S.O.V., shot on video, it’s a label that could be applied to the lion’s share of horror releases these days. But the term has virtually no association with slick little independent features like “The Last Exorcism” and “Paranormal Activity”. That’s because before there were Canon 5D’s and Red’s available to every Trust fund Fulci with a surplus of money and time there was the commoner’s Shot On Video revolution of the mid 80’s. Around 1985(when camcorders hit the home market) motivated horror geeks, not content to just spend Friday night binging on video store big boxes, hoisted behemoth VHS cameras onto their shoulders, made molds of their friends’ extremities and went into production. Almost all of the films in this movement possess that special 29.97 frame rate look with smeared colors and unchanging depths of field. The acting is frequently abysmal, at times dipping into mildly excruciating. But even with severe limitations, productions like “Redneck Zombies” and “Cannibal Campout” managed to find sizable audiences within the straight to video market, and over time achieved cult status. “Video Violence” is a cult classic of this sort.
Small business owners Steve and Rachel Emory have just moved to a remote, single pony backwater and their new video store is doing brisk business. But all is not tranquil in the sticks; at the open of business one morning Steve finds a snuff tape that has been dropped off in one of the store’s clamshell cases. He runs to summon the local police while his tape-boy Nick stays to babysit the evidence behind a locked door. This prompts the question, if you are closing to customers anyway, why wouldn’t you both just walk the tape to the police station? Anyhoo, the police chief accuses Steve of smokin’ the fancy city cabbage, Nick disappears and Steve’s wife Rachel cooks a nice dinner.
More tapes appear featuring a peppy killer who looks like Arn Anderson would’ve looked had he chosen slack and beer as his career instead of professional wrestling. Steve watches evidence being destroyed and smells no rat. Rachel thinks that one of the homemade snuff films “looked professionally done”. And most importantly, we learn that when a forearm is sectioned using an industrial meat slicer it looks like bone-in bologna.
The cover of Camp Motion Pictures' re-release of “Video Violence bears the quotation: “One of the best SOV horror flicks”. I can agree with that and still characterize it as a movie best viewed with a finger on the FF >> button. Believe it or not it is not the lack of a budget that keeps the film from being worth a watch. I accept and even applaud the budget-barren pluck of Gary Cohen and his passionate but inexperienced cohorts. Good-natured chuckles abound and the punchless gore FX are to be marveled at for their simultaneous simplicity and lack of self-consciousness. Instances of Boob Carving, cat’s cradle intestine twirling, and bimbo head soup provide some moments of delightful failure that illustrate why SOV movies will never totally surrender their entertainment value.
Now the fast-forwardable stuff… The film is rated “O” for obvious and the story is a glimpse of what Richard Brooks’ “In Cold Blood” would’ve been had it skipped the pre-production process, and been peopled with performers who ambled about with little regard for blocking while forgetting that they weren’t supposed to look directly into camera. This movie’s torpid pacing peaks during an early scene that is full to bursting with expository dialog. Steve and Rachel, accompanied by looping chamber music, sit down for dinner and manage to say in 47 lines what could’ve been captured with great detail in just 10 lines. It is as pure an example of artless tedium as you find even among the technically impoverished annals of SOV movies. A lot of talking in this film, a lot, which brings up the next complaint. The sound in “Video Violence” seems as though it may have been captured by the camera’s on-board mic after it was dipped in chocolate pudding and coated with marzipan. The score on the other hand is bright, indeed almost deafening, and it is such a constant that every so often it even manages to match the tone of the onscreen action.
These days there’s a quaintness that accompanies the film’s driving notion that watching too much video savagery can have a corrupting influence on people. Don’t get me wrong I think there are still points to debate on this matter but I live in a country where the courts have just protected my one-year old’s right to buy games that feature fish-mouthed whores with shotguns in their anuses giving blumpkins to corpulent, amputee toads in port-o-pottys. For the record I totally support this decision and have affirmed my solidarity with the high court by making rotten.com the homepage on my toddler’s iphone safari app. Anyway, skip “Video Violence” and watch “Boarding House” because the girl’s are sexier, the weirdness index higher and the FX just as cheap. Or skip all the SOV movies and watch Leif Jonker’s shot on 16mm freakout “Darkness”.