Videoman (aka Videomannen)
2018 Sweden Directed by Kristian A. Söderström
Screening 26th August at FrightFest 2018
Okay, so alongside the totally awesome Luciferina
(reviewed by me here
) was easily one of the best movies playing at FrightFest this year (out of the five I got to see, at any rate). Set in contemporary Sweden, the plot follows a few days in the life of one Ennio Midena (played by Stefan Sauk), an Italian immigrant who absolutely loves the giallo and horror movies of his country and who used to own the best VHS rental shop in Sweden during the 1980s and 1990s but, since the decline and near disappearance of VHS and Betamax, now gets by as best he can. Ennio is a composite based loosely on a few of the director’s friends (Söderström told us this before the screening), one of whom is indeed called Ennio Midena. The film is not of the horror genre, it’s a comic/social drama piece infused with a big shot of imagery and stylings borrowed from Ennio’s favourite genres and it’s a good fit. Indeed, in his introduction and discussion with the director, before the film unspooled for its appreciative audience, Alan Jones commented that it was a film which mixed the styles of Dario Argento and Mike Leigh and, while I can completely understand the sentiment, I’m not 100% sure Leigh (or possibly even Argento) would be the absolute best comparisons here, although Argento certainly gets more than his fair share of references littered all over this wonderful movie.
Anyway, the plot set up is simple... Ennio Midena has obviously seen better days and he lives in a basement flat in a replica of his old video store in which houses his collection (which he still rents tapes out from, if people meet his exacting standards in terms of the quality of their equipment). He is pretty much an alcoholic and doesn’t suffer gladly the fools who disagree with him about various movies (and even formats... I’ll get on to that in a minute). One day, however, he is faced with an eviction notice which means he’ll soon be homeless unless he can pay all his debts within two weeks. He doesn’t know how to face this new challenge but, while on the lookout for more films for his huge VHS collection, he meets a lady called Simone (played by Lena Nilsson), who is hoping to unload an old box of videotapes to anyone who wants to pay for them. In the box he spies an extremely rare, early edition of Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi
(aka Zombie Flesh Eaters...
reviewed by me here
), branded by a specific company in a specific box, which means something to collectors of such material in Sweden. Actually, I know there’s a similar equivalent in the UK when it comes to the second hand market for old, pre-censored VHS tapes branded by certain companies in specific packaging, so I can relate to this film being used as a plot device here, especially since Zombi
was one of the ones which got banned in the UK over the whole Video Nasties furore of the 1980s and then later released in a much censored version in this country.
Anyway, Ennio offers the lady to buy the tape but she wants to get rid of the whole box in one go and, since the price is ludicrously cheap concerning the title in question, he takes it all off her hands. Within a very short amount of time though, through the ‘collectors’ grapevine, a legendary and mostly anonymous internet VHS dealer named after Jess Franco’s movie Faceless
rings and says she is interested in the rare Zombi
tape. Enzo says it’s not for sale but she offers a ludicrous amount of money for it... enough for Ennio to finally pay off all his debts... and arranges to meet with him a few days later to collect the tape and give him the money. Then tragedy strikes, as Ennio returns home later to find that his copy of Zombi
has vanished from his collection, even though it was in one of the special sets of shelves which he keeps under lock and key. What follows for the remainder of the film is a truly brilliant and hilarious romp through the underbelly of old school VHS collectors comprising various friends and acquaintances of Ennio as he tries to figure out who has stolen his tape and how he is going to get it back before his meeting with Faceless.
Meanwhile, he is also trying to keep up a semblance of a social life going and, for the first time in a long time, the similarly alcoholic Simone may be a good, potentially romantic partner for him. Will things work out for this unlikely pair or is there more danger lurking around the corner?
Well I’m obviously not going to tell you but I will say that Videoman
is a true gem of a movie for people who are familiar with the strange ‘collector types’ who live out their passions through their hobbies while also giving some nice little nods to giallo and horror as it goes along.
For instance, after a prologue scene which we kind of see from a different point of view later in the movie, we are properly introduced to Ennio as he is sitting with his feet up on his desk, facing the front of the camera with both feet taking up a large part of the foreground right of the screen. He takes first his right leg and then his left leg down and we see his foot has been hiding from view a big bottle of J&B whisky. It’s a great little visual joke for lovers of Italian exploitation film as there seems to be a bottle of handily placed J&B in every giallo and police procedural movie going... so J&B spotters will love this moment. In fact, there aren’t too many scenes in this movie where Ennio isn’t seen to be necking down some J&B straight from the bottle so admirers of Italian film should feel right at home with this movie from the outset.
Also, the various houses and apartments of Ennio and his fellow ‘collectors’ are filled with various posters and locaninde of famous (and some possibly not so famous) gialli and horror movies of the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, there’s even a copy of one of Alan Jones’ books on Dario Argento in one of the early scenes in the film. Not to mention a ‘reflection in a pool of blood moment’ towards the end of the movie which deliberately mirrors David Hemming’s bloody reflection at the conclusion of Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso
(aka Deep Red,
which I reviewed here
There are some great, very true to life ‘collector’ moments in the movie too, which ring true to being closely observed slices of real life. The argument, for example, as to who is the greater director between Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I mean, obviously it’s Argento but Ennio is insistent it’s Fulci and uses the diversity of genres Fulci has worked in compared to Argento to try and make his point, insisting Argento only makes films in the giallo mould. Which leads onto another nice moment where his friend brings up Argento’s Suspiria,
which is obviously a horror film, as an example to the contrary. Ennio’s flat reply that it’s just a giallo with a witch in it is... very disappointing, hilarious and just plain wrong but it’s definitely the kind of argument I’ve seen before. I wonder what would have happened if Ennio’s friend had brought up Five Days Of Milan
or Argento’s involvement in helping write (along with Bertolucci), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West
but... I guess Söderström wisely didn’t want to stretch the point too far and lose the humour of the scene.
The same scene has a great moment where the two are watching a Rosalba Neri movie with hardcore inserts and are arguing about whether Neri is actually masturbating in the close up shot. It’s proved, via a scar, that it’s not Neri’s body in the shot and this scene is also interesting because it shows the usefulness of DVD and Blu Ray technology as opposed to the detail you couldn’t see in a paused VHS playback. Of course, Ennio sneers at his friend for not watching VHS films anymore (although his friend still collects them... he just doesn’t watch them) and I’d have to say that, on this one again, I’m not in Ennio’s camp on this as DVD and Blu Ray technology is way better, for all kinds of reasons, than having to watch video cassettes. Ennio is also perplexed that another collector catalogues his films by director rather than distributor and... yeah... I’ve been in those kinds of arguments too (although I would have to stress that I’m not a collector, like the characters in this movie).
Yet another thing I can relate to is when another friend of Ennio’s, who is married, has been reigned in by his wife and doesn’t have the time, or permission, to watch what he really wants to watch... and also Ennio comments that he’s not even allowed to hang up his old movie posters in the house he shares with his partner. Oh yeah, I’ve made those observations myself to people in my life and it seems to be a universal truth that, if your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t share your movie passions, those cool movie posters won’t be seen on your walls again.
I could talk about this kind of stuff for a while but, before you get the idea that this movie is just a bunch of hollow references holding a semblance of a story together... let me assure you that it really isn’t. The film is a nicely observed piece of genre tinged comedy with some goriness on occasion and some lovely moments, such as some dream sequences, dotted around. One such moment which occurs more than once, where Enzo finds himself trapped in a television set, is nicely shot and also later used quite brilliantly by being in the same composition as the sleeping Enzo, with the dream Enzo on the screen winking out of existence into static as the sleeping Enzo wakes up and opens his eyes. There’s some really nice stuff in here and I think genre fans who are collectors themselves or, like me, know people who think they are collectors, will get a lot out of this movie.
And the ending ‘punch line’ to the mystery of where Ennio’s Zombi
tape has actually gone will probably ring a lot of bells and, I have to admit, I found it hilarious. I don’t want to tell you too much about it but I will say that I have known people who have done the same thing and the ‘incident’ which I won’t relate here has almost taken on the mantle of urban myth in terms of drunken VHS collectors over the years.
) is a truly delightful film and one I would recommend to pretty much anyone I know who is into these kinds of genre movies. I can’t wait to watch this one again and I have it on good authority that it will be getting a UK release at some point in the near future (although I’m not allowed to mention which label has acquired the rights for a UK release since... well, since I’m not supposed to know and somebody let it slip out in conversation by accident). However, if you’re in the UK and are wanting to see this one then that’s very good news. Now if only someone could secure a UK distributor for Luciferina,
that would be my two favourite films of this year’s Fright Fest taken care of.
FrightFest 2018 @ NUTS4R2
The Most Assassinated Woman In The World
Hammer Horror - The Warner Brothers Years
Videoman (aka Videomannen)
Crystal Eyes (aka Mirada De Cristal)