The haunted videotape
HAVE YOU heard of the Curse of the Videotape? If you don't watch at least one videotape a week, you'll die within seven days or your DVD/VCD player will go bust (which amounts to the same thing if you're a movie addict). ``Hey, but that's only a movie," you're saying. The one called "The Ring" where people die after watching this very sinister, grainy, unlabelled videotape. But you see, I don't think it's just a movie. I'm beginning to become really scared that if I forget videotapes and VCRs and switch over totally to VCDs/DVDs, the Curse of the Videotape will fall on me. And beware all of you who have also forgotten videotapes the same curse will visit you.
"The Ring," written by Ehren Kruger, directed by Gore Verbinski and based on a 1998 Japanese horror film called "Ringu," is the first film to comment on the death of the videotape culture. If you've seen "The Ring," you're probably wondering what I'm going on about since what you saw was a chilling, eerie ghost story but nothing about the death of video culture. But if you watch it carefully or think about it, you'll see that that is the film's subtext. Let's look at the plot: Naomi Watts plays a journalist investigating rumours of teenagers dying because they watched a certain videotape. Supposedly, after you watch it, the phone rings and a child's voice says: "You'll die in seven days."
Eventually she locates this tape and watches it. She slides it into a VCR and presses `Start'. The whole tape lasts for just a few minutes: It begins with the hiss of static of an empty screen. And then in grainy black and white tones, a menagerie of seductive to nightmarish images: a woman in a mirror, a man at a window, a ladder against a wall, a centipede crawling from beneath a table and "the ring", a circle of light resembling the corona of a solar eclipse. The images aren't really frightening as much as creepy and eerie.
I won't be giving away anything when I say that part of the solution to lifting the curse of this killer videotape is that you MUST make a copy of this tape. The only way a person will NOT die after watching this videotape is if you make a copy and pass it on to someone else, who in turn must make a copy and pass it on.
What a bizarre, amusing and irrelevant solution to what is essentially a ghost story (a truly frightening one at that). But that's the hidden subtext in "The Ring."
As in David Cronenberg's "Videodrome", videotapes become living objects, take on a life of their own, become viruses. At one point, the heroine dashes this videotape to the ground, screaming: "What do you want from me? Tell me! Tell me!" Well, what IT wants, folks, is not to die, not to be forgotten, not to become history. Not to be replaced and taken over by the DVD! By forcing every person to watch a videotape, this killer videotape in "The Ring" is making sure that videotapes will not be condemned to oblivion.
Videotapes and VCRs revolutionised movie-watching. You could even say that they were responsible for making a film culture the first ever film culture, actually possible. Because you could own (and rent) films and watch them over and over again at home, it made movie buffs and film scholars out of us.
Where would an entire film generation be without videotapes? Hideo Nakata, the director of the Japanese original, "Ringu," is obviously the child of the videotape generation which would be the late 1970s and the 1980s.
Nakata dreamed up this wonderful way of fusing a contemporary fable of urban paranoia a videotape that haunts with a folkloric Japanese ghost story.
The beauty of "The Ring" is that you don't have to get the subtext or even really notice it it is a satisfying horror film in itself. But it becomes more fun if you catch the subtext.
"Ringu" makes a fetish out of the videotape and VCR: there are loving close-ups of the VCR in action. Different VCRs are shown, including that old, sturdy top-loading one which is a relic now.
One character gets into the bathtub with a VCR and kills himself by electrocution.
A video-geek is seen going through the VCR ritual as he watches this possessed videotape: rewind, fast-forward, pause, freeze-frame and track. The Japanese version ends with a close-up of a videotape that says: `Copy.'
Interestingly, the Hollywood version is scarier. Few adaptations can top the original and Verbinski's does. Curious about the original "Ringu," I managed to get hold of it on DVD.
The moment you insert the disk, the TV screen fills with static. Then the menu springs up and you see `Play Movie' and `Extra Features'. I pressed `Enter' on `Extra Features' and one of the options that come up is that you can watch just the killer videotape (called "Sadako's video").
I pressed `Enter' on Sadako's video and this is what came up next: "Warning: The distributors are not responsible for damage that might occur to your DVD player or PC on playback of the following sequence. By selecting the `I Agree' button, you can view the video, by selecting `I Decline', you can return to the menu."
Amused, I was about to press `I Agree' when I paused. Just what if... something happens? After all, I'd just bought my DVD player. My fingers hovered over the remote for sometime and then I hit `I Agree.' Tring, tring. Excuse me, while I go get the phone.
Visuals by Netra Shyam
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