Written and Directed by: Eric D. Wilkinson
Starring: David Wilkinson, Joseph Shaughnessy, and Eric D. Wilkinson
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Another one of those freaking psychos..."
Friday the 13th is rightfully hailed as one of the most influential horror franchises of all-time, and one doesn’t have to look far for the evidence. Even though Sean Cunningham was looking to simply cash in on Halloween, his own scrappy effort was instrumental in turning the splatter movie into a cottage industry, inspiring hordes of rip-offs itself over the course of a decade. However, if you want to dig up even more proof, look no further than its fan base, which persists as one of the most fervent fandoms to this day, having established numerous online communities over the years that will absolutely make their presence known if need be (see: the Friday the 13th video game). Some of the most dedicated have even invested considerable time and resources into producing their own fan films, some of which have gone on to attain legendary (or infamous) status among fans. Surely, nothing screams dedication quite like wrangling up your friends and family and convincing them to feature in your loving, homespun tribute to Jason Voorhees.
One of the earliest (but not earliest known—more on this later) examples of this phenomenon dates back to the summer of 1988, when teenaged brothers Eric and David Wilkinson decided to rent a camera from a local video store and film their own riff on the slasher movies they’d been weaned on. Dubbed The Violence Movie, this backyard effort was scripted and performed on the fly by the Wilkinsons and best friend Joseph Shaughnessy over the course of 24 hours, and the result is one of the more improbable stories in slasher lore. After collecting dust in a basement for 15 years, the footage was discovered in 2003, prompting Eric—now a successful indie filmmaker—to go back and touch up his handiwork before archiving it on DVD. Remarkably, the story doesn’t end there—about 15 more years later, The Violence Movie had gained enough traction to land on the radar at Sundance Now, who looked to acquire this no-budget lark—which was never meant for public consumption—as part of its streaming service.
Imagine the Wilkinsons’ surprise, especially when Harry Manfredini agreed to come aboard to compose a replacement score for the (highly illegal) dub job (culled from Eric’s Friday the 13th vinyl record) that originally graced the film. Now, 30 years after these kids literally filmed their homage in and around their home, The Violence Movie (and its sequel!) is widely available for all to witness in its most complete form—which is, of course, to say that it’s still quite rough and mostly only holds interest for anyone devoted to this sort of esoterica (read: definitely me, and, hopefully, you, devoted reader).
The Wilkinsons’ first outing finds a nondescript psychopath (David, credited simply as “The Killer”) wandering into a quaint, middle-class American home, where he lies in wait. Driving obliviously to this home is Joey (Shaughnessy), who doesn’t so much as bat an eye when a news broadcast interrupts his music, warning locals about an escaped—and very dangerous—serial killer. He’s in for the surprise—and fight—of his life when he makes it home, as he’s forced to do battle with this lunatic throughout his house in a knock-down, drag-out fight to the death. Clocking in at 14 minutes long, The Violence Movie is as roughshod a production as you might expect, given its origins: even the Wilkinsons themselves have stated that they never intended this to find an audience beyond themselves and their acquaintances, so it’s produced with a wild, reckless, and, ultimately, infectious spirit that really captures the sheer purity of being a horror fan.
Obviously, its shortcomings inspire good-natured guffaws: between its exaggerated foley effects, the dime store special effects gags (which include but aren’t limited to stunt mannequins, rubber amputated limbs, and consumer grade Halloween masks), and the numerous technical gaffes, The Violence Movie is not a pinnacle of filmmaking. Hell, it’s not even a pinnacle of backyard filmmaking—we often point at the homemade/SOV scene as a sort of catch-all in terms of quality, but this is the real, lo-fi deal. As its title suggests, it’s about ten minutes of two guys whaling on each other, and the enthusiasm is palpable. There’s a purity to this messiness that captures the unbridled imagination of a teenage horror fan, here hindered only by a complete lack of budget. Watch as the killer initially dons a Freddy Krueger mask—likely the very same style as the one we’ve all owned at some point in our lives—and terrorizes this poor kid and try not to crack a smile. If you somehow stifle that smile, The Violence Movie will coax it from you eventually, perhaps when Joey’s best friend (Eric) wanders into the scene, declares “it’s me—your best friend!”, only to have his throat slit by the killer. By the end—when the killer has reattached his own severed head and replaced the Krueger mask with a generic hockey mask—you can’t help but submit to this madness.
Luckily, there’s more where that came from, as the Wilkinsons hatched a sequel over the course of the next couple of years. Looking to outdo their previous effort, the duo filmed a 19-minute epic that impossibly follows up on the events of The Violence Movie by revealing that it was all but a dream. Here, we learn that Joey is still very much alive, albeit plagued by nightmarish visions culled from the first film’s footage. An ominous TV broadcast—featuring one of the most hilarious instances of a teenager trying to play an adult imaginable—reveals something even more disturbing: these fevered visions must somehow be harbingers of the future, as the very same killer haunting Joey’s dreams actually has escaped and prowled right into his home, where he tries to murder the poor kid again…for the first time, if that makes any sense. Working with twice the budget this time around (bringing them up to a crisp $100), the Wilkinsons manage to go bigger and bloodier with a brawl that sprawls across multiple locations. That’s right: not content to contain their mayhem to their killer bedroom (which is adorned with all sorts of 80s horror regalia—shout out especially to the Dream Warriors one sheet!) and garage, the Wilkinsons (and Shaughnessy) traverse the entirety of this two-story home before stumbling towards a nearby lake for the climax.
You’ll find many of the same technical “shortcomings” in The Violence Movie 2—it turns out that the extra years didn’t magically make the Wilkinsons master—or even totally competent—filmmakers. However, they did provide ample time to dream up a more impressive scope and scale. I don’t even care to point out those same, obvious technical gaffes when these kids are out here climbing on the roof of their house in an effort to envision the biggest, baddest splatter tribute they could put together. There’s dedication, and then there’s actually risking life and limb by battling precariously upon a rooftop. I have to imagine the Wilkinsons’s mom was pissed when she saw the footage—especially since she generously provided the catering, per the credits. Besides that, the scuffle here is impressively realized, at least from an editing standpoint, as the brothers cleverly cut around their limitations to create the impression of a coherent fight (and car stunt!) here. You might expect The Violence Movie and its sequel to be completely incompetent efforts realized by long takes, but you detect the faint sense of editing and rhythm that’s impressive, especially when you recall that this was produced by actual teenagers on VHS—all within a 24-hour rental window to boot.
And, again, the charm here is readily apparent in each crude gore gag, or even the killer’s more robust getup: once again, he’s wearing a knock-off hockey mask, but he’s also wearing Myers-esque coveralls to replace the generic little league football shirt from the previous outing. At one point, he also brandishes a chainsaw, thus completing the look of a horror character that you expect to see plastered on the side of a generic Halloween costume. Considering their bedroom decorations, the Wilkinsons obviously knew better, though, so this look comes off as an authentic tribute, not to mention a reflection of the unbridled, heart-on-their-sleeve approach. When in doubt, simply patch together the signature styles and/or weaponry of three horror icons to pay tribute to all of them at once. Remember when you’d smash together your action figures from different lines and universes for an epic battle royal in the middle of your living room? That’s The Violence Movie, only the Wilkinsons didn’t limit themselves to action figures (or their living room).
The word I keep coming back around to here is “purity”—at some point in our lives, I’m sure most horror fans have dreamed of grabbing a camera and making a lo-fi splatter show (yours truly does have some footage from a backyard Halloween haunt where I played Michael, Jason, and Freddy, for the record), and the Wilkinsons did that shit. No, The Violence Movie isn’t among the most polished or professional fan films; however, it is a completely sincere, charming artifact from a bygone era. Despite the title, The Violence Movie is so good-natured, right down to its silly credits, which are loaded with the sort of juvenile names that Bart Simpson might dream up for a prank call. I imagine the only time the Wilkinsons took this seriously was back in those late-80s summers, when they had aspirations of mounting a splatter epic to rival those clogging video store shelves. Now, they’ve treated it with the amount of tongue-in-cheek irreverence befitting a literal home movie that would have languished in complete obscurity if not for its chance rediscovery years later.
Surely, nobody involved could have expected that it’d one day land on a legitimate DVD release, complete with commentaries, deleted and alternate scenes, original footage, and even a retrospective tour of the shooting location, but here we are, lucky enough to bear witness to such an unlikely tale. MVD’s cover even reproduces the look of a vintage VHS, right down to the day-lo green sticker that identifies this as a “horror parody,” a label that might actually be a misnomer: The Violence Movie isn’t exactly a goof but rather a loving, infectious homage that captures ludicrous teenage splatter daydreams as a hazy, quarter-inch tape transmission. It’s unlikely to ever replace any of the proper Friday the 13th films, but long-time fans should find something of themselves (or perhaps their former selves) in it should they seek it out. We have all been the Wilkersons, and the Wilkersons are all of us, just a bunch of weirdos dreaming of carnage at Crystal Lake—or some rough approximation of it, at least.
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