A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #8: “Video Violence” (1987)
by A.J. Hakari
Gary Cohen and I aren’t so different from one another. The filmmaker who’s made nary a peep since the ’80s and myself served our tours of duty in the video store trade, encountering the sort of clientele who’d let their seven-year-olds watch the most blood-soaked cinema in stock…so long as there wasn’t any nudity. The story goes (and by that, I mean “Wikipedia says”) that it was one such incident that inspired him to create one of the more prominent shot-on-tape gore flicks, Video Violence. This actually has a bit more plot to it than other sleazy, VHS-bred slashers of the time, but that its execution is so straight-up stupid is an even greater disappointment than the amateurish acting or phony effects work.
All that Steven Emory (Art Neill) wanted was to leave the bustle of big city life and start over in a small town. It turns out that opening a video shop in the middle of nowhere wasn’t the best idea, especially when it seems like all his customers ever rent is graphic horror titles. But one day, a surprise makes its way into Steven’s drop box that gives every indication of being a homemade snuff film, with the kindly old postmaster mutilated before his eyes. The town’s appetite for violent entertainment has turned into a hunger for the real thing, and with Steven and his wife (Jackie Neill) on the case, they might just find themselves in a future tape.
It’s obvious that while Video Violence could just as well have emphasized the social commentary and delved into society’s fascination with horrific imagery, that’s not what Cohen had in mind here. He wanted a nice angle for a low-rent fright film, and that’s fine. Hell, the seedy approach even pays off a couple times, like with the opening kill and a pretty effective scene in which Steven watches a tape of an attack in his own store. But with the plot so senseless and needlessly convoluted (if the town wants to kill Steven and his wife anyway, why bother shoving the murders in their faces anyway?), you never know how seriously to take the thing. If it’s all a comedy, then the joke’s not funny, and if it’s aiming for shocks, then it mostly misses the target, what with more plaster and plastic than flesh visible during the snuff scenes.
Video Violence isn’t likely to sway those who look down on zero-budget horror, just as fans who eat up unabashedly trashy stuff like this by the big boxful aren’t likely to acknowledge that it could’ve been a lot better. You’ll either love it or be repelled by it, and despite the few times it creeped me out on a legit level, the crushing implausibility was too much to ignore. Movies like Video Violence weren’t made for my tastes, but this wasted a good shot at winning me over.