Do you remember VHS tapes? I do but then again I am old. For all those people born in the 2000’s it might be hard to believe but before films were on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray or some super quick downloadable format you can play on your phone, big chunky black video tapes ruled the planet.
With their glorious gratuitous cover art spread over the bulky boxes for every nostalgic memory I have of watching some crazy cult horror or blissfully browsing my local Blockbusters I also recall toying with the tracking to overcome the warped image on my favorite well-worn films and the furious frustration a chewed up tape caused when it got caught in the player.
When DVD came along and VHS died I quickly replaced my movie collection although from recent reports it seems perhaps I should have kept a couple of my horror tapes. In 2017 the top ten rarest VHS‘s included 1964 Sci-Horror The Flesh Eaters (Knockout) priced at £800, 73’s Lemora, Lady Dracula (IFS) and 74’s zombie horror Don’t Open the Window (Films of the 80s) both priced at £900 with 75 shock-doc Journey Into Beyond (Citycenta GO) selling for £1,000 and Italian Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (JVI) from 1974 valued at around £1,500. Who would have guessed that?
One man who would is Ennio Midena the lead character in Videoman played by Stefan Sauk who not only still obsesses over VHS and most definitely knows what every tape is worth but has also amassed an insane collection over the years while alienating everyone else in his life.
Fanatical about video tapes especially Giallo, Ennio is convinced the format will have a renascence arguing if vinyl came come back why can’t VHS. His delusion coupled with his drinking problem and the fact that he is heading for eviction lead to him spiraling down into depression a trip temporarily halted by the discovery of a super rare copy of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie which he discovers he can sell to a mysterious collector for an insane amount.
However Ennio is not a man with much luck and with the arrival of the shady buyer looming he realises the tape has been stolen. With no clues and no hope Ennio starts losing his grip on reality and the classic Giallo killer from his favorite films seemingly starts stalking him. His life and collection on the line he desperately starts hunting high and low for the priceless prize, running into Simone (Lena Nilsson) who he shares not only a love of the 80’s with but also an addiction to alcohol.
The first feature of Swedish director Kristian A. Soderstrom who also wrote the movie Videoman is a strange blend of deep human drama and horror movie nostalgia that shouldn’t work but actually does. Hooking you in with humor the tone and characters get progressively more serious as the story moves forward uncovering issues of loneliness, addiction and the perils of social media and allowing us to mull over some of the major problems of modern society.
The principle concept is that both Simone and Ennio have let their hobbies overcome them. Consuming everything around them and cutting them off from everyone they have become simply ‘that 80’s woman’ and ‘the video man’ allowing people to judge and ignore them without really getting to know them. Ironically the more meanness they both meet the more they retreat into their obsessions in a sad self-perpetrating cycle of isolation.
In many ways the pair’s nostalgia is as much a crutch as the alcohol they consume and they are apparently totally unaware of the negative effects either has. Can they find salvation in each other or more self-destruction? This is the important question with the missing money making video tape a mere McGuffin to move the story forwards.
That’s not to say Videoman doesn’t honor the format and time period its central character is fixated on and there are some excellent scenes at Ennio’s fellow VHS enthusiasts homes which are equally impressively packed with tapes including an extensive argument on Argento vs Fulci.
The other homage comes in Ennio’s paranoid nightmares which blend classic Giallo tropes with elements of Cronenberg as the hapless anti-hero is pursued by a black gloved killer and sees himself trapped inside his own TV.
A flawed film about flawed people Videoman is still a poignant character study about how hobbies can devour our lives and separate us from making vital real life connections with those around us especially in this virtual world where everything and anything has its own worldwide fan base waiting for us to dive in and devout our lives to our obsessions.