AmericasDeadliestThese days it’s difficult (if not impossible) to recall just how fresh and innovative this shot on video feature was back in 1992. It was an early attempt at found footage moviemaking, and still holds up reasonably well.

Shot on video (or SOV) horror movies were a nineties staple. AMERICA’S DEADLIEST HOME VIDEO was one of the most interesting of the lot, with writer-director Jack Perez using his camcorder visuals and nonexistent budget in startlingly innovative fashion by presenting the movie as an actual home video, foreshadowing the found footage genre exemplified by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. It also had a movie star (of sorts) in the lead role: Danny Bonaduce, cast against type as a normal guy menaced by psychos. Despite its qualities, however, the movie wound up suffering the same fate of most early-nineties SOV features, falling into near-total obscurity.

Bonaduce plays the supremely dorky Doug, who impulsively hits the road with his prized video camera after catching his wife canoodling with another guy. Doug’s video footage, which comprises the movie, is initially pretty aimless…until he inadvertently films some people—the psychotic Vezna, the seductive Gloria and the sociopathic Clint, who calls the shots—pushing a car off a cliff. Unfortunately the three miscreants catch sight of Doug, and force him to tag along on what turns out to be a bloody crime spree.

The bloodletting begins in a gas station, where Clint masterminds a hold-up and Vezna shoots the station manager. The following day Vezna ties up and pistol whips a guy on a beach, and that night the gang rob a convenience store. Following some firearm practice at a shooting range Clint makes Doug hold the gun during a liquor store robbery, which goes haywire when the store clerk pulls out his own gun. A subsequent video store hold-up is even more disastrous, resulting in the killings of a teenage girl clerk, a security guard and the store manager.

A bloody home invasion follows in which several more innocent people are shot. It’s here that Doug finally turns the tables, grabbing Vezna’s gun and taking off with Gloria. But Vezna and Clint are in hot pursuit, as is a clueless police officer. All are in for a surprise.

The idea of casting Danny Bonaduce as an innocent man at the whim of psychopathic killers seems like a severe bit of miscasting (if not a bad joke) these days, although Bonaduce is actually fairly strong as the hapless Doug. The other lead actors aren’t bad either, particularly Mollena Williams as Vezna and future MAGNOLIA star Melora Walters as Gloria.

The home video feel is convincing, with the standard no-budget movie shortcomings (muffled sound recording, underlit visuals, amateur performers) actually working to the film’s advantage by enhancing the sense of reality, and unlike many of the found footage opuses that followed, the camera shaking is kept to a minimum. Even the simulated violence, the major area in which most such films fall short, is well executed by oft-ingenious means—a girl shot in the face, for instance, was played by twins, one of whom sported carefully applied gunshot make-up and took the place of her sister as the camera panned away.

The proceedings are well paced and engaging throughout, with only a lengthy sequence in which Clint commandeers the camera and ties up Gloria slowing things down. There’s also a fun twist near the end in which the characters run into a rival video crew filming a program patterned after COPS, back when that program was the major representative of reality TV and movies like this one were without precedent.

Vital Statistics

Randum Film Group/Video Vigilantes Partnership

Director/Screenwriter/Editor: Jack Perez
Producer: Michael L. Wynhoff
Screenplay: Jack Perez
Cinematography: Bill Francesco
Cast: Danny Bonaduce, Mick Wynhoff, Mollena Williams, Melora Walters, Gretchen Bonaduce, Addison Grant Kerr, Michael S. Thompson, Lauren Campedelli, Brenda Schaff