Directed by: Gary Cohen
Written by: Gary Cohen and Paul Kaye
Reviewed by: Brett H.
Towards the mid to late eighties, shot on video horror films became increasingly prominent in mom & pop video stores everywhere; the only problem is they never really became increasingly better. Many a horror fan have been bitten by the great cover art and exaggerated plot synopsis on the back of those huge VHS boxes and enticed to rent a sub par movie for a night of fun. With this came the mystique of snuff films, supposed real life murder and torture filmed for the amusement of these sick creatures that came out of their dungeons at night to rent these same low budget slasher films. While there’s no proof such films exist (in the sense that murders were shot for sick distribution), urban legends are a powerful thing. The horrible Faces of Death series played on this, but I am proud to say I’ve never wanted to nor will ever watch such dreck. In 1987, Gary Cohen made what was at the time the best shot on video horror film, Video Violence, which addressed all these concerns and more. When renting is not enough…
Steven Emory (Art Neill) owns “The Video Studio”, a mom and pop video store in Frenchtown, a small town made up mostly of hicks who aren’t too friendly. The town doesn’t even have cable, but nearly every person has a VCR and a membership at his store. Rather than rent screen classics like Gone With the Wind or The Godfather, the customers are infinitely more likely to pick up Blood Cult off the shelf. One day a video gets returned that isn’t store property and it appears to be a snuff movie of an old citizen of the town who supposedly moved to Florida getting killed by a couple of lunatics. The man on the tape’s hand is cut off with hedge clippers and his neck is sliced with a machete, all the while the nuts doing the deed make light of the situation and crack jokes. Steven leaves his assistant, Rick (Kevin Haver) at his video store with the tape and goes to get the police. When the cops and Steven return, Rick is nowhere to be found and the tape has been replaced with an old family home movie.
The local sheriff takes this as a hoax and blows Steven off, telling him he’s seen one too many horror films himself. When Rick doesn’t show up for work the next day, Steven realizes what he believed all along, whoever was responsible for leaving that tape at the store had come back for Rick. A mother brings Blood Cult (the first truly famous shot on video horror film) to the counter and rents it out after asking Steven what the rating is and if there’s nudity in the picture. He tells her that it’s not the nudity it was rated R for, but the gore. The woman is pleased to hear this because she can enjoy the film with her kids as well now, knowing there are no naked bodies on the screen. After this, Steven tries to give Rick a call at his place, his mother answers and says he left town to go to Boston with some friends.
The lunatics in the video aren’t stopping there as they are revealed to be homemade snuff film extraordinaires Howard and Eli, who seemingly host a whole line of them for whoever their audience may be. Howard mans the camera while Eli does the deed and carves his name into a topless woman’s chest with a razor. “Now what do we use to dot the i? The ice pick!” Howard and Eli say in unison before stabbing the woman with the pick. As the woman hangs dead, Eli looks at the camera and informs the viewers to tune in next week for future basement videos. The videos keep turning up and the cops aren’t willing to do anything to help Steven, so he must take matters into his own hands and find out just who killed his faithful employee.
Without a doubt the most unique shot on video film I’ve ever seen, Video Violence delivers a bloody mess that plays with the idea of fiction vs. reality and takes the normally low budget use of the camcorder and makes it an element that adds to the atmosphere of the film. Video Violence uses the shot on video look to make the movie more realistic and provide a commentary on the times. It truly defines itself as the definitive shot on video masterpiece because it actually makes what is normally considered inferior in the shot on video format superior. If the movie was shot on film it wouldn’t be nearly as effective or interesting and the amateur nature of the project again adds to you getting sucked in and thinking if only for a moment that these things could really happen. The music used in the film is very similar, it’d be laughed at in a studio film, but here it’s just good enough to think that some amateur would actually make this and put it in a snuff film. The mere tone of the movie alone makes the bad acting kind of good, like all the people in the movie are just everyday joes.
The movie is pretty full of references, the aforementioned nod to Blood Cult as well as posters for films such as April Fool’s Day, Friday the 13th Part V and Critters. Not only that but since the film spends a lot of its time in a video store, you can see classics like Day of the Dead on the shelves in the background quite often. One of the most humorous scenes of the flick is when a bearded hick comes into the store and asks them if they have “that chainsaw movie” to which Rick returns to please him with a copy of Pieces in tow. For a moment I really believed he’d really bring back The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film has its share of cheap gore effects and is pretty bloody. There’s a nice decapitation that although fake packs a nice punch as it’s the scene in the movie that most has the setting and look of what your mind envisions a snuff film to be.
Camp Motion Pictures brings Video Violence to DVD along with the sequel, commentaries and an interview. The audio is a bit hissy, but the track is really strong and loud, pretty high quality for such a low budget flick. The video quality is good and it appears as there’s tracking problems (it’s so funny to say that for a DVD!) for a very brief moment in a couple scenes, but rather than it hindering the transfer, it just adds to the overall feel of the movie. A “snuff” film featured in the movie even has some credits, showing you that it’s been made by Little Zach Productions, which is hilarious as that’s the same credit that is given to the production of Video Violence at the beginning of the movie! This makes a whole lot more sense once you've seen the ending and it's such a nice touch and is just one of many things that set it apart from the rest of the shot on video horror movies. Sure, everything about Video Violence is pretty amateurish and it is overlong at 100 minutes, but it embodies the era so perfectly that you just can’t help but look past all of this and enjoy the ride. Not only that, but this DVD package is just over $10, and at that price, renting is definitely not enough. Buy it!
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