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Shot On Video Trash In The 1980s (Part Two)

Joseph A. Ziemba, 06.01.05

It's a brisk Friday night in June, 1987. You scraggle into "Dave's Video" again, hoping for a sparkling new release to calm the stresses of the past work week. Shuffling around on the dust encrusted, poo-brown carpet, you pass by a big box for Blood Cult. Remember that one? You got all revved up for a night of solid horror chills, only to be stabbed in the back with a "movie" that looked like a visit to Mr. Rogers's neighborhood. Hi, neighbor! Good thing you've learned your lesson, huh? On the other hand, it's been awhile since you've rented a horror movie. And hey, that Video Violence cover art looks pretty scary...

In 1986, the rimshot of United’s hits began to have some resonance with video distributors. One-shot SS Video delivered Spine (John Howard/Justin Simmonds, 1986), a nurse-obsessed stalk ‘n’ slash; Synchron offered up their sole release Splatter: Architects In Fear (Peter Rowe, 1986), a fake documentary about a fictitious film (whoa!) that piles on the boobs and (making of) gore. Fly-by-nighters Mogul Video released Demon Queen (Donald Farmer, 1986), the first in a long series of camcorder gore-fests from director Farmer, who continues to produce no-budget fluff to this day. Even established companies like Magnum Entertainment jumped into the SOV fire, releasing Jeff Hathcock's follow up to Victims!, Night Ripper, in 1986. Judging from their absolute obscurity in 2005, none of these releases seemed to make much of a ripple when compared to United's titles. That is, until Gary P. Cohen came along.

A video store in New Jersey, 1986. A woman, with two youngsters in tow, grabs a copy of I Dismember Mama off the shelf. Approaching the counter, she asks store owner Gary Cohen, "Does this have any nudity?" Gary replies, "No, I don't remember any, but that film has decapitations and all sorts of other gore." Naturally, the woman shoots back, "Oh. Ok, then the kids can watch it." Video Violence was born. True story.

Released by Los Angeles-based Camp Video in 1987, Video Violence (Gary Cohen, 1987) survives today as the most widely distributed (and well known) SOV horror film next to "Blood Cult." According to Cohen, "[Video Violence] was created for two purposes -- to reflect the idea that violence is okay but sex isn't -- and for us to have a good time. I carried a few shot-on-videos in my video store, so we thought, once it was done, we'd see if any distributors were interested. Certainly our actors were as mediocre as the ones in the others films! If they could do it, damn, we could too!" With a few hundred dollars and some 3/4" U-Matic video equipment, Cohen and company hit the streets of Frenchtown and Bound Brook, New Jersey to film their epic gore mess-terpiece. As the box says, "When renting is not enough!"

The plot is simple, albeit unique. A married couple (him; bald and mulleted, her; fresh in hott teacher garb) move to a New York suburb and open a video shoppe. The rude patrons of the store are only interested in two things: slashers and XXX hits. After discovering that a returned rental tape has been swapped out with a homemade snuff film, our Video Wizards desperately try to crack the mystery, without much help from an asinine police chief. The townspeople, including anti-heroes Howard and Eli, continue their maim ‘n’ tape snuff hobbies. Along for the ride is a surreal movie within a movie called “The Vampire Takes A Bride” and a baker’s dozen of hysterical acting experts. It’s dreary, mean-spirited, yet curiously mysterious; a slow blitzkrieg of all-time-cheapest gore, bare breasts, and swirling synth blips, as the cult of snuff film devotees unveil their plans to take over the town! Oh yeah, and somebody rents Blood Cult too, patterned after Cohen’s real life video store encounter with I Dismember Mama. Remember, in a town of 300 people, “They all have VCRs.” head is spinning.

After editing over two consecutive midnight sessions at a local cable station (three were booked, but the station’s owner found out what the film was about and called it off), Mr. Cohen began to shop around the finished product. Eventually, he settled on the now-legendary Camp Video for distribution. As Gary points out, “Camp offered the best deal...they were going to make posters and use big boxes. That alone clinched it!” Soon after its release, Video Violence started to show promise. The first big box edition completely sold through, leading to an entire second pressing with new cover art (unfortunately in a regular sized box). SOV horror had lived to see its second big hit; the director of Video Violence was just getting started.

Hot on the trail of Gary's first hit, production began on a second SOV feature, Captives (Gary Cohen, 1988). Although shot in 1987, the film wasn't completed for release until 1988, when it was retitled Mama's Home, edited, and released unceremoniously by Majestic Video. Possibly the most obscure feature to be covered here (Cohen holds the only true master copy and refuses to acknowledge the butchered Mama's Home), Captives may also be the most accomplished, at least in "real" movie terms.

The setting: Suburbia, USA circa '88; Max Headroom and Rainbow Brite posters, wood paneled home entertainment centers, and a soundtrack comprised of third rate Journey impressions. The story concerns a day in the life of a suburban New Jersey family. As the minutes unfold in near-real time, a woman and her family (baby, mother-in-law) find their home under attack from a trio of sibling weirdos (butchie chick, "crazy" guy, and a seemingly retarded fat guy). Of course, the house-jackers are out for revenge against the woman's shady husband (played by Cohen himself), who indulges in a little lunch time nose candy with a hooker. Why the revenge? Turns out this Father Of The Year had a previous marriage and baby with the female member of our band of killers...and consequently set a house on fire, killing said kid. Evil momma, who was blamed for the crime, sez, "I've been waiting too friggin' long to screw this up now!" Dead doggie, a knifed babysitter, and a nearly smothered baby; indeed!

Despite the obvious drawbacks (there's nothing quite like watching everyday people mug their best "psycho" characters), Captives is well plotted and even a little unsettling in its gritty, real time presentation. You'll recognize most of the cast from Video Violence and they do a decent job here. This was Cohen's attempt at something more on the level, trading in gore and laughs for a serious tone. To a certain extent, he succeeds, which makes the film's obscurity a bit of a shame. Captives remains the most accomplished SOV horror film from this era, so hopefully it'll see a rediscovery at some point.

So Captives was a bit of a slump on the business end of things. Gary Cohen wasn't through yet. Due to the success of Video Violence (it was even nominated for an American Film Institute Award as best independent film in 1986), Camp Video was interested in a sequel, with the promise of larger scale advertising and more big box production. After the absurdness of Video Violence and the serious tone of Captives, there was only one way to go with a sequel: Ketucky Fried Movie for the gore set. Sever a thumbs-up for Video Violence 2...The Exploitation! (Gary Cohen, 1987).

In awesome late 80s fashion, a pirate public access TV show is interrupting New Jersey’s cable box airwaves. It’s “The Howard And Eli Show”! Cue the crap-tastic video effects screens! For the next hour, we join our two maulin’ misfits from “Video Violence” as they host a snuff film variety spectacle, complete with commercials (you seriously won’t believe the “Wilbur” bit), priceless standup (“BWAUGH-HA-HA-HA!”), contributions from at-home viewers, and an electric piano-playing sidekick named Gordon (dead ringer for Napoleon Dynamite). After the skits unfold -- electric chair, extended topless girl torture, gratuitous, and I mean gratuitous, “college” girl dance party, a return to the Video Violence store -- Howard and Eli wrap up the show. What could possibly enthrall you next? Try picking up right where the first film left off, complete with several surprise endings. Or maybe check out the infomercial for ordering VV2, complete with appearances from Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers? Lordy!

The concept of Video Violence 2 is obviously righteous; luckily, the entire film follows suit. While it still retains a base level of mean-spiritedness, the humor works both intentionally and subversively, kind of like a Herschell Gordon Lewis production for the 80s. Gary Cohen adds, “We had an even better time with VV2 -- which is, in my opinion, actually an intentionally funny movie.” Right-o, and therein lies the delight; you can laugh at the so-fake-they’re-genius gore effects, the perfect snapshot of 80s home video production, or the really dumb jokes. Better yet, slap your knee with all of it and admire the accomplishment and scope of the film, especially for a SOV horror production.

In the years following his SOV legacy, Gary Cohen founded a theater company (Celebration Playhouse), acted as an agent for the William Morris Agency, chalked up numerous stage credits, authored a book on community theater, and currently acts as Producing Director for Middlesex County, New Jersey’s “Plays In The Park” series. He also serves creative credits with the soon-to-hit Broadway musical, “Frankenstein: The Musical.” But he hasn’t left Howard and Eli in the dust. In 2006, eiCinema will be releasing an extras packed double feature DVD of Video Violence 1 & 2 with Cohen’s full participation.

About Captives

Referred to as “the most accomplished SOV horror film from this era”*, Captives, the sophomore effort of director Gary Cohen (Video Violence 1&2), is now available for the first time in this director-approved version. *

Captives Synopsis

Taken hostage by three violently deranged criminals, a woman fights back to save her baby and mother-in-law’s lives in this gritty and suspenseful crime drama from Gary Cohen (Video Violence 1&2)

Video Violence Synopsis

In this gore-soaked cult classic, a young couple opens a video store in a small town populated by violence-addicted amateur filmmakers, lead by the demented Howard and Eli.

Video Violence 2 Synopsis

The sequel to Video Violence finds Howard and Eli pirating a cable TV channel for the purpose of furthering their brand of homegrown depravity, madness and murder.


The Basement: Camp Retro ’80s Horror Collection (Boxed Set Review)

by Greg B. on September 10, 2011

There is nothing more exciting in the eyes of a movie geek than a really good boxed set of some of your favorite films. Not only is the idea of having a marathon of similarly themed movies or a film and its sequels a great, fun idea but a lot of times you get extra goodies in the set. And the packaging for a top-notch boxed set is paramount. It must be creative, collectable and most of all, AWESOME! Camp Motion Pictures is a company that specializes in underground, micro-budget and retro-themed movies and they have given us horror film nerds something to salivate over. They packaged up three of their classic titles along with two brand new features on three DVDs and, get this, a VHS tape all in an oversized faux big-box VHS box. Shit, this looks good sitting on my movie shelf…


I’ll start with the worst of the bunch just to get it out of the way. Captives (1987) is an oddity of a home invasion film where an incestuous brother and sister along with their other retarded brother sneak into the home of a woman to exact revenge (for what I will not ruin for you) on a woman and her mother-in-law. There isn’t much here as far as real horror goes, it’s more of an overly ambitious drama/thriller that never really goes anywhere. That’s not to say that it isn’t at least a little entertaining in a “fuck, this is REALLY bad” kind of way. The retarded brother makes for a little comedy relief and the insane overacting is great. Not much blood is shed but there are a few surprises along the way and the wildly inappropriate whimsical soundtrack is pretty rad. Captives is directed by Gary Cohen, the guy who brought us Video Violence 1 & 2, also included in this set.

Video Violence

Video Violence takes the fun we had in the ’80s in the mom and pop video stores, ties it to a chair, rips its blouse off and slices its guts out. The new owner of a video shop in a small town finds that a tape was mistakenly returned to him from someone’s home collection that turns out to be a snuff film. When he reports it to the police, they don’t believe him and blow him off. It isn’t long before more tapes show up and every time he reports it, something gets fucked up and no one believes him. Is something going on in this sleepy little town that seems to only rent horror movies? This awesomeness from 1987 predates “torture porn” by almost two decades but could easily be considered the beginnings of the much maligned sub genre. The two main sickos Howard and Eli torment and brutally kill people as they ham it up for the camera. Blood and gore fly in this darkly funny gore movie that reminded me a little of 2000 Maniacs.

Video Violence 2

Part two of the Video Violence mayhem has Howard and Eli now running a pirate TV station in which to share their gruesome content. The movie is shown as the general population would see it if their televisions where taken over by the pirates. WGOR (of course) is like a variety show of horror. The hosts crack jokes, banter with their music director and even have a guest which they strip naked and slowly torture. The commercial breaks are for things like a head exploding electric chair, natch. Once in a while Howard and Eli throw it to a killer vignette like where three cheerleaders ply a pizza delivery boy with booze and weed, strip him nude and stab him to death. This sequel has a lot more tits in it than any of the other movies in the set, and they are nice, big tits too! Like the first one, the make-up effects are pretty solid and the dark, silly humor is amped up.