Video Violence is probably the best of the shot-on-video horror sub-genre, which is not great by definition. It’s a different mentality, it’s true no-budget filmmaking and the movies always suffer in quality for that. Video Violence crafted the one thing that no other shot-on-video movie had: Justification for the way it was made. There’s a reason in the story for at least most of the shot-on-video aspects that help believability for the audience. Now, does this mean Video Violence is a great movie? Not at all. But does it deserve to be completely unknown? Probably not.
The appeal of Video Violence is that it is a product of the video store era. In fact, the film is about a video store that finds a mysterious tape in its possession. More unmarked tapes begin showing up in the dropbox. These tapes are all recordings of the “Howard and Eli Show” which depicts acts of brutal torture and violence. The couple, Steve and Rachel, who own the video store don’t believe that what they are seeing is real and therefore don’t discard of the tapes. Instead, perhaps by mistake, they stock them and the tapes begin to do incredible business.
It’s definitely an intriguing premise. And while it’s easy to say that it could have worked a lot better with more money, it may be for the best that it didn’t have any money to work with. This movie is pure video and it probably needed to be on video to truly succeed in any capacity. It’s horror from the height of video’s popularity.
For those who may not be in the know, “Shot-on-Video” was a movement in the later eighties when video cameras became widely available. People who weren’t trying to get on America’s Funniest Home Videos were trying to make their own movies. Unlike many of the numerous horror films that resulted from this movement, Video Violence was smart enough to play to its strengths. It is a time capsule of that era of 1980’s video and television (there are even cheesy, fake advertisements in the movie that help it make its case).
There were a lot of horror movies in the 1980’s that tried to be as real as possible. Some even went as far as trying to convince the audience that the violence was actually happening. Cannibal Holocaust is a very good example of this. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is another. Both are incredibly depressing films. Video Violence approaches that same style, but has almost nothing in common with either of those films in terms of tone. It applies the concept, but adds a sense of humor that on paper shouldn’t work at all. But it really does. For a movie designed to look like a snuff film, it’s very funny and when it isn’t it’s at least trying very hard to be. A lot of the jokes don’t work. But the ones that do work really well. A lot of the humor really comes from the tone of the film itself.
Most of the people in the film are not actors, and they don’t discover the talent as the film goes on. The actors playing Harold and Eli do a very good job (in places they’re actually disturbingly convincing) but the rest aren’t so lucky. Harold and Eli host their snuff show with the goofy, tongue-in-cheek attitude of any terrible local-access TV show, which is clearly what they’re mimicking. This is a large part of what makes the film watchable. It both looks and feels exactly like the sorts of things it’s satirizing. For those not familiar with the times, it can probably be abrasive and they may not get it.
Yet there’s something about Video Violence that makes it recommendable all the same. It’s such a product of its era that it is kind of fascinating. It’s flaws are not small, but the movie is both funny and enjoyable, which is really all that it sets out to be. With that in mind, it gets more flack than it deserves and is definitely worth checking out… but sadly, not from the video store.