According to the internet, so it must be true, central New Jersey community theater fixture and video store operator Gary Cohen was dismayed that customers rented so much trashy horror when there was a wealth of film history available on the shelves. His response was not to refuse to rent horror flicks, but, with friend and writing partner Paul Kaye, to make his very own trashy horror movie. On video, of course.
If one is into SOV horror, Video Violence, from 1987, is essential viewing, as it’s a common entry on various SOV lists. It follows real-life couple Art and Jackie Neill (also longtime players in central New Jersey theater) as Steven and Rachel Emory, a pair of transplants from New York City who have settled in Frenchtown, New Jersey, looking for peace and quiet. Steven gave up his dream job of owning a movie theater to open a video rental store, while Rachel left a job at a law firm to take a position in Frenchtown’s administration. Their town is not as welcoming to the newcomers as they wished, nor is it as quiet. That’s because the residents of the town have become addicted to slasher flicks, and after being desensitized to the fake stuff, they have gotten into the habit of making their very own snuff videos.
Steven finds out about this when one his customers accidentally returns one of the snuff videos instead of the movie they had rented. Steven tries to inform the local chief of police (William Toddie), but the chief is in on all the bad goings on.
The two main baddies in the movie are Eli and Howard (some guy billed as Uke, and Bart Sumner). They have their setup in a basement just across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. Eli is a bucket hat-wearing weirdo who carries out the sadistic killings, while Howard gets his jollies taping it all.
At first the killings are low-budget garbage, but the level of gore and disturbing imagery ratchets up as the movie goes along.
Viewers will have tuned in for the gore, and there’s nothing wrong with that, despite what the moral majority would have one believe. But, a 90-minute movie can’t be all killing and no story — a shorter format would be better for that. This movie had to have a story, and that story is Steven and Rachel’s lackluster efforts to solve the mystery of the Frenchtown killings.
No joke. Steven is convinced that one of his employees has fallen victim to the murderers, yet when he’s rebuffed by the local constabulary, he doesn’t go raising hell with the state troopers, or anything like that. Rather, he ho-hums his way back to his store and keeps serving his customers. It isn’t until the last act, when he and his wife witness an abduction, that this movie stumbles into denouement. At least it was a satisfying ending.
But, being essential viewing for the SOV horror fan? Well, this movie has achieved some cult cachet. I feel there are better and more entertaining SOV horror movies out there. This month’s readers will know the appreciation I have for the Polonias and Todd Michael Smith. What they lacked in skill they made up for in outrageousness. Video Violence suffers from some of the same self-censorship that many SOV horror movies do.
SOV horror can, for the most part, be divided into movies made by amateurs, and those made by professionals looking to make a cheap buck. Video Violence, with its community theater origins, sits somewhere in between. It has the cheapness one wants from the subgenre, while everything else is in an uncanny valley of quality. All involved almost know what they’re doing, but not quite. Video Violence slips into the bottom half of the Watchability Index, displacing Alcatraz at #357. SOV horror fans rejoice, everyone else take a raincheck.