’Toban Listens: Video Palace

A video store you wouldn’t want to rent a movie from

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For those who grew up with VHS tapes, there’s likely a nostalgia that sits in your brain and triggers when you hear the sound of a VCR humming to life. 

There’s also a good chance that, like me, you got your VHS tapes second-hand. 

I remember watching my parents after they purchased a haul from a yard sale. They would inspect each tape to see if it matched its case, and if it didn’t, they would throw it away. No logo, no go. 

There was an understanding that whatever was lurking on the unverified wound-up strips of tape was a potential threat, one that children were certainly never meant to be exposed to. 

The idea of something hiding on a videotape is not unknown to the horror genre. Films like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu or David Cronenberg’s Videodrome use the fear of seeing something you aren’t supposed to in the glow of your television as a core part of their storytelling.  

Video Palace: A Shudder Original Podcast, created by Nick Braccia and Michael Monello, tries to shape those ideas from horror cinema and the experiences of VHS-era children who grew up to be tape collectors into podcast form. 

The story is about Mark Cambria, a videotape collector who gets involved with an urban legend about the mysterious “white tapes.”  

After watching one of the white tapes, Cambria starts talking in his sleep, which leads him and his partner down the rabbit hole of the tapes’ history and to a renowned video store that is somehow connected to all of it. 

The podcast has 10 episodes in total, not including bonus episodes. The story is meta in the sense that while it is fictional, it’s suggested to be tied to the real world. 

In episode one, titled “Somniloquy,” Cambria talks to different people about the white tapes. One of them is a curator at Shudder, a horror movie streaming website that is also the home of the podcast itself. 

Full of synth music reminiscent of ’80s horror, this podcast is not the only one to be made with ’80s vibes or disturbing videotapes, but it captures the aesthetic in an organic way that scratches a specific itch.  

Video Palace is strongest in its first six episodes, when the suspense and storybuilding is at its best. It is after this point that I started understanding what the finale was leading up to and was disappointed. 

The biggest flaw with the podcast in my opinion, could perhaps be chalked up to the simple fact that Video Palace debuted in 2018, a year that, despite containing some fresh perspectives on horror in films like Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Matthew Holness’s Possum, still felt like it hadn’t quite broken free from a doomed cycle of repetitive horror tropes. 

While Video Palace didn’t quite break free from this cycle, it came so close to that nostalgic feeling and ’80s aesthetic I’m obsessed with that I ended up forgiving its faults.  

Regardless of its shortcomings, I recommend Video Palace to anyone out there with a deep fondness for VHS tapes, horror and nostalgia for analogue. The first half of the series is so fun that I firmly believe it’s worth your time.

Check it out and remember: Be kind, rewind.