Color, 1987, 98 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Gary P. Cohen
Art Neill, Jackie Neill, Gary Schwartz, Bart Sumner, Chick Kaplan, Uke
VIDEO VIOLENCE II
Color, 1988, 75 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Gary P. Cohen
Starring Bart Sumner, Uke, Lee Miller, Robert Amico, Art Neill, Jackie Neill, Lisa Cohen
Terror Vision (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Camp Motion Pictures (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
One of the most prevalent "big box" VHS titles from the waning days of the '80s, Video Violence caught plenty of horror fans' eyes with its catchy tagline ("When renting is not enough!") and key art showing a bloody hand inserting a tape into a VCR. Shot on tape by New Jersey video store clerk Gary P. Cohen, the film ended up getting insanely prominent placement at mom and pop stores when it came out from Camp in 1987 and prompted the quick production of a sequel the following year that upended the entire format. Obviously designed as black comedies, the films still have more than enough gory slasher mayhem to please the SOV horror crowd along with that regional charm that money can't buy. The films have since been issued as 2007 standalone releases on DVD and inclusion together on one disc as part of Camp's Retro '80s Horror Collection in 2011. Now they've hit Blu-ray, of course, from Terror Vision as a two-disc Region A special limited edition as a spot gloss slipcase and slipcover set designed by Earl Kess, limited to 3,000 units with no plans for a regular edition or repressing.
The first Video Violence follows the mishaps of the Emorys (Jackie and Art Neill), a couple from the Big Apple who relocate to New Jersey when their dreams of running a law firm and a movie theater don't pan out. However, everyone in town seems to be fixated on renting ultraviolent horror movies, including a brutal pre-credits death by baseball bat committed by the two proprietors of a clothing store. Several tapes fall into their hands depicting a series of gory snuff murders, and their sniffing around to discover the source of these literal video nasties pits them against the entire town whose collusion with a pair of psychos, Howard and Eli (Sumner and Uke), holds the key to these illicit home projects.
Carrying the theme to an absurd conclusion, Video Violence 2 goes for flat-out gore comedy as Howard and Eli return as the hosts of a public access program packed with random murders and ghoulish humor. Mostly a series of Laugh-In-style sketches, the show trots out various tortures, executions, and other atrocities, executed with thankfully phony effects and a minimum of genuine sadism. What's the story behind the show, and are the actors really being snuffed before a live studio audience? From the opening vampire movie spoof, it's clear that
Though both concepts sound like pretty good hooks for low-budget horror, be aware that the Video Violence films are once again shot on super-cheap consumer cameras from the '80s and certainly look it. The acting sticks to junior high mugging level for the most part, and the effects never come close to believable (which might be intentional). Still, there's a strange nostalgic kick if you're a seasoned horror fan who came of age in the '80s; the do-it-yourself oomph makes for compellingly cracked viewing if you're in the right frame of mind and willing to overlook tons of tracking problems, impenetrable lighting and lots of ketchup doused on unsuspecting actors. The first film is also adorable for its frequent vintage video store decor including tons of cover boxes and posters that will have Gen-X viewers swooning, and the droning synthesizer soundtrack (which has since had a commercial release in multiple formats!) is undeniably memorable.
Cohen originally contributed amusing commentary tracks for both films back in the DVD days accompanied by makeup artists Mark Dolson and Mark Kwiatek and actors Art Neill, Paul Kaye, David Christopher and Uke, along with a 14m5s interview discussing the making of his, er, franchise. Those are all ported over for the 2022 Blu-ray edition, which also reflects the audio and video quality you'd expect; for DVD the first film was reassembled essentially from scratch using all the original raw tape material, resulting in as good a presentation as you could get. The raw tapes for the second film were partially gone, so that's more a matter of "it is what it is" with a very soft, VHS-y appearance. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono tracks here are also indicative of the original source, which is okay but about on par for any other '80s SOV project; optional English SDH subtitles are provided. Both films also get new solo tracks by Cohen, who's considerably more sparse in his comments here but occasionally delivers a good bit of trivia or a chuckle recalling corralling various people to be on camera, the lengths they had to go to, the VHS aesthetic, his own cameo, the heavy improvisation, and the seat of your pants editing process including the more ambitious methods he used on the second film. On the first disc, a new interview with Paige Price (5m35s) covers how she ended up being the initial victim in the first film, while "The Tape Is Family (12m58s) is a new interview featurette with Dolson and Kwiatek about their first collaboration together here, the gore demands with limited means, the "execution" of that electrocution scene in the second film, and more. "The SOV That Wouldn't Die" (33m11s) is an adorably lo-fi overview of the film's fandom including its screening the Mahoning Drive-In in 2017 and various testimonials from other filmmakers and label owners. The second disc features a new interview with actor Robert Amico, "Video Dating" (5m23s), about his role as "the Maniac" in the second film and his favorite moments since he started acting at 17, while crew member Mitchell Speert turns up in "Blood Wrangler" (6m55s) recalls getting roped into performing various duties on the second film including working with some challenging effects during the murder scene filming.
Reviewed on October 12, 2022