Archive for October 31, 2010

Cover Art for the "Video Violence" DVD Release from Camp Motion Pictures

And so we come to the end of our “2010 Halloween 12-Pack” series of reviews and we’ve saved one of the best for last. 1987’s shot-on-video cheapie classic Video Violence is actually one I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and seeing as how this gives me a great excuse to do, let’s dive right in, shall we?

First off, understand that this movie looks every bit the zero-budgeter that it is. Shot by director Gary Cohen (who co-wrote the script along with Paul Kaye) in Bayonne, New Jersey, and edited over an twelve-hour period at the local cable-access TV studio (the manager of the station screwed him over a bit when he learned what the subject matter of the movie was about, but rather than renege on his agreement with Cohen altogether he just gave him access to the studio’s editing equipment from midnight to 6:00 a.m. on a couple of evenings), it literally doesn’t have the ability to rise above its roots.

But that’s the thing — it doesn’t need to. The rank amateurishness of the acting, the low-grade feel of the home-camcorder VHS footage itself, the authentic “filming” locations and the unpretentious nature of the script all combine to give Video Violence the number one thing we value here at TFG, namely a sense of absolute authenticity, a word that regular readers of this blog (assuming that such a creature has ever been proven to exist in the wild) know we save for only the finest examples of cinematic honesty, true labors of love.

The story’s effectively simple, and equal parts creepy and funny — married couple Rick Carlson (Kevin Haver) and Rachel Emroy (Jackie Neill) move from the big city to a sleepy South Jersey town to purchase a video rental shop. The place has been operating for a few years under its previous owners. so their “rental club” (God, what a quaint term) already has quite a few members. There’s something strange about these movie-lovin’ townsfolk, though — all they seem to rent are bloody slasher flicks and the occasional triple-Xer. When a customer accidentally drops off a tape from his home collection, and Rick pops it into the store’s machine to discover a “snuff”-style movie of somebody being tortured by sadistic country bumpkins Howard (Bart Sumner) and Eli (the actor playing this part is simply credited as “Uke”), he starts to piece together that something is very wrong with their new neighbors. Plus there’s the fact that the mailman has gone missing —

In truth, this is just a (very early) video-age take on the classic “revenge-of-the-rural-folks-on-the-city-slickers” storyline, but damn, is it effective. Equal parts chilling (again, aided and abetted by its ultra-cheap production values, rather than coming across in spite of them), and downright hysterical  (Howard and Eli, bless ’em, are truly entertaining psychopaths), with some effective low-grade gore and a pleasing DIY-vibe throughout, this is the kind of movie that all backyard filmmakers wish they could make, but few actually possess the skill to.

Video Violence is available, along with its more comedy-heavy (and slightly less satisfying) sequel, Video Violence II, on DVD from Camp Motion Pictures as part of their Retro ’80s Horror Collection. It’s absolutely loaded with extras, including full-length commentary tracks from Cohen andseveral of the actors on both films, a great “making-og” documentary, trailers for all the other Retro ’80s horror titles, and lots of other goodies. The image is full-frame, as you’d of course expect, and the sound is basic, but entirely servieable, mono. Well worth a purchase, or at the very least a rental (how fitting would that be?), this is definitely one that fans of ultra-low (as in no) budget gore horror flicks don’t want to miss. The (admittedly tiny) SOV craze produced a few intriguing labors of love, but only one genuine classic — Video Violence is it.

"Halloween : The Curse Of Michael Myers" Movie Poster

Since we examined the best entry in John Carpenter’s venerable  Halloween slasher franchise a few days back, it seems only fair to take a look at what’s widely considered to be the worst of the bunch — and if there’s one thing fans of the Micheal Myers flicks seem to agree on, it’s that the sixth entry in the canon,  1995’s Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers (also known, unsurprisingly, as Halloween 6) represents the absolute nadir of the series. The rock-bottom, absolute pit.  Now, maybe I’m just on crack or something, but much as I really should hate any movie that features the debut “starring” turn of Paul Rudd (credited here as Paul Stephen Rudd), I have to say that I really just don’t think it’s earned its lousy rap.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper the “retconning,” as the saying goes, on display here is pretty off-putting — Michael (here played by George P. Wilbur, a name that sounds more like a real-life serial killer than an actor playing one), it turns out, is not some mindless, soulless killer — well, okay, he is, but he’s a mindless, soulless killer being controlled by a modern-day druid cult who’s going after his remaining family members (and anyone else in Haddonfield, Illinois who happens to be in the vicinity) for a very particular purpose (which I won’t give away simply because, contrary to most, I don’t think seeing this movie is a total waste of your time).

When our story gets underway, six years have passed since the last Halloween movie, and Micheal and his niece, Jamie, have disappeared. Jamie is in the process of giving birth to a child (strongly hinted, but never explicitly stated, to be Michael’s), Laurie Strode’s family have moved into the old Myers home (!), Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie was babysitting in the first movie, Tommy Doyle (Rudd),  is all grown up and living in a crummy boarding house across the street from the Strodes,  and when Jamie escapes the clutches of the evil druid cult that are protecting and controlling Michael, she flees to Haddonfield with her baby and calls into a late-night radio talk show pleading for help from the one and only Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence, whose health was obviously failing when this film was made). The host assumes the call is some crank and wants to get back to the main subject of that evening’s program, the banning of the Halloween holiday in the town of Haddonfield, but a couple of the people listening — namely Tommy and Dr. Loomis himself — know better, and realize that a deadly series of events is about to converge on the sleepy midwestern hamlet once again —

Look, I don’t think that’s a half-bad setup. The “druid factor” is what pisses most hardcore fans off, but for whatever reason I think it works. The direction from Joe Chappelle is a bit MTV-ish in parts for my tastes (although it’s strictly minor-league in terms of this infraction compared to, say, the truly abominable Halloween : Resurrection), but on the whole he plays things pretty straightforward.

I’m not going to tell you that this flick is an underappreciated gem or something, but it’s more intricate and complex than the couple of entries in the series which preceded it, there are some intriguing possibilities introduced in the Myers backstory, there are a couple of solid jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and I appreciate the fact that it attempted to breathe some new life into a series that had, frankly, become a little stagnant at that point, even if not all of the decisions the filmmakers made actually, you know, work.

Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers is available on DVD from Dimension Films — it’s a bare-bones, extras-free release (apart from the inclusion of the theatrical trailer), but the widescreen anamorphic transfer looks just fine and the 2.0-channel stereo mix is perfectly acceptable as far as the audio goes, as well. It’s also available on demand on pretty much all cable systems this month (and probably next). It’s far from a classic, but just as far from the dreck it’s usually referenced as. If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it (if you’re bored and/or curious), and if you have seen it and hated it, I think it might be worth your time to give it another look — you may just find it to be less irredeemably atrocious as you remember. There’s also apparently a producer’s (as opposed to director’s) cut floating around as a bootleg somewhere tht’s apparently quite a bit different — if anyone can turn me onto a source where I might be able to obtain it, I’d be most appreciative.