With film critics decrying the new trend of "torture porn" horror films receiving theatrical releases, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at an early SOV series that bridges the cinematic gap between Snuff and Hostel. Gary Cohen, a video store owner back during the Mom & Pop glory days, noticed the glut of terrible horror movies flooding shelves on a weekly basis and decided to make his own cheap fright flick. So Cohen rounded up friends, actors from the local community theater, and folks walking down the street (literally) for a cast. Armed with an old camera and a script co-written by Paul Kaye, Cohen set out to make a film that would stand out from the average stalk-and-slash cheapie.
The Emory's (Art and Jackie Neill) own a video store and discover living in a small town can be dangerous when they find a snuff tape in the drop box. The tape shows Howard (Bart Sumner) and Eli (Uke) chopping up and old mailman with a machete. Steve Emory rushes the tape to the police only to have the evidence erased by a bumbling sheriff (William Toddie). It soon becomes clear that Howard and Eli aren't the only townsfolk butchering outsiders when a deli adds "hand" sandwiches to the menu. When more snuff videos are dropped off at the store Steve and Rachel decide to investigate the authenticity of the tapes.
If Retro Slashers had a rating system then Video Violence would get a double D for decapitation and dismemberment. A slow torture scene involving a woman chained up in Eli's basement is particularly brutal. Sometimes cheesy gore and bad acting can doom a film but Video Violence actually benefits from having an overabundance of both. If the kills and actors were realistic, then Video Violence would be too intense for viewing. Fortunately, the overacting helps to take off the film's nasty edge. Honestly, the calmest thing about William Toddie's performance is the dead raccoon he uses for a hair piece.
With Video Violence 2, Eli and Howard (Uke and Sumner back for more fun) have graduated from underground snuff tapes to talk show hosts on a pirated tv station. Those loveable cut-ups dazzle their audience with bad jokes while stripping and torturing a young actress (Elizabeth Lee Miller). Commercials shown during the "Howard and Eli" show feature the old sheriff (Toddie again) promoting homemade electric chairs, a Christmas toy that eats children, and handy gadgets that can be purchased at Deli Dick's. The viewer is also treated to scenes of three women seducing and killing a pizza boy and a return trip to the video store for a segment I like to call "Fun with plastic wrap." A few surprises await the viewer after the credits for "The Howard and Eli Show" roll.
On a technical level, Video Violence 2 is a better film. Gary Cohen made this film with better equipment and gives the unique story a much needed sense of humor. A couple of segments could have used more editing as the "Death of a pizza boy" and "Greatest Hits" sections drag on forever for what are essentially one joke wonders. William Toddie's commercial provides a gory good time as he electrocutes a hippie until the poor guy's eyes pop out and his head explodes. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a major flub when one of Deli Dick's all purpose choppers breaks during a demonstration.
What really makes the the Video Violence series special is Gary Cohen captures the spirit of the Mom & Pop video stores during their last golden age. Hit the slow-mo button during the scenes set in the video store and marvel at the slasher and horror titles lurking on the shelves. Gaze in awe at the poster covered walls and cover art on the old vhs boxes. Art Neill gives a speech during the first Video Violence in which he proclaims his distrust of anyone who rents nothing but horror films and bemoans the fact that horror films are always the biggest renters. I heard the same speech from numerous video store owners during my youth. There's plenty of blood, boobs, and bad acting in both films if that's what you're looking for in low budget slashers. But there's also a heavy dose of nostalgia for those of us who miss the magic of those weekend trips to the local Mom & Pop just to grab the latest slasher.