'Videoman' Ennio ("like Ennio Morricone") ran a successful VHS store in Sweden in the 80s and 90s. Now, in the digital age, his collection is lovingly housed in a basement lockup, and he dreams of reopening a rental store. Preventing him from realising this dream (and the commercial black hole such a venture would represent) are his already-precarious financial situation, his loneliness, his alcoholism and his general inability to interact with other humans on a cordial level. When he finds a rare VHS of Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters ('Zombie' in Sweden), a mysterious collector called Faceless offers his ten grand for it, which will cure at least one of his ailments. A burgeoning romance with fellow alcoholic Simone offers a chance for further redemption. But when the video disappears, Faceless becomes a faceless threat to Ennio's life, forcing him to assume the role of amateur sleuth in order to recover his video, save his life and get(ish) the girl.
This is a film which is great on paper, and good on screen. It's certainly not going to appeal to everyone-characters discuss the replacement of Rosalba Neri with a body double for a masturbation scene in Slaughter Hotel (incidentally, this is also one of the scenes that doesn't really scan-there's no way Ennio wouldn't have noticed the fake Rosalba, even if he doesn't care for her [you can add insanity to that ailment list]!), and the merits of Fulci versus Argento as directors (with Luigi Bazzoni offered up as the king of all Italian directors, which probably does somewhat reflect his recent posthumous renaissance). The film doesn't take the time to try and educate the uninitiated-either you're a fan of cult cinema who's on board from the start, or you'll be left to fend for yourself. There's no definition offered as to what a giallo film is; such knowledge seems to be a requisite for those who watch the film.
Or is it? Because running alongside this story of a VHS obsessive is a love story between two broken alcoholics, which sometimes plays like something you'd see in a Lukas Moodysson film. Simone almost certainly wouldn't know a giallo from a Nero (little joke about colours there), although she does love the past (and booze). Her and Ennio bond by virtue of their shared feeling of being a fish out of water in the modern world, and they fetishise the past and its paraphernalia (VHS in his case, her hairstyle in hers). Simone does straddle the divide between worlds past and present though, with her obsession with garnering likes on Facebook and Instagram-her Fb cover photo is a bizarre ode to ancient Egypt (and, yes, Ennio does attempt to get her to watch Manhattan Baby, only to be foiled by her laughably owning a multi-region DVD player). Even though both characters sublimate their nostalgia into their specific obsessions, the general theme of two middle-aged characters feeling adrift in a modern world, and lamenting the passing of their better, more youthful days, is a surprisingly deep touch for a genre film (or, at least, a film about genre).
The search for the missing videotape does sort-of take the film into traditional giallo territory, even if the list of suspects have, for the most part, not been previously seen by us, so it's impossible to get fully involved in the investigation. There are a couple of attempts at tense stalk-and-slash scenes, but the film isn't quite up to the task-I'm not sure whether the direction or technical credits are to blame, but the only times the film really seems micro budget are during these scenes (and a love scene between Simone and Ennio). Part of the problem is definitely a use of slo-mo which comes with too much of a digital sheen, but the style of the film, which is pretty modern throughout with some interesting lens flaring going on, also changes in these moments, which are almost shot according to an 80s template. Even the score, which is generally excellent, fails to really generate any suspense when called upon to do so.
The modern day fan culture is an area which is rife for exploration and unpicking, and I'd go so far as to say that the depiction of Ennio as a misanthropic loner with no social skills isn't that overblown when you look at some of the behaviour certain people exhibit online-I think personally that a huge proportion of cult cinema fans are lovely people (certainly everyone who I've met at film festivals over the years have been unfailingly polite), but there are a not insignificant minority who obsess over minor details of films (eg the body doubling of Rosalba Neri is Slaughter Hotel), and who seem to think that DVD and Blu ray releases exist solely to please them-just go to the Fb page of any distribution company after they announce a month or season's slate of releases and see how many people feel the need to complain that none of the upcoming films appeal to them. This sense of entitlement, and selfishness, is certainly in evidence in Ennio's character, as he seems to consider his friends to be nothing more than viewing partners for his giallothons. But the shoots of redemption, as always, spring up through the love of a good (ish) woman.
Overall this isn't a brilliant film. However, it's clever, stylish and has some effective dream sequences, yet is also far more rooted in the real world than almost any other film I've covered here. The giallo elements ebb and flow, and the character of Faceless and the assistant aren't really satisfactorily integrated into the narrative (and the 'big reveal' explanation is painfully lacking), but there's plenty here to enjoy nonetheless. The acting is also top-notch, and how often can you say that about a giallo? Or a film which is kind-of a giallo?