Video Violence (1987)

Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.

A woman, with her two kids in tow, grabs a copy of I Dismember Mama off the shelf of a New Jersey video store. Approaching the counter, she asks store owner Gary Cohen, “Does this have any nudity?” Gary replies, “No, I don’t remember any, but that film has decapitations and all sorts of other gore.” The woman shoots back: “Oh OK, then the kids can watch it.”

Video Violence was born.

By 1987, the SOV trash-horror party was in full swing. After unassuming releases of Boarding House, Sledgehammer, and Black Devil Doll From Hell, United Entertainment’s Blood Cult and The Ripper struck paydirt in 1985. And why not? Since home video audiences were unable to distinguish filming methods based solely on box art, producers discovered a surefire method for turning a profit. As United’s titles raked in millions, dozens of regional SOV titles appeared. Mom ‘n’ pop video store shelves were flooded with more gore, more slasher-derivatives, and more madness. Yet, none of these films made much of a mainstream ripple in comparison with United’s hits. Cue Video Violence.

A married couple (him: bald and mulleted; her: rayon shirts) moves to a New York suburb and open a video store. The patrons of the store are only interested in two things: slashers and porn. After discovering that a returned rental tape has been swapped out with a homemade snuff film, our power couple desperately tries to crack the mystery, without much help from an asinine police chief. The townspeople, including anti-heroes Howard and Eli, continue their maim ‘n’ tape snuff hobbies. Along for the ride is a surreal movie-within-a-movie called The Vampire Takes A Bride, a swirling synth soundtrack, and a scene where someone rents Blood Cult. So meta!

Released by Los Angeles’ Camp Video, Video Violence was the most widely distributed and financially successful SOV horror film next to Blood Cult. According to Cohen, the movie was “created for two purposes — to reflect the idea that violence is okay but sex isn’t — and for us to have a good time.” With a few hundred dollars and some 3/4″ U-Matic video equipment, Cohen and company hit the streets of Frenchtown and Bound Brook, New Jersey to craft their vision of an epic gore mess-terpiece.

Video Violence should be admired for its prominence in SOV history, rather than its actual entertainment value. A slow blitzkrieg of cheapest gore, barest breasts, and meanest spirits, the film is aware of the atmosphere it creates. Everyone involved is clearly goofing off and approaching the subject matter with lackadaisical poise. Perhaps, that’s the problem. Is it funny to see a man slowly carve his name across a woman’s breasts as she screams hysterically? That depends on you. As the film progresses, the tug-of-war continues. And, unlike the implausibility of Black Devil Doll From Hell, Video Violence‘s discordant sexual content can’t be justified with a laugh. It’s too invasive. Which is ironic, given Cohen’s demure intentions. Still, the film’s widespread distribution and sales ensured that SOV horror had become more than a passing novelty. By the end of 1987, it was a full-fledged home video revolution.

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