As VHS fever spread throughout the 1980’s so did the ability for your average Joe to use the developing technology to create his own movie using nothing more than a camcorder, a script and some Karo Syrup. While many of these movies wouldn’t see the heads of your tape deck, some actually made it to your local video store to be seen by thousands of gore obsessed horror fans. These movies were labeled SOV, Shot On Video, as they were lovingly created without the use of film, but instead were put directly to tape, given saucy cover art and marketed in P.T. Barnum fashion. Several decades later, VHS is collectible as video stores empty their coffers and collectors swoon. So too has the market grown for transfers of previously unreleased VHS titles to newer technology. DVD’s and Blu-rays editions of VHS classics and even Shot On Video fare have become popular with a cult, hardcore market of fans.
With recent efforts of Massacre Video, Intervision and Slasher//Video as well as smaller DIY distro companies pumping out releases on the updated media, the goal has turned to availability and preservation.
Today we highlight our Top Ten SOV Horror flicks that are worth checking out. This is in no way meant to represent a complete list, and let us know what you’re top ten would include in the comments below. All of these have been fortunate enough to get full releases on DVD so far. Many are not. Which ones do you want to see put on DVD/Blu-ray?
Having had the pleasure of actually seeing this one on film at the Exhumed Horrorthon in Philadelphia using a film print of the UK where it was originally projected, Boardinghouse represents a high quality entry into the SOV game. That’s not saying that it is a production that would stand up to a movie shot film; it simply is a complete movie with coherent narrative, sexy protagonists (clothed and unclothed, men and women) and low budget wholesome family effects. Boardinghouse would make a great porno if it weren’t such a fun horror movie. John Wintergate wrote, directed and starred in this one. He’s a trip with his wide eyes, tight bathing suit and cavalier sexual attitude. It’s available on DVD via Slasher//Video. Watch the long cut of the movie; it’s nearly two movies in one and make sure to enjoy the random computer script inserts with strange narrative about the “events” at the Boardinghouse.
2. Tales from the Quadead Zone
Tales form the Quadead Zone isn’t exactly a great movie however it certainly has fame on its side especially among VHS collectors. Folks have paid thousands of dollars for this low run flick that is considered a rare collectors item; of course you can always get lucky and find one in the wild for a few bucks. Massacre Video released this recently on double feature DVD alongside Black Devil Doll from Hell (also on this list). They also put it out on a limited release of 150 VHS. Chester Novell Turner delivers a unique story filled with some strange effects that are exemplary of the SOV genre, awesome looking neon credits and characters that go from endearing to twisted as fast as you can adjust the tracking. What’s a Quadead Zone? It’s not the Forbidden Zone or the Twilight Zone. There’s always hope that we could get a sequel with Turner having written a sequel script for both these and Black Devil Doll from Hell (if the rumors are to be believed).
Video made by the VHS Collector for the song used in the movie.
The classic slasher tale emerges in this exquisite little gore piece considered by many to be ever-so-shocking. 555 is a bloody gem of a movie that continues to titillate audiences to this day especially with the cover being especially explicit, flying in the face of some of the finer covert art examples of the time. Sure it suffers from some amateurish acting and the gore budget was bottom of the barrel, but truly adds to the fun. Massacre Video resurrected this title for a DVD releases. Get your hippie blood bath on with Wally and Roy Kozz.
4. Black Devil Doll From Hell
Ah, the other work by Chester Novell Turner that will live in infamy. Black Devil Doll From Hell is a sexy, doll horror picture that trumps the basic trend of many SOV flicks, it isn’t a true slasher movie. There’s nasty language, brilliant one liners and a plot that is so off the wall, you have to watch it to enjoy it. Of course this isn’t a scary horror picture unless doll horror really creeps you out. The effects of the doll are actually quite good even if some of the violent moments leave a lot to be desired. Black Devil Doll From Hell was released back in 1984 and was recently put on DVD alongside Tales for the Quadead Zone (also on this list). If you didn’t learn to leave the dolls in the curio shop from Trilogy of Terror, then you’ll learn it in beautiful, seductive jive talk from BDDFH.
5. Splatter Farm
The Polonia Brothers were some fairly busy filmmakers in the late 80’s creating such classic horror pictures as Feeders 1 and 2, the recent release of Lethal Nightmare and Hallucinations as a double feature Blu-ray as well as their lost movie, Channel 13, coming form Subrosa. The VHS box that I remember the best is Splatter Farm from 1987 and is featured here as a strong effort into the SOV world. This was an early work for the Polonias as they were mere teenagers when they put it together. These fellas are still making horror to this day with plenty of recent efforts. Splatter Farm carries its name well with low budget splat and a rather original story line involving two guys, an aunt and her love for the dead. Be aware that this flick doesn’t get much love save for collectors of VHS being completely enamored by the cover box. It is available from Camp Motion Pictures on DVD.
6. Violent Shit
You never forget Violent Shit or its sequels or the iron masked cover with the word SHIT on the box. I got into Violent Shit around the same time I started watching Traces of Death and Faces of Death and Many Faces of Death. In fact I found Violent Shit right next to those titles at Long Valley Video, all in the same section. Violent Shit was out of place of course as was runner up for this Top Ten List, Burning Moon. I showed my sister Violent Shit, and I’m fairly certain she has firmly blocked it from her mind. Director Andreas Schnaas has made quite a few horror pictures including three sequels to this gory, cannibal gem. The box set of all these releases has reared its head on a VHS re-release in recent years. For those of you interested in checking out something more from Schnaas, Antrhopophagus 2000 is hitting DVD from Massacre Video in the coming months. Violent Shit is also slated to be remade with a 2015 release date. For a movie with zero budget, Violent Shit has come along way riding solely on its expletive laced name and reputation as one of the rebellious German splatter films that dared to say “Fuck You” to the strict censorship laws in Germany.
Do you know how far cover art featuring a Canadian with a strange mustache, holding a very… long… drill can go? Things isn’t exactly my favorite SOV release, but it’s important because it stars Amber Lynn of Friday the 13th The NUDE Beginning fame. This was her “mainstream” debut. Things has an intriguing plot that drives it forward and has made it a fan favorite among SOV fanatics. What lurks inside your wife’s belly post-fertility experiment? Hell, I wonder what’s in there after she hits the drive-thru at Taco Bell. Things was actually shot on Super 8 and 16m but has gained such traction with the shot-on-video crowd that it’s been de facto accepted into the fold. Intervision put out a DVD several years back, a solid release. This is Andrew Jordan’s only directorial effort, however its writer Barry J Gillis is infamous for directing Wicked World and Killing Spree, cult favorites.
8. Video Violence
Not many shot on video efforts earn a sequel. Video Violence has one and is a great deal of fun. It actually has the added bonus of capturing the video rental era in addition to providing a backwoods style horror tale of a couple who wanders into the wrong town and are turned into a snuff film. Fast forward to our trusty video store clerk receiving an unmarked tape in the drop box. Video Violence further than snuff legend while preserving, as a time capsule a piece of VHS history. It’s shot on a camcorder, by former video store clerk Gary Cohen. Camp Motion Pictures released the DVD some years back. The cover art for Video Violence is almost more memorable than the movie itself, displaying iconic gory imagery, perfect for today’s retro fan boy.
Formulaic slasher film? Sure. That’s Sledgehammer or at least it would be if it wasn’t made in 1983 during the wave of hack and slash pictures. It’s an early shot on video effort from David Prior who is also responsible for Killer Workout and Deadly Prey. Despite its modest budget this picture actually get acclaimed by reviewers who are in the know, folks who “get it”. The cover art is iconic and mysterious and the whole thing is just a great big, sloppy mess. Sledgehammer was released on DVD by Intervision a few years back.
10. Death Nurse
Remember Crazy Fat Ethel from the 70’s? Well NURSE Ethel is here to bring her own breed of carnage to this shot on video spectacle (also receiving a sequel!). Criminally Insane was shot many years early by Nick Millard who revives one of his favorite actresses in Priscilla Alden to reprise her role (or create a new Ethel). It’s actually a strong release that is disturbing, well throughout and above its budget (a rarity when it comes to SOV titles). Both Death Nurse and Death Nurse 2 were released in a limited run by Slasher//Video on DVD. Don’t scratch your head too long trying to figure out the tie in between Death Nurse and Criminally Insane; it’s simply not there save for some ancillary connections. Don’t blink. This movie is only 60 minutes long!
Honorable mention Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales which is a new entry into the SOV family coming about several years ago. Dickie created some memorable special effects, said the word “fuck” countless times and told some fun, anthology style tales. He continues to make movies, collect VHS and promote physical media. The VHS edition is solid out, but you can still grab the DVD and enjoy the movie that Dickie built. Briarwood has a bunch of great SOV releases. Check em all out and support the next generation of camcorder enthusiasts.
We also encourage you to seek out labels doing small batch releases of SOV titles or movies that pass for SOV (as so many do). Our friends at Vultra Video often bring these to VHS AGAIN (think of it as reanimating the Mylar). Expect a work upon small batch VHS companies in the near future but don’t wait to support Vultra and the like.
This my be a Top Ten list but in all actuality there were a number of movies that could easily have slipped into this list on merit, lack of merit, cover art or rarity. We encourage you to share your favorites.