In the mid 1990’s, just around the corner from where I lived at the time, there was a newsagent that harbored a small collection of VHS tapes. Stacked upon one another in the corner of the room, a nearby sign read something along the lines of ‘3 night rental: £2.00’.
We also had Blockbuster just further down the road, but the vast majority of the films available at this small newsagent were 1980/90’s horror; most of which were probably expurgated by the British Board of Film Classification. But at the time I didn’t care. Each week I would rent, under supervision, one of their tapes along with the purchase of a large bag of toffee popcorn and head home in anticipation of a night of violence and tracking errors.
The movies themselves were of mixed quality (and terrible video quality), but along with the downright awful (1990’s Witchcraft II: The Temptress) I was introduced to some fantastic splatter flicks such as The Slayer (1982) and Shogun Assassin (1980). Discovering these strange and wonderful movies is what my childhood was all about. It’s why I get excited and write about cult cinema today.
Watching Video Violence brought with it that nostalgia. I may not have been old enough to experience the pre-certification era of home video but I still understood the excitement of holding a VHS rental box in my hands as I gazed down at the lurid artwork. In fact it was the artwork used for the cover of Video Violence that attracted me to Gary Cohen’s directional debut, even before I read the synopsis. Learning that the movie was shot on video (SOV) is what convinced me to make the purchase.
Steven Emory (Art Neill) and his wife Rachel (Jackie Neill) leave behind their jobs and home in New York to move to small town America. Steven establishes a video rental store named ‘The Video Studio’ and enjoys, but is curious of, the significant amount of memberships the store quickly obtains. The town doesn’t even have cable, yet the vast majority of the town appear to own a VCR!?
One morning Steven’s assistant Rick Carlson (Kevin Haver) finds an unmarked tape whilst routinely checking the drop box; presumably a home recorded video that was returned by mistake in place of an actual rental tape. Steven puts the tape to one side, convinced that the person responsible will realise their mistake and return to collect it. Rick on the other hand is keen to know of the mysterious tape’s content and eventually convinces Steven to play the video on their display unit. To their horror the video appears to depict an actual murder, narrated by two individuals (Uke & Bart Sumner) as they carry it out. When renting is not enough…this certainly won’t be the last snuff video presented to ‘The Video Studio’.
The low-budget video footage is, in my opinion, what makes Video Violence so atmospheric and assists in providing commentary of the video era to its audiences. You see, prior to the creation of Video Violence director Gary Cohen was the owner and store clerk of a video rental store. He has frequently mentioned in interviews that the concept for Video Violence was established not long after a conversation he had with one of his customers. A woman and her toddler asked Cohen if the 1972 horror flick I Dismember Mama was rated R for nudity. Unsure of the content Cohen explained that he did not know, but that he was convinced that the movie was rated R for graphic violence. This customer decided to rent the video regardless mentioning that as long as there was no nudity I Dismember Mama would be appropriate for her young children to watch. A similar interaction appears in Video Violence.
Gary Cohen’s direction and writing, along with Paul Kaye, is also incredibly clever, especially with its references that work on a meta-level and elevate Video Violence above most SOV movies from the same era. For example; Steven and Rachel are viewing yet another snuff video that begins with the credit ‘Little Zach Productions’. Little Zach Productions was credited as the production company behind Video Violence during it’s opening scene. Rachel, shocked and disgusted after viewing the video offers to her husband the following: “That…that looked like a professional film…I mean it could be one of those low budget films that was shot for the home video market.” Which is exactly what Video Violence is! Hell, ‘The Video Studio’ even includes a copy of 1985’s Blood Cult, another SOV movies released direct to video.
Sure, Video Violence is amateurish but it proudly wears this distinction on it’s sleeve. It knew exactly what type of audience would want to watch a SOV horror flick and it delivers!
Video Violence is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk; plus if you decide to make a purchase after following the link provided you will have supported Attack From Planet B, so thank you.