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WRITTEN REVIEW: Video Tape Terror

I couldn’t tell you how many hours of my life have been spent pacing the isles of the local video rental. Looking for something new and interesting to take home with me. Something that would live up to the artwork on the cover of the box. And of course, creeping on strangers while I wait in line -- critiquing what videos they have chosen to take home for themselves. They never pick anything good. “Jerry Maguire, are you kidding me?!”

As a horror fan, there are fewer things that can be more rewarding than an anthology film. Reminiscent of television shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone in the way that interesting stories from all ends of the spectral are blanketed together under one common title.

Thought the years, anthology films have shared with me some of the greatest stories I’ve ever been told. They are like an old friend who periodically visits with tales of their travels. Regardless the budget, a studio picture or a backyard indie, the stories are what always shine.

These stand alone shorts as well as the nostalgic love for movie rentals and practical special effects are what inspired writer and director, Nick Mendoza to make Video Tape Terror. A three story anthology film that covers the supernatural and cold blooded murder.

The film begins in much the same way making of the film did for Nick. A middle aged man, Brian, happens upon an old VCR and several unmarked tapes. Curiosity takes over him and he brings the tapes home to see what lurks on them.

While on the phone with a friend he expresses his fondness for the films of the video era and decides to make a horror movie himself, no matter what his girlfriend, aka The Dream Killer, has to say about it. But first, the unmarked tapes. This is the story that book-ends the other shorts of the feature. I’ll get back to it in a bit.

The first tape is titled Operation Wandering Soul. It is about Mark, a retired veteran who served during the Vietnam War. Recently he has been experiencing terrifying nightmares that cause Mark to relive parts of his war time experience. The night terrors remind Mark of a man who died as a result of decisions he made during the war. To help deal with the dreams and the growing guilt that Mark feels, his doctor prescribes an antidepressant. This combined with a pain killer Mark takes for an old back injury, cause him to have time traveling seizures. Once Mark gets his bearings and understands what has happened, he plans to use this drug educed ability to prevent the death of the young man in ‘Nam.

The second tape is titled The New Computer. It is about Michael, a twenty something who was recently involved in a automobile accident that resulted in the death of a young boy. As he attempts to work on some programming project, he is interrupted by a hacker who prods Michael about the boys death. As their conversation continues Michael learns that this hacker isn’t a stranger. It is the boy himself, hacking from beyond the grave.

The film comes to a close with one final visit from Brian. His “dream killer” girlfriend comes home, interrupting his DIY movie making. Her nagging pushed Brian over the edge. He snaps, killing her, and hides her body in his tool shed.

Soon after he discovers that the shed is unlocked and her body is missing. I don’t want to spoil a surprise ending, but Brian spends the rest of the film in a paranoid frenzy, fearing that either someone found her, or she is alive and coming for him.

Video Tape Terror is remarkable well made and well acted for a film with a minimal budget. The film’s tell was how much of these stories are carried with dialogue. Fortunately the actors are strong enough to pull this off. I was drawn into these stories, especially Operation Wandering Soul. It reminded me of sitting around the campfire with my family, telling scary stories.

Each of the three stories has it’s own twist ending that leaves the stories satisfying. This is something that reminds me of The Twilight Zone. I’m always happy when things remind me of The Twilight Zone. I won’t go into too much detail about the endings. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who are interesting in seeing it for yourself.

My only complaints are about minor things that don’t effect the overall film, but if addressed could have made the film stronger. Operation Wandering Soul ran a little over 40Min., which is a significant amount of the films running time. Because of this the film feels unbalanced. If maybe this story was trimmed down a tad and that time devoted to a fourth story OR was spent developing the “book end” story about Brian killing his girlfriend, it would play more smooth.

When all is said and done, Video Tape Terror is a wonderful piece of indie horror that I recommend all fans of anthology films to pay a visit. I only wish that Mendoza had a slightly larger budget. The love for practical special effects is mentioned in the film, but it is unfortunate that there weren’t any in the film. If Video Tape Terror did have a fourth story, and it involved some sort of monster or gore it could have easily increased my excitement for the film.

In the advent of the internet, CGI and Netflix, the movie experience for many long time horror fans has lost it’s spirit. Movie rentals once created a community of like minded individuals. Time spent hunting for videos and conversing with other video viewers has been replaced by several seconds of online searching in the home, alone. Questions like; “Look at that monster! How did they do that?”, are now followed by “Computers, Grandpa. It‘s always computers.”. In many ways, being a cinephile has lost it’s human spark. The convenience of modern movie watching has forced us to conform to the machine.

Nick Mendoza is one of those filmmakers who understands what makes the films of the video era so unique. I’m glad someone is making a conscious effort to break free from the machine and make a suspenseful and interesting story that isn’t dependent on the strength of it’s CGI. It just goes to show what you can do with a good story.

When ever indie horror is as good as this, I breath a sign of relief. So many people have the enthusiasm and the ambition to make their own horror film, but so few are as enjoyable as Video Tape Terror. I can’t wait to see what Nick Mendoza does next. For more about Mendoza and Video Tape Terror, check out his website HERE.


★ ★ ★




Harvey Greer said...


On a related note, don't you own like 50 copies of that movie to donate to the guys at Everything Is Terrible?