor for the BBFC, it is literally her job to watch films and decided if they can pass uncut, need to be edited or should be rejected a classification outright. Enid sees herself as protecting society by doing this and she takes her job far more seriously than most of her associates.

    Enid also lost her sister, Nina, when they were children. She disobeyed her parents orders and clearly carries a lot of guilt over this. When she meets her parents for dinner one night, they present her with Nina’s death certificate, hoping it will put an end to what have clearly been years or strife for the family as they’ve tried to figure out what became of Nina. Enid isn’t having it, however, as she believes that Nina is still out there. When a man kills his family and the media connects it to a film called Deranged that Enid let pass with cuts, her already high stress level increases substantially and her life starts to spiral.

    When she comes across a film by a director named Frederick North, she sees a scene that is all too familiar to her and starts to believe that Nina is still alive, out there working as an actress named Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta), and so she sets out to save her.

    Censor is very much a slow burn picture, it takes its time to really get going and at times it can be quite repetitive, what with all the scenes of Enid simply watching gory horror films and taking notes. That said, it’s worth sticking with, as once Enid starts to crack, the story takes some interesting twists and heads into some genuinely unexpected directions, all of which lead to an ending that is somehow simultaneously vague and yet completely appropriate. It’s an odd pictures to be sure, channeling a little David Lynch at times with some of the imagery without ever really aping his style, but patient viewers with a taste for the bizarre will appreciate the way that Prano Bailey-Bond leaves a lot of the film’s finale open to interpretation.

    Performances are very strong here. The supporting players all do a great job, with Michael Smiley doing really strong work as a sleazy, lecherous producer and Andrew Havill and Clare Holman really delivering as Enid’s parents. This is, however, Niamh Algar’s show for pretty much the entity of the film. She’s excellent here, portraying Enid as a bit of a recluse, a smart and observant woman whose job is clearly getting to her. She’s tragic, believable and in the later part of the film, more than a little bit frightening.

    Production values are strong. The score from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch doss a great job of accentuating Enid’s increasingly fragile headspace and it adds to the film’s atmosphere quite a bit. The visuals are really strong throughout, with cinematographer Annika Summerson really doing a great job here. The framing and the lighting are all top-notch and the attention to period detail is appreciated and a big part of what lets us get immersed enough in the film to buy it.

    Censor – Blu-ray Review:

    Censor arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. The eighty-four minute feature takes up 26GBs of space on the 50GB disc and it looks excellent. Shot on 35mm film, the image boasts really nice depth and texture while detail stays strong throughout. Color reproduction looks perfect and black levels are strong and deep. There are no issues with any obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts and as you’d expect from such a recent film, there’s no print damage visible here at all.

    The only audio option for this release is a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and it sounds great. The score really benefits from the surround channels here, swelling up in the rears from time to time to very dramatic effect. The dialogue stays clean, clear and properly balanced while sound effects hit with the right amount of punch. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion at all. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    There are two commentary tracks on this disc, the first of which is with director Prano Bailey-Bond and cinematographer Annika Summerson. This is reasonably scene-specific talk that goes over the old school opening logos that preceded the film proper before then talking about what it was like working with the different cast members, some of the odd humor worked into the picture, the locations that were used for different scenes, why some of the more pivotal scenes are played the way that they are, the writing process for the movie, how she directed Niamh Algar to react to things on the screen Enid was watching when there wasn't actually anything there during the shoot, some of the props that were used for key scenes, the influence or Argento and Lucio Fulci on the look of the film, how a VHS cover featured in the video store scene ties into the movie, trying to get the images in Bailey-Bond's head during the script writing process onto the screen, details on the forest sequences and lots more.

    The second commentary is with Kat Ellinger, who talks about growing up during the Video Nasties scandal, her initial hesitation when she heard about Censor being made and the press that covered it, the way that the film seeks to deconstruct the nostalgia around the Video Nasties heyday, how grim the UK was in the eighties, the role of the BBFC in video certification, the covert operations that certain stores indulged in to rent out uncut versions of certain movies to specific customers illegally and plenty of thoughts on Enid's character and her plight. She also covers some of the gender politics on display in the scene with Enid and the producer, the strange qualities of the ending of the film and how it compares to other horror films where the central character snaps, Mary Whitehouse's puritanical crusade against genre pictures and a fair bit more.

    The disc also contains a whole lot of interviews, the first of which is with Prano Bailey-Bond and actress Niamh Algar entitled What Protects The Censor From Losing Control? This piece runs for twenty minutes and covers coming up with the idea in 2012 and then starting to write the script in 2016 after reading an article on what was cut out of some old Hammer horror pictures. She also covers the motivations behind why the censors did what they did, how the director and lead actress originally met, casting the film, writing the script without anyone in mind, reading for the part, Bailey-Bond's personal love of horror movies stemming back to her younger days, research that was required to bring Enid to life, trying to bring the audience into Enid's mind, the influence of Blue Velvet on the film's ending, the decision to shot on film rather than digitally and how much fun they all had shooting the picture, even if it was exhausting.

    Precision On 35mm is an interview with Annika Summerson that runs for nine minutes. Here she covers why Censor was primarily shot on 35mm film, the use of Super 8 and digital in certain scenes, the gear and film stock that she used for the shoot, getting the intended look of the film without having to digitally add grain, how the movie is a film about films and needed to have a specific look to make that work, the amount of takes and shots needed for certain scenes, working with Prano Bailey-Bond and how she knew what she wanted the film to look like and the use of color in the film.

    We also get a five minute interview with editor Mark Towns entitled Bits The Censors Cut Out that goes into some detail on the digital editing process that was used to finish the picture, why certain trims were made to the picture, building the title sequence using 'bits and bobs' from different horror pictures and stock footage websites, details on the original deleted opening for the movie, how much fun it was to cut the final forest scene due to how and when that material was shot.

    In Terms Of Light And Shade is an interview with sound designer Tim Harrison that allows him twenty minutes to talk about his initial thoughts on the script, working with Bailey-Bond, the psychological aspects of the film and using sound to bring audiences into her 'sense of madness,' how aural and visuals elements of the film play off of each other, using a lot of analogue gear to create the sound design, research that was needed to get things right for the eighties vibe that the movie uses, having his efforts work in conjunction with what Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch had done with her score, the effect of the pandemic on the film's release, the thought process that went into a lot of the mixing, surround effects and the trial and error involved in the sound design process.

    Up next is a six minute interview with composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch called Sense Of Panic. In this piece, she discusses how she didn't specifically approach the film as a horror picture, what attracted her to the project, wanting the music to stay with Enid as she goes through all of this, the influence of John Carpenter's work, the importance of controlling the low frequencies in the score and trying to find balance with her work, not wanting the music to take the viewers out of the film.

    Prano Bailey-Bond's short film, Nasty, made in 2015, is also found here. It's an interesting sixteen minute companion piece to the feature attraction. In the film, a boy is driven off to school by his mother but on the way they stop so she can holler into the woods for her missing husband. We see her interact with the police, clearly upset by the circumstances. The boy comes across a VHS tape of horror film that he watches late one night, his mother unimpressed when she catches him doing it, going so far as to destroy the tape. He leaves, riding away on his bike, and heads back to the woods with a few other tapes and buries them for safe keeping, safe for one called ‘Evil Dad’ that may hold some clues as to what happened to his father. It's quirky, interesting and quite stylish and you can very clearly see in this piece the director laying the groundwork for Censor.

    Freedom Of The Image: The Origins Of The Video Nasties Hysteria is a video essay by Chris O’Neill that runs thirty-two minutes and, as the title suggests, it explores how and why the Video Nasties craze swept the United Kingdom in the 1980s. We learn how and why certain prominent moral crusaders worked with law enforcement, the government and the media to attempt to do away with anything they deemed objectionable in the home video market. The approach here is interesting as it looks back on all of this from the perspective of 'the future,' the female narrator, Claire Loy, explaining how all of this came to be as a highlight reel of sex and violence from many of the films in question plays out underneath.

    Ban The Sadist Videos, a two-part feature length documentary about the UK’s Video Nasties craze. This piece runs ninety-two minutes features interviews with former British Video Association Director-General Norman Abbott, video wholesaler Barry Gold, Star Video proprietor Bill Best, Replay Video operator S.R. Doshi, The Home Office's David Mellor, BBFC Secretary James Ferman, Atlantis Video's Mo Claridge, Palace Video's Stephen Woolley, Wynd-Up Video's Bob Lewis, MP Austin Mitchell and plenty more people who were there and who were involved in all of this. It's a great piece that goes over the issues that the censors were dealing with, the influence of Mary Whitehouse, the state of the home video market in the UK and lots, lots more. If this were only archival clips of video stores and rad cover art it'd still be worth watching, and there is a lot of that here, but the interviews are genuinely fascinating and do a great job of covering the whole video nasties craze.

    My Nasty Memories is a featurette with Severin Films’ David Gregory about Video Nasties. This piece runs thirty-three minutes and in it, Gregory talks about growing up in the UK with only three television channels, the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana led to a lot of people buying VCRs, his own experiences going to video stores as a kid, how many of the labels that dealt with low budget genre pictures marketed them in the UK and used sensational cover art to do so, Mary Whitehouse's role in getting the home video market 'cleaned up,' how politicians used Video Nasties as a scapegoat to take away from the civil unrest in the county, memories of seeing specific films on the Video Nasties list, how and why some specific films wound up on the banned list even if they didn't really deserve to be, how at the time every film in the UK legally needed a BBFC rating, the bootleg market that arose out of this, how some films remain illegal to own in the UK in their uncut versions and his own experiences trying to get films passed for the home video market in the UK.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc is a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

    As far as the packaging goes, we get a reversible cover sleeve that slips inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase. Inside the case, alongside the disc, is a full color, sixteen-page insert booklet containing an essay on the film by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. The keepcase fits inside a slipcover that features mock up art for the two ‘movies within the movie’, they being Asunder and Beast Man, that in turn fits inside a nice side-loading hard box featuring some original Censor art. It’s quite a nice package overall.

    Censor – The Final Word:

    Censor is an impressive work, a unique and challenging genre picture with a strong sense of visual style, fantastic sound work and a great performance from its lead. The Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome presents the picture in a beautiful presentation and on a disc loaded with extras. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Censor Blu-ray screen caps!