House On Straw Hill is a clas­sic exam­ple of a beloved exploita­tion title dogged by home video release issues. It’s been avail­able sev­er­al times on VHS and DVD over the years but they’ve all been marred by incom­plete prints and vari­able image qual­i­ty. Severin recent­ly stepped into the fray to take on this chal­leng­ing title and their results work small mir­a­cles with a film whose issues would seem to pre­clude any sort of video remas­ter. Better yet, the first 3000 copies of this set have a bonus disc that is worth the admis­sion price alone (more on that in a moment…).

Severin cre­at­ed a new trans­fer of the uncut ver­sion of the film for this set, a labo­ri­ous process that took sev­er­al months work­ing with less-than-opti­mal ele­ments like a water-dam­aged neg­a­tive and some old the­atri­cal prints (click here to read an account of the process from Severin hon­cho David Gregory). The results aren’t home the­ater demo mate­ri­al qual­i­ty — even with a lot of cleanup, there are pale col­ors and vis­i­ble print dam­age — but it’s a mir­a­cle that an uncut trans­fer was put togeth­er at all for this prob­lem­at­ic title.

The blu-ray is the best option of the two, bring­ing some depth to the often shad­owy inte­ri­ors and pro­vid­ing a bump in clar­i­ty. The mono audio sounds quite good for this vin­tage. Simply put, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one putting togeth­er a bet­ter or more com­plete trans­fer for this title given its many ele­ment issues and Severin’s hard work deserves a kind eye from the film’s fans.

The extras begin with a com­men­tary fea­tur­ing writer/director James Kenelm Clarke and producer/2nd unit direc­tor Brian Smedley-Aston, mod­er­at­ed by jour­nal­ist Jonathan Sothcott. The two sub­jects offer a genial, relaxed stream of chat as they dis­cuss their approach to the film as a com­mer­cial ven­ture (using the suc­cess of Pete Walker’s films as a mod­el), the chal­lenges of shoot­ing a styl­ish film on a tiny bud­get and the film’s con­tro­ver­sial sta­tus as a “video nasty.”

Clarke and Smedley-Aston don’t shy away from dif­fi­cult top­ics — like star Linda Hayden’s dis­ap­proval of how the fin­ished pro­duct was mar­ket­ed as a Fiona Richmond sex film — and have no prob­lem crit­i­ciz­ing their own work. Sothcott gets the duo to dis­cuss the leg­ends that have sprung up around the film and does a good job of gen­tly cycling them through dif­fer­ent top­ics. All in all, a solid track that the film’s fans will enjoy lis­ten­ing to.

Also includ­ed is “An Angel For Satan,” a short 2003 inter­view with Hayden about her career as a U.K. star­let in fre­quent­ly con­tro­ver­sial fare. She talks about a num­ber of her roles, includ­ing Baby Love and Madhouse, with a spe­cial amount of atten­tion devot­ed to her work as the demon­ic nymphet in Blood On Satan’s Claw. She also airs her very neg­a­tive thoughts on House On Straw Hill, which is a shame as she’s quite good in it. The extras are round­ed out by the trail­er for House On Straw Hill, under its British release title Exposé, which is a short, incred­i­bly lurid burst of sex and vio­lence that doesn’t even both­er with nar­ra­tion or dia­logue.

And there’s an addi­tion­al, extra-spe­cial bonus for those who buy one of the first 3000 copies of this set: an addi­tion­al DVD that fea­tures Ban The Sadist Videos, a doc­u­men­tary made by David Gregory about the Video Nasties hys­te­ria that afflict­ed the U.K. dur­ing the ear­ly ‘80s. This two-part doc­u­men­tary was orig­i­nal­ly spread across both vol­umes of Anchor Bay UK’s Box Of The Banned box set series and it makes its first appear­ance on U.S home video here.

Part 1 cov­ers the basic his­to­ry of the “Video Nasties” furor, start­ing with how a loop­hole in English law allowed enter­pris­ing video store dis­trib­u­tors to release a flood of shock­ing mate­ri­al onto the mar­ket. This prompt­ed a “what about the chil­dren”-style back­lash in the media and the halls of gov­ern­ment, led by the fear­some morals-in-media cru­sader Mary Whitehouse. Home video dis­trib­u­tors and video stores soon found them­selves sub­ject to seizures of their mer­chan­dise, trumped-up court cas­es and ulti­mate­ly a dra­co­ni­an set of cen­sor­ship laws for home video rushed into pas­sage by Margaret Thatcher her­self.

This grue­some tale of cen­sor­ship is told in an oral his­to­ry for­mat that incor­po­rates inter­views from both home video dis­trib­u­tors and U.K. gov­ern­ment fig­ures. Both get an equal amount of time but the grim facts of the sit­u­a­tion make it eas­ier to side with the dis­trib­u­tors, who had their rights vio­lat­ed more than once by peo­ple who allowed their emo­tions (or polit­i­cal inter­ests) to sway their judg­ment. The events recount­ed show how dan­ger­ous it is to leg­is­late moral­i­ty and to invite the law to rule over what is and isn’t accept­able art.

Gregory and his edi­tors give the tale a swift pace, mak­ing effec­tive use of vin­tage news reports that show off the “burn the witch­es” tone the media took on the issue as well as clips from a vari­ety of films that end­ed up on the Video Nasties list, includ­ing every­thing from Cannibal Ferox to I Spit On Your Grave. Fans of hor­ror films will be hap­py to hear it incor­po­rates inter­view snip­pets with film­mak­ers like Ruggero Deodato, Jesus Franco and Wes Craven. They all have intel­li­gent, insight­ful things to say but the sur­prise scene-steal­er is Sergio Garrone, who comes up with a pret­ty damn­ing take on Thatcher and the moral­i­ty behind her leg­is­la­tion.

Ban The Sadist Videos Part 2 explores what hap­pened after the Video Classification Act became a law in the U.K. The BBFC went from just cen­sor­ing films to cen­sor­ing home videos for films new and old, mak­ing the once-flag­ging office a prof­it cen­ter and giv­ing unprece­dent­ed pow­er to dom­i­neer­ing BBFC head James Ferman. Part 2 also explores how the whole video nas­ties scan­dal made home video an easy tar­get for politi­cians and the media when­ev­er a vio­lent tragedy occurred, com­plete with the rel­a­tive­ly innocu­ous Child’s Play 3 being blamed for a mur­der.

A par­tic­u­lar­ly scary seg­ment deals with a politi­cian who attempt­ed to pass a law even more dra­co­ni­an than the Video Classification Act (and iron­i­cal­ly found him­self fight­ing Ferman, who sought to defend the BBFC’s stan­dards). Like its pre­de­ces­sor, Ban The Sadist Videos Part 2 is smart­ly-edit­ed and full of thought-pro­vok­ing inter­views. Fans of extreme cin­e­ma will find it both illu­mi­nat­ing and more hor­ri­fy­ing that many of their favorite films.

The lim­it­ed edi­tion bonus disc has one final inclu­sion which func­tions as a sort of epi­logue to Ban The Sadist Videos: it’s called Censors Working Overtime and fea­tures David Flint pre­sent­ing his overview of the BBFC’s video cen­sor­ship in the ear­ly part of the 21st cen­tu­ry. Though their stan­dards are more enlight­ened than they were under Ferman’s reign, the BBFC still prone to moments of hypocrisy and incon­sis­ten­cy as well as some seri­ous flaws in their cen­sor­ship method­ol­o­gy. Flint backs up his asser­tions with speci­fic exam­ples, paint­ing a por­trait of a still-flawed cen­sor­ship sys­tem that shows the dan­gers of mix­ing art with gov­er­nance.

In sum­ma­tion, Severin has done fine work with a dif­fi­cult title here — and the val­ue increas­es expo­nen­tial­ly if you get the lim­it­ed edi­tion with the excel­lent bonus doc­u­men­tary disc. Schlockmania advis­es hor­ror and exploita­tion col­lec­tors to make a point of snap­ping up one of the ear­ly copies to get the max­i­mum enjoy­ment from this set.

House Straw Hill Trailer from Severin Films on Vimeo.