Some look at the threadbare feel of microbudget cinema and are immediately dismissive. That washed out, shot-on-video look is immediately recognizable to children of the 80s and 90s, but for most it seems a world away from their idea of traditional cinema. Of course, it’s simply a medium for telling stories – and the best SOV films are able to transcend these technical limitations and present something truly special and unique. In recent years, even mainstream films have attempted to capture some of the grittiness of SOV, with anthologies like V/H/S and THE ABCS OF DEATH regularly embracing the style of the VHS era, and documentaries like REWIND THIS! and ADJUST YOUR TRACKING celebrating enthusiasts of video tape.
In the last couple of years even music videos have started to recreate the style of exploitation films of the 80s and the shot-on-video efforts of the early 90s. While MTV and music videos have always been on the cutting edge of style and visual trickery, it’s not uncommon to see music video directors reach into the past for inspiration – think of that awesome George Melies tribute in The Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight, Tonight” – and with the celebration of video stores and analog tape making the rounds, it only makes sense that it would bleed over into this form.
Don’t believe me? Check out this Diane Martel-directed video for Franz Ferdinand’s “Evil Eye”:
Pretty neat, right? Martel is the director behind the mainstream (and controversial) videos for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”, but here embraces her inner Todd Sheets to make an ultraviolent tribute to shot-on-video exploitation. In this age of information overload, where music videos get most of their attention online rather than on television, catching people’s attention has become more and more difficult.
But it’s not just big-budget, mainstream music video directors that are embracing the feel of VHS-era films. Check out this recent submission to the ABCs OF DEATH contest which works as a music video for Carpenter Brut’s song “Le Perv” and is filled with horrific – and sometimes campy – imagery reminiscent of both Italian horror of the late 70s and microbudget horror like NIGHTMARE ASYLUM.
And these videos don’t only pay tribute to the grotesque and colorful imagery of 80s and 90s horror; but sometimes – as in the case of the video for “Technicolor Dreaming” by Cardinknoxx – appropriate the posters and video boxes of classic exploitation: THE EXTERMINATOR, THE DEADLY SPAWN, KILLER PARTY; to make something entirely unique. Try and see if you can recognize all the different artwork used here:
Everything old is new again! And it’s not just music video directors that are finding inspiration in exploitation and grindhouse cinema. Check out electronic artist Umberto (aka Matt Hill), who composes – as he puts it – “soundtracks to films that don’t exist”, and whose work sounds a lot like the work of Italian film composers like Fabio Frizzi and Claudio Simonetti, with plenty of John Carpenter thrown in for good measure. Horror fans will want to seek out his album “Night of a Thousand Scream”, which was composed as an alternate soundtrack to Juan Piquer Simón’s classic video nasty PIECES.
In these two videos Hill’s distinctive sound has been paired with the striking visuals of no-budget German director Jan Schulze Beckendorf (aka Arche Noir) to create abbreviated horror films. Drawing from influences like ZARDOZ and Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS, Beckendorf has created some tight, intriguing imagery that pairs perfectly with the synthesized music.
Curious about the process that goes into making these videos? I’ve got an interview with Beckendorf dropping here that you should check-out. This might just be part of a temporary trend, but the amount of affection that exists for the 80s home video experience suggests to me that this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Expect to see more tributes to lo-fi film-making over the next couple of years.
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016