With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
In my opinion, Video Violence is one of the better SOV horror films of that era. Easily in my Top 3. Really, it’s just a flat out good movie. All the cheapo SOV hallmarks are there: muddy sound, hammy acting, blunt cuts. But if you overlook all those expected constraints, you’re left with a really cool idea for a movie that feels like it could be a Twilight Zone episode for the modern age.
Video Violence sees a couple leaving behind their jobs and home in New York to move to a small fictional town to open a video store. (This goes to show just how hugely popular and successful video stores were during the VHS boom of the ’80s: the husband leaves behind a job running a movie theater and the wife leaves behind her job as a lawyer to run a video store in some one horse town!) One day a mysterious unmarked video tape is returned to the store. The owner (who looks like a mix between Jon Lovitz and Vincent Schiavelli) and his employee watch the tape to see what it might be. To their horror, it winds up being footage of an actual murder. Worse, it’s ‘hosted’ by two deranged dudes who narrate the killing as they carry it out.
The owner goes to the police, but they’re no help. He and his wife try other avenues for assistance, but with similar luck. All the while, more tapes of anonymous murders keep coming into the shop. As the suspicion builds, the husband and wife team have a horrifying thought: what if everyone in this quaint little town they just moved to is in on the video taped murders? I won’t divulge any more of the story because I don’t want to spoil the fun. But I promise, it’s a solid flick. It even manages to achieve some genuinely unsettling moments, which is a feat for something that looks like a home movie. The fact that some of the segments look and feel like an extended Unsolved Mysteries re-enactment really up the creep factor.
Several things make Video Violence such an awesome movie. First, it’s incredibly meta and way ahead of its time with all of its inside references. At the beginning of the movie, we see the production credit “Little Zach Productions”. Later, when the husband and wife are watching one of the videos of the murders, there is a credit before the movie begins:
And after they finish the film, the wife offers this to the husband: “Do you think it’s real? It looks like it was shot on VHS. Maybe it’s one of those new homemade horror movies people are making and having distributed by the video stores.” It’s really pretty clever writing. Another Easter Egg you can spot is a tape of Blood Cult on the shelf at the video shop. Blood Cult is a fellow SOV horror movie produced specifically for the home video market. (Boardinghouse was the first SOV horror movie, in 1982.)
Not to mention this movie was decades before the whole “killer taping their crimes” type of thing that was seen in Vacancy (2007) and V/H/S (2012).
Finally, one of the greatest things about this movie — and all these ’80s SOV horror movies, really — is something that no big budget Hollywood movie was able to replicate: they managed to freeze time. What I mean by that is, the sets you see aren’t sets — they’re actual video stores and grocery stores. The clothes you see aren’t costumes, they’re these people’s actual clothes from their closets at home. The streets, the cars, the locations — they’re all real and untouched, and you get to see them as they were in their natural state back in 1987. These no-budget ’80s gems captured the essence of the time in a bottle, and that’s pretty priceless. They’re like your families own home movies from the ’80s, except with more murder (or less, depending what kinda family you come from.)
Before I go, some final observations:
- The movie opens on a 2 minute uncut shot (pretty ambitious stuff), following a station wagon through town. If you’ll notice, an identical station wagon passes behind the car we’re following:
- As if that’s not odd enough, our station wagon passes at least four more station wagons on the way to its destination. Again, this is an uncut shot from a no-budget movie, so this was all chance. 1987, the year of the station wagon:
- The video store hides their money safe behind a Friday the 13th V poster. I just love that little touch.
- Finally, tell me the makers of Christmas Vacation weren’t inspired by Video Violence when it came to fashioning Uncle Eddie’s “Shitter was full!” look: