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Video Violence
(1987)
 

Director:Gary P. Cohen                              
Cast:
Art Neill, Jackie Neill, UKE, William Toddie


Video Violence is a very confused horror movie. Sometimes it takes itself very seriously, but other times it seems to be trying to be one of those black comedy/horror movies along the lines of Psychos In Love or Blood Diner. Frequently, though, it doesn't even know whether to be one of those two directions, resulting in a story that's both slow-moving and filled with scenes that do little to nothing in advancing the plot. What we have here is maybe enough story for a 30 to 45 minute short film, not for the 90 minutes this takes to unfold. Maybe that's why this was shot on video instead of film. And not just any old kind of video, but the special kind that gives you drab colors, mysterious "thump" noises on the soundtrack (as if someone is tapping the microphone), and making it hard to understand the dialogue when more than one person is talking at a time. Yes, this movie seems to have been shot with camcorders. Ah, the days when a production of any quality could be sold to video stores - I shall never miss them.

I've only seen one shot-on-video movie that I've liked (Redneck Zombies), and I didn't like it that much. There seems to be some kind of evil power over video that generally makes productions so dreary - which would explain why home movies migrated into this format. Video Violence does at least start with an interesting and promising premise: Steve and Rachel have moved from New York to the small town of Frenchtown, with Steve opening and running a surprisingly profitable video store. The strange thing that he and his employee Rick have noticed is that all the customers in the town just seem to rent horror movies and the occasional XXX feature. One morning, sorting through the returned videos, they discover someone has deposited an unlabeled video that doesn't belong to the store. Curious, they play the video, and see a home video of two guys butchering the town postmaster, who had supposedly retired and moved to Florida. Steve makes the following amazing deduction: "One of my club members is a psychotic killer, and we've got his tape!" It should then come as no surprise that Steve then heads to the police without Rick or the tape, and when Steve returns to the video store with the police chief, Rick is gone and the video has been switched with a normal home movie. Though the police chief dismisses Steve's story and Rick's disappearance, Steve and Rachel decide to investigate on their own.

And oh, what a long and pointless investigation it is, for several reasons. This movie is like Chance in it giving us more than we need. If someone pours two glasses of lemonade, we see the unedited pouring and filling up of both glasses. When someone runs a few blocks from one location to another, it is not shown by a few seconds of running and leaving the rest to our imagination, but actually seems more like the actual length of time it would take in real life. Even the opening credit sequence - a jeep weaving its way through the roads outside and in the town - is a chore to watch; I don't recall if it was one continuous take of the jeep (with the video camera noticeably jiggling from the director's vehicle) driving slowly into town or not, but it certainly felt like it.

When the movie is not busy trying to lengthen such redundant material we are taken back to the story, where it soon becomes apparent that pretty much nothing is being done to advance the mystery. You would think after that point where I stopped with the description of the movie, the story would then have Steven and Rachel investigating, turning up more and more evidence and mystery as they progressed. Most of the time they have a helpless, wait-and-see-what-happens-next attitude. And when they actually do some investigating, another problem with the movie arises. The villains in the movie are so prepared for what the couple does, so well cover their tracks, that you would think they would have E.S.P., managing to keep Steven and Rachel in a cloud of mystery. The audience isn't in such a cloud, because the movie shows us several times just what is happening, spoiling any chance of us trying to solve things on our own, to even try and emphasize with the couple, who are two of the dullest people you'll see. And because we know what is going on, the "surprise ending" is no surprise at all. All the ending does (which I won't mention) is bring up the question: If that was the intent all along, then why did the people do all those things that could have brought them down if Steven and Rachel had acted differently? Unless, of course, the people did have E.S.P. and could read the duo's minds.

The actors actually do a better job than a production like this deserves, but far too often they deliver their lines in an obviously jokey manner. A few lines like, "Brought back some funny drugs from New York?" are delivered in a more or less deadpan fashion, but far too often aren't. With material like this, the best way to act is to play it straight - it's funny hearing and seeing people treating something absurd in a serious manner, but playing it in a jokey manner makes the scene come across as if the actors are saying, "Har har, aren't we funny?" When the actors are serious, some talent shows. Jackie Neill is okay as the initially doubting Rachel, and "UKE" and Bart Sumner are somewhat creepy as the killers on the loose (when they don't go overboard with their performances.)

The scenes where they murder someone have a little merit in them as well. One sequence, where they videotape the murder of a female hitchhiker, is somewhat unsettling, with them laughing while they humiliate her in several different ways before killing her. The scene also has a fairly impressive gore sequence. (Though there is gore elsewhere in the movie, it usually ranges from mediocre to so-phony-it's-a-joke-folks-so-laugh.) More merit might have been found had the direction been more thought out. There is one scene where Steven views a video of another murder, and the creepiness of the unfolding murder playing on the TV is wrecked by repeated cuts to the face of the horrified Steven. Also, I don't think it was necessary for the viewers at home to be told via titles or any other way that what they are seeing is the "Prologue", "Epilogue", "Day One", etc.

When I was in high school, I had a lot of fun making video productions in my television class and for friends. Looking back, I can see they were made with a goofy attitude, and unsubtle with their humor. But I can remember they had a spark to them, an attitude that showed that the people in front of and behind the camcorder were having fun. And we were sure to make the pacing speedy, and we got down to business as soon as possible - after all, we would be watching these productions later. Video Violence has no spark to it, no sense of fun either by the actors of those behind the camera. I can't help but wonder if the whole thing would have been better had some kids or teenagers gotten their hands on the script and the camcorder.

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See also: Chance, Dance Or Die, Video Violence 2

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