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Life is full of disappointments- Alien sequels, long awaited Duke Nukem games etc..., but the one that left the biggest stain on my soul was the extinction of my dream job- the video store clerk. I know it was far from a career to begin with, and most likely a vocation that came with a room at your parents house far into adulthood. All the same, it seemed like a good fit and I'm not doing much better in the life game anyway. I just wanted to be that guy. You know the one. The one with the passionate recommendations and fun facts. The associate who can tell a parent why a movie has a PG13 rating or give you a friendly warning if the gore/nudity of the film doesn't quite live up to the cover. They watched everything because it was their job and their passion.You could feel the excitement even as you made your movie choices, loving jealousy of virgin eyes as you picked up a first time watch. If you were lucky, in the VHS days, you had a “mom and pop” shop staffed only with these dedicated disciples of cinema. Even in the less golden age of the young DVD and the Blockbuster/Hollywood two party system there always seemed to be one on the floor at all times. As time passed I watched my opportunities for my calling dwindle and disappear under the rise of Redbox and streaming/download capabilities. It's hard to admit, but in the grand scheme, change can be a good thing, and The Twilight Zone did try it's best to warn me. I also have the movies themselves to comfort me in my perceived obsolescence, as a video clerk without a shop, with increasing ease of access as technology moves forward (new transfers on disc, streaming, etc) and if i'm really in need of a trip down the greasy aisles of the home media revolution I can load up Video Violence (1987).
Our main character Steven Emory(Art Neill), who kind of has an art teacher meets Kenny G thing going on, has just moved with his wife (Jackie Neill) from New York to a small out of the way community. Having managed a movie theater in the city and nurturing a passion for film, he opens a movie rental store in the new area, with one single employee (Kevin Haver). The film is broken up into chapters each with a title card. The first being a prologue where we witness the taped assault on a woman by the greasy ass employees of what looks like a sporting goods store as she tries on some stylish clothes. After we start “Day 1” we see Steven engaged in a conversation with his lone employee about the strange behavior of the city’s residents. Besides the normal small town complaints and rude social interactions, the two comment that the stores customers universally seem to be only interested in gorey slasher flicks (and the occasional porn fix). The employee, Rick, while going through the returned tapes, finds an unlabeled VHS in one of the rental boxes and convinces Steven to allow him to watch it before the owners come to claim it. To both their lukewarm suprise, what displays on the tube is a home video depiction of two cackling rednecks butchering the local Postmaster gleefully atop a dirty ass mattress. After getting over their extremely calm and collected horror, the two decide that the best plan is for Steven to lock Rick in the store with the tape while he heads to speak to the police chief directly. The chief (William Toddie) appears to be skeptical but agrees to follow Steven back to the store to watch the tape. When they arrive Rick is nowhere to be found, and the tape has been switched with a harmless home movie. After a “told ya so”, the chief warns him that the now missing employee may be just fucking with him. Ol’ Steve doesn't buy it, and the strange behavior only gets worse. It starts to look like there is a local snuff film operation going down, but who’s watching this shit and why hasn't anyone done anything? It's up to Steven and his coffee shop demeanor to answer these questions, stop these killings and hopefully avoid taking a starring role in a tape himself.   
Video Violence gets a quiet head start on a few trends. It feels like a 90s low budget callback to late 80s genre flicks despite being filmed in ‘87. The film makes nods to its own shot-on-tape medium and the horror genre in general, and with its video store back drop, at times, hits a level of meta humor that years later will become trendy with Scream (1996). At a very early point in the camcorder horror game, this movie uses its low-rent production to its advantage and seems to have foreknowledge of the fun and fuckery the straight to home video market will produce in the following decade. It makes several references to studio gore flicks, as well as the early shot on VHS favorite Blood Cult (1985, sometimes incorrectly considered the first SOV horror movie).
A lot of Video Violence is pretty standard for your shot on tape movie. We have the washed out lighting, the blank, dry expressions on the actors faces and analog artifacts on the screen at times that would become the uniform for this horror section. Even with its obvious budget constraints, the film makes due by using its camera well, moving between attempts at classic fixed framing, while the focus is on our unlucky protagonist, and a grimy hand held snuff movement for the gruesome segments. Some of the gore gets a little goofy but mostly uses angles well to hide its limitations, and the unnerving giggling of the two creepy ass rednecks helps a lot. It’s one and a half hour runtime is padded with the main character's quest for the truth, which equals a lot of dialog as he tries to convince others or figure out what the fuck is going in general. Even with all the talking the film somehow stays engaging. The story and dialog, while cheesy and undeveloped, has just enough well plotted points to keep me giving a shit despite it spending a lot of time following a dude jogging around in a ponytail, talking to people and watching VHS tapes. The soundtrack can make you think you may have slipped into a 90s drivers ed video and has a few “musical patterns” that arrive early and overstay their welcome, but it seems fitting, especially now when neo-trash films attempt to replicate the style so frequently.
The actors are obviously having fun, and in a lot of cases the amateur talent is fitting of the role. Especially well placed are the bloodthirsty “yokels” who mimic the personalities of public broadcast television. Steven (Art Neill) and his wife (Jackie Neill) give dry but spirited performances, and the police chief (William Toddie) pulls off some pretty great Naked Gun (1988) facial expressions.
What makes Video Violence stand out can only be described as spirit. Gary Cohen’s love for the genre shows through the home video camera. It’s corny, bleak and demented but somehow endearing in its own blood soaked way. For me it's a great, perfectly trashy snapshot of a blossoming medium for independent flicks and a silly look at the cultural impact. One we can show future babies for years to come, who never got a chance to see a Video Rental store. That way- the future babies know what im talking about, when my old decrepit ass complains again about wanting to be a career video-store clerk but being born too late, as the Disney™ Brand Super-Streaming-Service© beams its newest Star Wars™ film directly into our brains.
1h 30min | 1987
Director: Gary P. Cohen (as Gary R. Cohen)
Writers: Gary P. Cohen (as Gary Cohen), Paul Kaye


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