Video Hate Squad! THE TOWER

Zack debuts our new VHS-oriented column with a look at the Canadian killer building cheapie THE TOWER!

NEVER FORGET! This new movie review column celebrates the power, glory and untarnished majesty of the TRUEST of all home video formats: V! H!! S!!! Video Hate Squad exists to champion and/or destroy movies that are ONLY available on VHS, each title having NEVER been released on DVD (yawn), Blu-Ray (bleccch!), streaming (frrrrrt!) or, in many cases, even 35mm film! These treasures only exist in one incarnation, and if you have the fortitude to shove them into your VCR, you’ll be transported to worlds you may not survive. From explosive back alley action epics to camcorder-shot horror gems to made-for-TV pedophile hellwreckers, Video Hate Squad holds an endless supply of black plastic rectangles and a knife to your fucking throat! JOIN US OR DIE!!!

Dir. James Makichuk / 1985

The Video Age was birthed in the diminishing shadows of the ‘70s exploitation era. Kung fu warriors were exchanged for cocaine-smuggling ninjas. Afro vigilantes gave way to post-apocalyptic cyborgs. Bikers and long-haired hippie goons were obscured as nerds and new wavers took the spotlight. This fresh slew of stereotypes arrived alongside new technology that allowed entrepreneurial auteurs to cash in on burgeoning cinematic fads, and it wasn’t long before the brand new straight-to-VHS market was revolutionized/glutted with shot-on-video productions.

Canada’s Emmeritus Productions may not have been on the front lines of this revolution, but they did excrete a respectable handful of the most ambitious and abusive camcorder epics of the age. Founded in 1984 by TV-gardening-show-host-turned-producer Lionel Shenken, the company immediately established a winning formula:

1) Spend nothing.
2) Hire nobodys.
3) Shoot immediately.
4) Sell to anyone.

The feature-length exercises were always completed in exactly 25 days and quickly turned over to Canadian TV as well as a few foreign territories. Some even found their way onto home video, their creatively disabled graphic design a warning to any prospective renters. But as a reward to those of us witless enough to take the plunge, the company’s stunning cheapness was occasionally backed by accidental innovation. (For more on the label and their output, read the excellent article HERE.)

The Tower showcases Emmeritus’ crippled touch at its creative apex. Though many of the company’s other releases followed typical action or horror templates, this claustrophobic scifi/horror technodrama wanders blindly through its own constricted universe. A universe where an autonomous telephone receiver leaps off a desk and fires a lazerbolt through a man’s leg…where a stripper slips into a mechanized trance to recite passages memorized from the dictionary…where a toupee’d grandfather and a sultry kidnapper are digitally vaporized while having fully clothed sex on a xerox machine…

Crazy? Crazier still is the fact that the film’s lead character is the tower itself. An automated highrise falls under the control of its central computer, a highly advanced system named L.O.L.A. When it/she realizes that human body heat can be transformed into raw energy, L.O.L.A. begins to covertly absorb the employees and residents whole, each disappearing in a static haze until only a few victims-to-be are left to ineffectively battle for their lives.

Against all odds and aesthetics, The Tower works. Where most ‘80s cheapies would provide a buffet of sexually hyperactive stereotypes for the slaughter, the building is instead populated by unexpectedly unique dopes. By the time L.O.L.A. has whittled the roster down, we’re left with middle-aged self-loathers, elderly grumps and a wise-cracking advertising executive who may or may not be a robot. Sure, they may not be actors in the Shakespearean sense, or even the Good Burger sense, but the cast is likable. Even the evil computer is given some sympathetic moments. After all, her murder spree is committed in the name of energy conservation. As far as I’m concerned, this makes Canada’s most lethal machine way less villainous than a goddamn RedBox.

Some would say that the office-building-sucking-human-life storyline is thinly veiled symbolism for the rigors of adulthood. One character even states, “My dad used to say that the real world is just a dark alley filled with spiders and snakes.” And yes, having a grown-up job in a big fancy building is some truly tragic bullshit. But to me, The Tower is just an enjoyable shot-on-video movie about a computer that kills a bunch of people. If you need fancier justification to enjoy a movie like this, get the hell out of my house.

(Special thanks to Evan Husney for making me track this tape down.)