Friday 2 January 2015

VHS (2013)

Director: Scott Bekisz
Star: Michael Carlson
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
I got a real kick out of VHS, but more because it brought back memories than new entertainment. It's not badly done at all, but it feels wrong because of a few choices writer/director Scott Bekisz made to age it. Mostly it aims to place us into a very particular moment in time, that moment in the late nineties as you unplugged your VCR and plugged in a brand new DVD player. As Bekisz would have it, nothing would be the same again, and we watch the unnamed character played by Michael Carlson as he experiences the magnificence of DVD extras and chapter advance. 'No tracking problems,' he enthuses aloud to himself. 'No generation loss. This is great!' I remember that experience well, but I also remember that it wasn't a one time change. Buying a DVD player didn't mean that my trusty Amstrad twin-VCR deck was retired. It stayed in use for a long while to play the tapes I still have. From what I remember, that was the standard action of film fans: keep the old, bring in the new. Unfortunately that messes with the point of this film.

The point here is that for this character, it's a one time thing. Even though he's clearly a fan of more out there material, based on the Italian horror movie he christens his DVD player with, Cemetery of Blood, he puts his old VCR and a surprisingly small box of tapes into a chest in another room. 'Good riddance!' are his last words to a format he apparently hated. I don't remember that feeling. Sure, things got better and I can look back at some of what I accepted with mild horror, but it was what we had at the time and it did the job. Maybe the reason I'm still here to remember that time is because I didn't do what this fellow did: insult his technology. What Bekisz puts him through is something vaguely akin to Cronenberg's play with the point at which people and technology meet. Certainly Cronenberg would do something similar to this, if he hasn't done it already; it's been a while since I saw Videodrome. The film's IMDb page suggests that this was done in 'the vein of low-budget 80's horror' and he's a clear influence.

The problem is that Bekisz didn't just want to tell this particular story, he also wanted to make it feel right and so he aged the image. While the music works well and the picture quality is highly appropriate, with the resolution not high and the focus intermittent, the aging is all 35mm. For a story that riffs on the idea that VHS isn't a dead format (or dead, period), it doesn't age like a videotape. Surely it would be far more appropriate to have tracking issues and fifth generation static rather than 35mm film wear. Maybe he just picked the filters available in whatever software he's using and multi-generational VHS copy wasn't there to choose. I got a smile out of the idea and I applaud as always the use of stop motion animation to make it all possible, but this nostalgic short didn't tap into what I remember and it loses out to no small degree because of that. How old is Bekisz? Inquiring minds want to know if he was there at the time.

VHS can be viewed for free on Vimeo.

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