Dir. Gary P. Cohen (1987)
A married couple opens a video store in a town that is obsessed with violent movies, unfortunately discovering that the townsfolk have filmmaking aspirations of their own.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
When I found out that there was a boutique film restoration and distribution company relatively local to me, I knew that I had to investigate further and support them in any way that I was able. Terror Vision Records and Video is in Savannah, Georgia, and they largely specialize in limited edition pressings of film soundtracks on vinyl, seeking to also branch out into the boutique film distribution business as well. When I found out that they were releasing a limited edition two-pack of two shot-on-video classics that haven’t been available for ages, I preordered that shit immediately. And that’s how I came across Video Violence and Video Violence 2, two excellent examples of how batshit crazy the shot-on-video craze in the 80’s became, and the longevity that these films hold in the minds of those who grew up watching them. We’ll start with Video Violence, and I’ll be reviewing Video Violence 2 as well, but if you have any interest in either film, Terror Vision’s beautiful release is exactly what you need to satisfy your 80’s ludicrously-fun bloodlust.
Video Violence is about a couple who open a new video store, back in the day when you could actually go to a place and rent a movie from somewhere that wasn’t an automated box outside of a gas station. The male owner discovers that a snuff tape was “accidentally” returned through the drop slot, and when his employee goes missing, he seeks to solve the mystery behind the appearance of the tape and why the townspeople don’t seem to give a rat’s ass that someone in their community is murdering people and filming it. Spoiler alert: they’re much bigger fans of the psychotic filmmakers than they are of outsiders trying to shut down their homegrown enterprise. This leads to an hour and a half of surprisingly gory entertainment and some truly excellent scenes, surpassing the limits under which most SOV films of the era were constrained.
Don’t get me wrong: Video Violence looks every bit the shot-on-video-in-1987 film that it is. The quality is poor (though it’s remarkably better in Terror Vision’s excellent restoration), the plot is threadbare, and most of the action just serves to bridge the gap between the snuff-like films that populate most of the good moments of the film. The narrative part of the feature is simply a banal, half-hearted attempt to solve the mystery behind where these snuff tapes came from and what to do about it, but let’s be honest: we’re here for the video violence, not the video detectives. The gore, when it happens, is actually surprisingly fantastic, being better than a lot of the stuff that you’d see in the high-dollar productions of the day. The film is legitimately funny at times, and it’s the tongue-in-cheek attitude that is truly necessary to make a film like this succeed.
Two particularly good scenes of note are the ones that occur in the diner, where a decapitated head, while clearly belonging to a dummy, is not nearly as clearly belonging to a dummy as other films of the era. If I had seen this film in 1987, I might’ve been convinced that it was real myself. The acting is relatively subpar throughout, but the video store owner and his wife do a pretty decent job. It’s difficult to view films like this without the context of the times, but it is a brilliant concept while remaining decidedly dumb and cheesy. On a shoestring budget, you get way more out of Video Violence than you would expect, and it’s absolutely worth a watch.
The most famous scene, which I have to take a little aside to address, is the one in which a woman comes in with a baby in her arms, looking for a horror movie. She finds it and comes to the counter, asking the video store owner why its rated R. She wants to know if there’s any nudity in the film, and the tells her that he’s not entirely sure, but more than likely it’s R-rated due to the brutal violence that occurs in the film. She’s ok with that, saying that her kids would love it if it was filled with violence but they weren’t allowed to watch anything with nudity. Coming from a household where that was exactly what happened, I thought this was a particularly brilliant critique of an ever-increasing Puritanical society that holds true even today. The other part of the film that I thought was truly groundbreaking was the actual people within the town itself: bloodthirsty maniacs who became unhinged because they watched all of these horror movies, a view that seemingly every parent of the 80’s had. My mom hated when I watched horror movies, because God knows what all of those blood and guts would turn me into. Jokes on you, mom, now I write about them for people on the internet.
Who this movie is for: Fans of cheesy 80’s horror, SOV fanatics, People who don’t rewind their tapes before returning them
Bottom line: Dumb, ridiculous, and as cheesy as it gets, Video Violence is an easy one to ignore if you’re not already down for this type of film. However, despite its history of being overlooked by the mass market, it’s a brilliant critique on horror as a concept and the values our society holds most dear. The gore is fantastic, the comedy is present (though not as good as in the sequel), and this one is absolutely worth a watch for anyone who can stomach the intense 80’s SOV nostalgia.