Books on Tape: Steve Carlson’s “Screaming in Analog”

Shot-on-video (or SOV) horror has seen a major growth in popularity over the last few years. Small DIY video labels have sprung up, launching re-releases of many of the most beloved SOV titles. The aesthetic shared by these movies has also seen a resurgence in everything from music videos to art installations. What is it about shot-on-video horror that resonates with certain people so strongly? Author Steve Carlson intends to explore the underworld of camcorder madness with his upcoming book “Screaming in Analog”, set to be published next year by The Critical Press. We spoke to Steve about how his interest in this subject came about, and why he thinks it deserves further examination.

Author Steve Carlson smiles for the camera.

Author Steve Carlson smiles for the camera.

How did you discover shot-on-video horror movies? What was your initial perception of them?
I first encountered shot-on-video as a teenager when I rented Attack of the Killer Refrigerator from a video store I was working in at the time. As you can imagine, that wasn’t the best place to start. (Though The Hook of Woodland Heights is kinda fun.) Random rentals led me to see a couple other titles (yay Shatter Dead! boo Woodchipper Massacre!), but I didn’t realize that it was an actual subgenre until a few years ago. Boardinghouse and Black Devil Doll from Hell are the films that hooked me – I’m attracted to the inexplicable, the unique and the totally daft, so seeing those two (within a month or two of each other, I think) got me fascinated. How many of these little no-budget beasts were there out there? And were they all as wonderfully nutty? So I did what I tend to do – I started making a watchlist of available titles. As I dug further, I noticed there tended to be a good deal of misinformation about what titles were and weren’t SOV. That turned into a desire to get the right information out into the world. Plus, I started noticing a certain narrative throughline in how the genre evolved. That’s what led me to the book.
Where it all began for Steve.

Where it all began for Steve.

There has been a swell of interest in these movies in the last few years. Why do you think these films are being appreciated now in a way they never were upon their initial release?
Well, the rise of VHS fandom in general has quite a bit to do with that, as does the tireless advocacy of sites like Bleeding Skull and VHShitfest. Plus, there’s always a certain strain of movie lover that’s always going to want to find something new and different, and shot-on-video is still interesting and relatively unexplored territory. But I think there’s something else there. I think the DIY nature of the Internet, its democratization of creation, has led people towards an interest in the handcrafted and the homegrown – the talented amateur, if you will. Burgeoning interest in shot-on-video films is likely in part an offshoot of that impulse; as digital video and tube sites have made non-pro filmmaking that much easier to both craft and disseminate, I think there’s a certain allure in revisiting the days when getting your film out into people’s eyeballs might mean mailing tapes from your house. (I like to imagine there’s a certain punk-rock defiant aspect to it as well, especially when you start to consider “re-creations” of the ’80s SOV style like Slaughter Tales and The Turnpike Killer. The liner notes on the CD release of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking declare, “The future belongs to the analog loyalists. Fuck digital,” and there’s a goodly number of young artists and fans subscribing to that decree.)
VHS release of the 2009 film The Turnpike Killer.

VHS release of the 2009 film “The Turnpike Killer”.

North America was a hotbed of SOV activity, but there were noteworthy camcorder shockers all over the globe, from Germany to Mexico. How much will be covered in your book?
While the American scene is my main focus, I do plan to cover as much as I can given the space I have to work with. Right now, I’m planning to devote a full chapter to the German scene, and I’ll touch on other works from other countries as necessary. (I’m especially intrigued to see if I can work the Russian-made The Green Elephant into one of the later chapters – it sounds intriguing.) I fear, however, I won’t be able to do justice to the Mexican scene, which really deserves its own book. But I’ll do what I can.
A shot from Russian film The Green Elephant.

A shot from Russian film “The Green Elephant”.

Horror was the dominant form explored by shot-on-video filmmakers, but there are a few scattered examples of other genres as well. Did you ever consider expanding your focus to include those?
Since horror was the overwhelming favorite of genres explored by SOV filmmakers, most of the interesting material lies there, which is to say: I hadn’t really thought much about covering, say, the smattering of SOV action films. Though my parameters for what constitutes “horror” are fairly wide – I’ve no problem including, for instance, Richard Baylor’s Cirsium Delectus or Bosko & Harold’s Girlfriends because of the thrill-kill subject matter, even though neither are traditional horror films. Likewise, Michael DiPaolo calls his gritty dramas “horror films,” so that’s good enough for me.
An example of non-horror SOV, Tim Ritter's "Dirty Cop No Donut".

An example of non-horror SOV, Tim Ritter’s “Dirty Cop No Donut”.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
If I can make my argument successfully, I hope to bring out that even in the least-explored corners of the cinema world, there’s thought and artistry and fascinating things to be found, things that people saw and took note of and maybe tried to do their own version of down the line. It honestly boils down to straight advocacy – these are not dead objects, they’re out there to be found and a lot of them have worthwhile aspects. If I can get even one person to take a look at, say, Red Spirit Lake, I’ll have done a good job.
Red Spirit Lake, by Charles Pinion.

“Red Spirit Lake”, by Charles Pinion.

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