Posts Tagged ‘new jersey’

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.

Poster Art For "Don't Go In The House"

Poster Art For "Don't Go In The House"

Let’s face it, grown men who have unresolved issues with their mothers, particularly those who still live with them, have been a staple among movie bad guys since the days of Norman Bates — and while it may have become something of a cliche, it’s one that works, because to the rest of us, there’s just something creepy about a guy in his 30s or 40s who lives with his mom.

Donnie Kohler (Dan Grimaldi), the central character in writer-director Joseph Ellison’s 1980 grindhouse psychodrama “Don’t Go In The House” has a million and one reasons to move out of his mom’s drafty old Victorian tomb of an abode, but he doesn’t. His mom used to burn him as a kid, you see, holding his hands and arms over an open gas flame on their gigantic old stove when he’d been a bad little boy. As a result, Donnie grew up not only with unresolved mommy-issues, but with a peculiar fascination with fire, as well. He’s both attracted to and frightened of it in equal measure in his adult years, as evidenced by the fact that he works in an incinerator but when a co-worker catches fire, he freezes up and is unable to assist in his rescue, forcing the other guys at the plant to save him even though Donnie is closest to the scene.

Needless to say, this act of cowardice doesn’t go over well with his co-workers, and Donnie leaves the plant humiliated. If he thought he had a bad day at work, though, things only get worse when he gets home — his mother, you see, has finally succumbed to old age and departed this mortal coil, and with her goes Donnie’s last (admittedly tepid) connection to reality. He’s on his own now, and has a lot of shit to work out as he finally “grows up” in his own uniquely twisted way.

His first actions are natural enough—he blasts his stereo at top volume and gets drunk. But this youthful (err—okay, so he’s not youthful) fling with excess quickly loses its appeal and Donnie soon combines his unhealthy fascination with fire and his unresolved issues with an overbearing mother (issues that he has now, in a classic case of psychological transference, grafted onto the entire female gender as a whole) in a decidedly toxic fashion. He starts calling in sick from work every day and nailing sheet metal to the walls, ceiling, and floor of  one of the many large and unused rooms in his house. Then, it’s time for him to get busy and bring home some “dates,” by any means necessary—but his idea of a good time with a member of the opposite sex requires him to wear an asbestos suit. That’s right, our guy Donnie decides to bring women home, chain them up, and take a flamethrower to them.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing terribly original about the premise here (apart from Donnie’s preferred method of dispatch for his victims), but Grimaldi really sells you on the character with his performance.  He absolutely seems like the quintessential loser who never left home, has no social skills, is terrified of the opposite sex, and blames them (all of them) for his problems. Ellison’s script is a character piece through and through, and the casting of Grimaldi in the lead was a brilliant stroke on his part. In the hands of a lesser actor, this would be standard—or even substandard—exploitation fare, but Grimaldi’s virtuoso performance alone elevates this movie several notches above where it probably belongs.

The house itself is a brilliant piece of location scouting, and succeeds in first capturing, then magnifying, the twisted mental landscape of  our psycho protagonist. The winter shooting schedule of the film in the New York/New Jersey area adds to the overall intensely moody atmosphere, as well.

All in all, this is a classic case of a film whose whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The creepily inherent understanding of the lead character’s twisted psychological worldview on the part of both the writer/director and the star, combined with (I hesitate to use the term but it really does apply here) a perfect physical setting takes what is, on paper, nothing too terribly special and transforms it into something very special indeed. Sick, twisted, depraved, abhorrent, offensive, shocking, perverse, and sleazy, to be sure—but very special nonetheless.

Media Blasters released “Don’t Go In The House” on DVD under their “Shriek Show” label a few years back, and it features a fine feature-length commentary with Grimaldi, an on-camera interview with the actor, an alternate take of one of the film’s more brutal scenes, the original theatrical trailer, and more. It’s available alone or as part of the “Grindhouse Psychos Triple Feature” boxset, together with “Cop Killers,” an early Rick Baker special effects effort, and Roberta Findlay’s notorious “Tenement.” Great stuff!