The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
March 23rd, 2011

*** After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter! ***

VIDEO VIOLENCE VHS Cover

After my pick last week turned out a bit “blah” I was worried as to what would happen with my choice to fill this HMN Bye Week while SXSW was happening. Luckily, I remembered I had a few discs I picked up a couple years ago from Camp Motion Pictures that featured some of the more notorious shot-on-video horror flicks of the 80s. One of the titles, that I had been meaning to watch forever, seemed like it would fit perfectly with the attitude of HMN and the love of VHS that many of us horror film geeks have. So I gathered with the Dallas group and we sat down to watch Gary Cohen’s 1987 masterpiece VIDEO VIOLENCE...WHEN RENTING IS NOT ENOUGH!

The story centers around a small town in New Jersey. Not much goes on there, but Steven Emory (Art Neill) left behind the big city life to open a small video rental shop here and business is good. Nothing really to complain about until he receives an unmarked video in the after hours drop box. When he and his employee press play they are treated to a homemade snuff film of a guy butchering the town’s recently retired Postmaster. The cops don’t seem to care, the tape goes missing, as does his employee Rick, and more strange tapes begin to surface. Steven begins to realize that everyone in the community seems to have an obsession with horror films and death. What is wrong with this town?

Renting a Video

If this film did nothing else it touches a special place in my memory and heart. I was happy but also a little sad and nostalgic for my old mom-and-pop shops which shaped my cinematic life for so many years. I could spend hours at most any of the neighborhood video stores, which worked out great when I worked in a couple. There’s one brief shot where Steve turns on the computer for the day and it’s the same damn program I was trained on! Yeah, a little older version, but the same screen. That really took me back. Straightening the display boxes, putting the recently returned back in their designated spot behind the empty box, making suggestions - it was all great.

But VIDEO VIOLENCE is not just a trip down memory lane for tracking adjusters everywhere, it’s actually a pretty good flick. As you would expect, the production values and look is very cheap. They shot the whole thing on videotape for Beta’s sake! What would you expect? But the filmmakers knew what their product was going to look like and made due with what they had available. It was not going to have the polished cinematic look of 35mm and they even take a few jabs at themselves throughout the film when talking about how these mystery tapes don’t look like “real movies.” Very self-aware at times in a good way.

Steve: “The whole thing was shot-on-video. I mean, it had the same quality as a soap opera or one of those rotten commercials, not a film.”

Cohen and his crew were not just another group of guys wanting to make a quick buck in the horror genre. Well, I’m sure that was part of the plan, but you can also tell that they know their genre. One example in the first fifteen minutes that proves they’ve earned their bat wings happens when someone asks if they have “that chainsaw movie.” Of course you automatically think that when Rick sighs slightly and goes to grab it he’ll come back with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), but you’d be wrong. Instead he hands the guy Juan Piquer Simón’s PIECES (1982)! This blew my mind! A great film but totally unexpected. In another scene, inspired by a real transaction Cohen encountered while working in a video store himself, a woman comes in with a baby in her arms and asks him why BLOOD CULT (1985) is rated R. After he assures her it’s probably not for nudity but for excessive violence she is relieved because no nudity means it’s alright for her kids to watch. In the real encounter that shocked the director the woman was asking about I DISMEMBER MAMA (1972). Leave it to a real horror aficionado to swap that title for the notorious first shot-on-video horror flick made exclusively for the home video market. These little things that make the difference and make us gorehounds squee with joy.

It is a little odd that people who worked in a video store and love movies would set up the store in such an odd way. The video boxes adorning the walls and other shelves throughout the shop have to reason or rhyme to them. Nothing is alphabetized or even broken down by genre, all of the tapes are just... there. In one scene PIECES, BLOOD CULT and CONAN THE BARBARIAN are all next to each other and right above them is the very special SUPERMAN III. I’m sure they just arranged things to either highlight some of their favorites or to be humorous. A similar merchandising display occurs later in a deli where the magazine rack has Fangoria, Weird, Famous Monsters prominently displayed, and a copy of Penthouse is on the next to the bottom shelf directly above Glamour. Magazines are one thing but that lack of order in the video store’s display makes me squirm thinking about trying to find anything to rent. The horror!

Soup's On!
VIDEO VIOLENCE doesn’t take itself too seriously and brings the laughs at times, like with the uber-synth score that rips off E.T.’s theme in one scene. But it also brings the bloody goodness we all want. You might chuckle at the death scenes, they are a tad silly, but they don’t skimp on the gore. Who doesn’t want to see a severed arm being sliced thinly by a deli slicer or a head get severed with an electric carving knife?

Then there’s Eli and Howard. This duo may be responsible for kicking off the amateur reality talk show fad now so very popular on places like YouTube. They were almost twenty years early. This duo are stars of a couple of the homemade tapes on which Steve watches people being brutally killed for enjoyment. Howard holds the camera steady on Eli as he speaks to the viewers of “The Eli Show” before getting down the the gritty business. This Eli is a sight to behold. Credited only as Uke (pronounced You-Kee according to the DVD’s commentary track), this mustachioed murderer chews scenery like a sociopathic beaver and wears a lot of hats - literally. In each of his scenes he’s wearing a different crazy cap of some kind from a Budweiser can fedora to a bright pink bucket hat. Definitely the most fun character in the film. He should have been a star!

Eli in one of his many hats
Even though this is very low budget it has quite a few shining moments to elevate it beyond its means. For starters, aside from a few obvious non-actors, the performances in this film are pretty good. There have been many films, horror or not, over the years with much bigger budgets full of lesser performances. From listening to the commentary track it seems like this group is also involved in some sort of community theatre, so that would explain a lot. Of course they do also say someone was randomly asked in a car if she wanted to be in a horror film. The young woman replied yes but was warned that it may require some nudity. So she flashed them. Hired!

One aspect of the filming that I really enjoyed are the moments when Steve, along with Rick or his wife, watch any of the violent videos. In most cases instead of cutting to the actual footage shot for “The Eli Show” or in the movie style snuff they watch, “The Vampire Takes a Bride”, a camera is set-up and zoomed into the footage being broadcast on the TV. I know this was probably a budgetary reason, and he didn’t really have any time/resources for editing (the local cable access station kicked him out after the first night once he saw some footage) but I really think this adds to the gritty feel of what they watched. Not only that but it has a very cool look. I’m sure the filmmakers would probably laugh at that and say I’m crazy, but, dammit, I like it!

Rick: “Yeah it’s pretty quiet around here. Pretty boring too. Only thing I hear all night is my mom, crying.”

This film really hits the spot for me on so many levels. The blood and guts are there, there is a great nostalgic aspect for cinephiles of the video generation and it shows how truly independent movies can be enjoyable. If you don’t have a very broad look at the shot-on-video horror film this is a great place to start and I hear great things about the sequel (also included on the same disc). Maybe on the next HMN Bye Week we’ll watch it and find out what happens with these crazy townsfolk.

Until next week - be kind, rewind.

Body Count: 11
Best Death: Beheaded and Stewed in the Deli
Number of Crazy Hats Worn by Eli: 5
Big Stars in the Film: 0

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/23/11: THE VIDEO DEAD (1987)
-3/30/11: THE PIT (1981)
-4/6/11: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)
-4/13/11: SCARED TO DEATH (1981)

They're going to get you

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  • http://tokyovideo.tv/ sleestakk

    I really hope I can view this someday! Sounds & looks amazing!

  • http://tokyovideo.tv/ sleestakk

    I really hope I can view this someday! Sounds & looks amazing!

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