His shrine was incomplete without it. An online handle on the message board who claimed to be a girl sent him a private E-mail telling him that she had the Nasty, but it was too valuable to be sent in the mail so would he want to drive to the town where she lived and retrieve it from her there? This had the chance of ending very badly, but he needed the tape, had sought and desired and bled for it nearly all of his life. It would never be uploaded to streaming video. Once the last copy vanished the content on the tape inside would stop circling the great cultural drain and just fall into a time before creation. Obtaining it would mean a seven-hour drive, to a designated meeting place at night. He quickly accepted “her” offer, even though he demanded to Skype with her and she refused, asked for her phone number and was refused. She wrote how she was “too far gone” to be seen. She was beyond the point of talking on the phone with anyone, perhaps ever again. All he got her to share was the dubious information that she had traveled hill and dale to go to a liberal arts school, and since graduation had decided to stay in the small college town. She came across the tape with “great difficulty,” and, out of her entire collection, both hard copy and torrent, she wanted to be free of it. She was charging him a song for it, too. So he booked a motel and since it was The Holidays anyway he didn’t have to put in for a day off at work. He began the trip early, blue fuzz above the mountains, and checked into his overripe hotel room that evening. They were scheduled to meet at the town Gazebo the very next midnight (“ask around, or you’ll probably just see it as soon as you arrive”). He fell asleep in this new foreign America, dreaming of the tape and Sabine and the trap he may have just willfully entered.
The tape was called several things, colloquial brands from the UK underground. Sabine was the Dutch blonde featured across its 45-minute length. She died of an apparent suicide in the late eighties, the time he was born. He only knew her through crude video captures, Sabine with the horses and dogs, Sabine with the fat old men, and worst of all because of its temporary solace, Sabine roaming fields in a stained orange dress, allowing daffodils to proliferate in her hands during the ethereal glide. He first read about it in 6th grade, inspired to look up “Video Nasties” on Altavista after seeing the word in the Psychotronic Film Guide. It was listed on a survey of other Nasties, The video’s title struck him because it wasn’t “nasty” like Bad Taste or I Spit On Your Grave. As he read the details he knew he was too young to be reading them but he didn’t stop. His mother was working a second job as a Community Center lifeguard and wouldn’t be home for another two hours. Somehow it had already grown dark. The site had a picture of Sabine from the tape, a cropped image of her lying on the ground, head to the side, eyes closed as thick knives of hay knelt abrasions across the skin of her face and bare shoulders.
There were only a half-dozen copies in rumored existence. He knew that once he saw the Nasty (if she even had it in her possession, if “she” was even that) it would be a grainy blip compared to the vast, writhing possible videos he played in his mind over and over again throughout the long years. Sometimes the unseen was better. He’d been burned in the Tape Trading days by the likes of Gestapo’s Last Orgy and Cynthia’s Revenge, pupa with the reputations of fully-grown monsters. This was different. It didn’t tell a fictional story. Sabine played herself, more or less: a farm girl who took solace in her animals when human beings hurt and betrayed her. The gang rape was supposedly first, trailed then by thirty minutes of enthusiastic zoophilia. Some versions had credits-all bullshit names, “Petulia Kelly,” “Michael Goodheart”-but the commonly circulated Nasty cut just ended, no, just closed. Now he had to see it just to see it, because he’d seen everything else, and this was the tape that inspired him to see everything else, in the early days thinking Well, I’ll never see that.
Who the hell was she? The name on her E-mail was just Fucked. You have 1 new message from Fucked.
He woke in the afternoon before the meet and decided that if he stayed in the motel he would fall asleep and miss it, and he didn’t trust this cheap establishment with a wake-up call. He drove around. A pleasant town, appropriately festive despite the strange absence of snow. Blocks of homes were auto-erotically choked with Christmas lights. The sky was pitiful and grey. This was why he activated primarily during the night. No, there was a little snow, under an inflatable rubber snowman welcoming all-comers to a house on some hill.
He got a burger at an overly set-designed, “hippie-themed” restaurant in the center of the town. Young people sat around him, bottling themselves within psychedelically-dyed tablecloths and benches soaked with drizzle outside. He realized when he gave his order that those were the first words he had spoken to anybody in months.
Ignorant as to his being illegally parked or not made his walking tour of Main Street hurried and brief. The locale was a tourist fly-trap, stores of weavery and caffeinated beverage enclaves everywhere. The women were almost all beautiful. How could people live here? But, he realized, he could live there himself if his room was uprooted and shipped over. There was more traffic than the town seemed poised to handle. It was gonna be ok though. Night was what the place was secretly built for. Night was what the “girl” was built for. She had the Nasty because she didn’t live in this bunker of daylight. Did she look pretty when she slept? If her mouth languished open, was there a thimble of drool tiptoeing to the pillow? Who was lying next to her to catch it?
He wondered what the breath of the girl who owned the Video Nasty smelled like. He wondered if she tried to be graceful and ladylike or if, in shunning the sun, she had let her hair grow down to the floor. He went back to the motel and slept. He felt unclean in the light.
There was no snow. Brief exhalations of cold windchill were the only giveaways of winter. An unknown source played a maudlin instrumental of “Silent Night” that moved him despite himself.
He saw nobody at the gazebo until he saw her, leaning against the southern darkness, and when he got a little closer she stepped into the illuminating amber slicked across the wooden, danced-on floor. Moles of acne pocked a face curtained by hangman 70s songwriter dirty blonde hair, a face unmasked by slaughtered bangs. They had already run together from point to point: the physical meeting felt anti-climactic in a way. He was relieved the text was accurate, unless he was about to be knocked unconscious by a stealthy co-conspirator. He braced himself for some hideous impact.
He saw her bag at her boots. She did speak. “I would have suggested we meet at a video store but the last one closed about a month ago.”
“Mom and pop?”
“Yea. It’s being renovated into something to do with Mackintosh Computers.” Her voice was stout, husky; it verged on downloading the entire woman full. “They began selling off their VHS inventory and I made out with as many as I could even though I don’t have a VCR. Or at least I didn’t, back then.”
A red pickup truck drove slowly through the immediately adjacent street. He imagined the driver was out late to buy dog food, a late dinner for his basement victim.
He gave her a check and assured her it wouldn’t bounce. He would even go with her to the bank in the morning. “You don’t have to do that,” she said. “I believe you.”
She lit a cigarette. He tried to decipher indentations of the videotape inside her bag.
“Can I assume your real name isn’t ‘Fucked?’”
“You can assume that. I’m not going to tell you what it really is.”
“Fine. It would ruin the name I picked for you, on the drive over. There was just clouds over mountain. No stars. I picked a name for you then.”
She smacked her tongue and tapped slight embers to the floor of icy dust. “What name did you give me?”
She mouthed “O” and took a drag. “Not even close.”
After a few quiet minutes, a blast of wind rerouted smoke from her mouth to the ether park beyond. He asked, “Can I see it?”
“Didn’t you ever hear about not seeming too eager around girls?”
“I’m not trying to have sex with you.”
“No, you want this.”
She stepped it out, her stocking’d thighs shivering as she crouched, felt through the bag and pulled out the unmarked Nasty, boxed in the Marco’s Video Store package, gritty black plastic laced with a banner of animated movie icons (Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Marilyn, you know).
“I already wrote to you about this, but you’re wasting your time coming down here. The version that exists in your head is a thousand times more transgressive and horrible and positively turgid than the real thing, which is just…which is just fucking mush. It’s padded with endless cutaways of the Danish countryside. The actual, you know, ‘content’ is only sixteen minutes, and you can barely see it with all the 16mm blear.”
“I’ve seen the vidcaps. I know it’s a waste. But there’s an aura to this thing that accelerates the older and more exhaustive I become. I can watch it and move on.”
“The one dog doesn’t look happy to be there, but a hairy hand keeps pushing him back in. It’s like that part of Last House On Dead End Street
“You know that one? You’re a Roger Watkins fan?”
“I have two eyes and a heart, don’t I?” After this transaction, he would never see her again.
Was her life fated from the start to obtain the Video Nasty? He needed to know something. But he needed to know a few other things first.
“Are you on Filmpocalpyse? [best-kept secret obscure movie torrent site.]”
“I am. One of my uploads was that classic roughie, The Taking Of Anna.”
“I remember that. It was posted by ‘Fuckthead.’”
“That’s my name.”
“I left a long comment for you. I was TBater.”
Her shaking finger pointed his way. “You. You. That rant about George Payne was you! I loved that, dude. ‘Payne was the American God of hurt and hate. He got no pleasure from any of it.’ And here we are.”
They stood together, blank frames of web words developing in the stop bath of the actual.
"Why do you watch roughies? Why do you watch things like The Nasty?"
"Same reason as you, Kindred Spirit."
“How did you get Sabine?”
“When I was in the city, visiting my family at Christmas, I came across a 'Pocalypse thread about unavailable tapes…in retrospect it was probably started by you.”
“No, actually. I had probably already been kicked off at that point. I was a selfish Seeder”
“ I happened to be on very late and I saw something about a ‘Midnight Garage Sale.” Only 45 minutes from the city. ‘You never know what you’ll find.’ So I took my father’s car and drove to a perfectly normal-looking house in the suburbs, playing Swans the whole way down. Guy wasn’t kidding. The lights in the houses were off but the garage door was wide open, and there were about two dozen people milling around. Yes, the users of Filmpocalypse had skin and brains, I think I was the only woman. They were nearly all middle aged or young and withdrawn-seeming. SOme held hands. Two giant tables were set up in the garage. I couldn’t see his car anywhere outside. On the tables the guy had set up six crates, three on each table. Everyone was quiet as we browsed. The Master Of Ceremonies, if that’s what you could call him, was installed in the hallway by the garage, holding a clipboard that kept track of purchases and the value of purchases. Prices were negotiable based on rareness of the item. He was playing early Rod Stewart low on a 90s stereo. You know, that song they covered on The Office? ‘The handbags and the gladrags that your granddad had to sweat so you could buy.’
“When a browser picked something they wanted-most tapes were labeled but others were big fat mysteries-they consulted the M.O.C. and he let them into a little laundry room with a TV/VCR setup so they could see what exactly was on the unmarked tapes or so they could gauge the quality of whatever find they’d just found. I happened to reach into a crate and pulled out a naked tape. Something was queer about it. There was a paltry amount of tape in the cartridge. Whatever this was it wasn’t a feature. What, then? I started feeling the pulse of discovery.”
“I know how that feels,” he said, cancelling tears through every modulated blink.
“I snuck the tape into the back viewing room, making sure the M.O.C. was busy consulting with someone else. I popped it in and there she was, Sabine, carrying two barrels of milk across a field that tried to look bucolic but failed miserably. I made a sound you can only describe as a ‘gyelp.’ I quickly ejected it and, breaking protocol, slipped it in my bag. What would happen to me if they found out I stole? I bought two tapes, episodes of the Japanese ‘Rape Man’ serial, and quickly drove home. I had it. What else was happening in America at that time that was as important as this? I bogarted Sabine!”
From The Basement Tape, a work-in-progress memoir by the girl he called “Erin” (this section details an all-nighter watching Filmpocolypse movies with an ex named Doug):
Break Free My Chains! was released in 1978 by producer Harry Novac-his company logo, a kaleidoscope of multicolored letters spiraling and swirling to form his name, was the variant of image I previously thought was only accountable in dreams-and we chose it to be, in Doug’s words, the night’s “spooning a companion” film. That is, the movie you can watch without fearing sleep, because if the movie was a person you would share the lateness, kiss in the dark, skin pressing skin, having already made love in the wet hours before.
Racesploitation. There were many of those, offshoots of Exploitation, deeper roots into what Doug called “The basement of American Cinema.” Nunsploitation, Lezsploitation, Blacksploitation, Sexploitation. There were others, un-official categories invented by the collectors of torrent sperm. 42ndsploitation, vampsploitation, beastsploitation, rapesploitation. I could go on and on and on and on.
This one exploited race tension in a blood struggle between an African-American college professor traveling through Washington State with his family, and a bigoted millionaire named Harley Shaw who kidnaps Professor Carver’s family and uses them to resurrect slavery at his secluded Antebellum-style mansion. The daughter becomes his sex captive. Shaw verbally assaults Carver throughout, violates his daughter in front of him, uses him as a human ottoman, throws the family in cages guarded by his buck-toothed sons, whips him repeatedly while the Professor is chained up. Carver goes over the edge when he finds out that his daughter has been impregnated by Shaw, who plans to kills the child because he doesn’t want his family lineage to be “Stained.” Carver convinces his bruised, beaten, overworked family, plus two prostitutes Shaw kidnapped to start his “experiment,” to rise up against their oppressor, to break free of the mental and physical chains that bind them. Armed with working tools, cutlery, a wheelbarrow, the neo-slaves take out Shaw’s sons, while Carver faces Shaw, rifle versus scythe, white versus black.
“Give me your best shot, nigger boy!” Shaw takes aim.
“I might be your boy, but I’ll never be your nigger,” Carver says before throwing his weapon into Shaw’s neck. Arterial spray. We zoom out of the family as they embrace. The child incubates still. The End.
They traded up. He offered her a ride. She shrugged. As they drove he thought about what would happen if he let himself fall in love with her. He couldn’t succumb to that. She, “Erin,” “Fucked,” whoever, would be nauseated by the mere word. He wondered why he wasn’t, considering all he watched and was drawn to, but no, the word “love” didn’t sicken him, nor the idea of being involved, holding the warm body of someone you had fallen in love with.
He had it. He finally possessed Sabine. The shrine was finally a Shrine.
“I’m leaving here soon,” she said. “Going home. Good thing we caught each other when we did.”
He pictured the long, angry E-mail she would send, accusing him of gushing and making her uncomfortable. He could imagine the depth of his eventual fixation, the character flaw he resented the most, the thing that made him retreat from human relationships two years before. He shouldn’t have come here. All of his dread predictions would become events. He’d probably E-mail her the instant he got home, or try to kiss her after he parked outside of whatever home was hers.
From The Basement Tape
There was a movie from the depths. I’ll never forget it, it looked pulled from the ocean, it looked pulled from the ocean and angry to be alive. Women suffered. The movie stayed with their suffering until it went beyond drama, beyond the pale, until it became sad, the woman was in mourning for herself, her eyes died before she did and it was so sad. The face of the woman in the old horror film was Beethoven. They performed an operation on her. They cut into her. They knew what they were doing. They were stealing her blood. I had not slept for twenty-four hours. I knew how she felt. I felt a kinship with this victim. Hands manacled to a steel table. A soundtrack of library choral music. Hyena laughter from the overlord and his minions.
Dark Riding, Ozsploitation from the 1970s. A bickering, well-off brother and sister travel to their freshly deceased uncle’s mansion in the outback to secure their enormous inheritance. It opens with the murder of their other sibling in a car accident orchestrated by our anti-heroes. The two are incestuous. They have sex in the bed of the departed. Then doors start slamming. Things don’t go according to plan.
Rape Cartel. The screams of the victims of sadistic Mexican drug lord Fernando Rodriguez scorched the morning. Robert Forster is a DEA agent hell bent on stopping him after Fernando gets a hold of his wayward daughter. Gunfight in blazing streaks. It’s difficult to stay awake through the filler that includes Forster’s unfortunate, mincing Gay-stereotype lawyer.
Manson Family Secrets is of the rankest sub-genre, that of Tatesploitation, or Skeltersploitation, alleged home movies from The Ranch, doe-eyed, stoned, very poor actors playing Charlie, Tex, Sadie, etc. 16mm “Found” footage. This tries to capitalize on the urban legend that The Family made snuff films before the Tate-Labianca killings. This was exacerbated by Ed Sanders’ book The Family, which I have around here somewhere. Charlie sits in a circle with the other fakes. He drones on about Helter Skelter and the “Negro Uprising.” Sound pops.
And there was a short subject, Knowing Your Fellow Nudists. And a cartoon, “Dancin’ Demons.” We began an import post-apocalyptic revenge thriller, Bronx Kill Squad 2023, directed by “Eric Martin,”-really Enzo Santini, who made hundreds of film, none by his actual name-but it was too early, the pace too plodding to sustain us aloft. We decided not to give in. At Doug’s basement sink we splashed our faces with water. We high-fived and thrust our foreheads together. We’d make it through. If one fell the other would become their designated rescuer.
“Do you want to come back to my hotel room and watch this with me? Might be better if you don’t watch it alone, you never know.”
The polite wince on her face was the sign, the clear betrayal, that she knew he’d let himself become a yearning, messy, heartsick human being like those common others below the hill where she made a home. She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door. She patted the Nasty, by itself in the backseat.
“Enjoy,” she told him.
Hey. “Hey!” She stopped while walking across the front lawn to her apartment house, half of which was covered in tarp and parasitic scaffolds for the sake of renovation.
She told him without having to speak: “No. Don’t. Let me go.”
He said, “Goodnight, Erin.”
She waved and disappeared between the folds and knotty contours of the haunted house. He didn’t drive away. One dim little light came on in the top left corner. Tree branches sloped across the window, Oz talons protecting her. Before he took off for the street that would eventually connect to a highway, her light blinked off, replaced by the slightest blue glow of a computer screen.
So what becomes of you my love?
Sabine hung herself, either in 1986 or ’85. The Nasty was the only thing she left behind, and even that is more myth than object. In my worst moments, those late-night depths of self-loathing and other Fun Shit, I wonder if I could ever be as brave as her, brave enough to debase myself doing something that gave me a cent of pleasure in one otherwise horrid life, brave enough to end that life when I felt it was time to do so. Unlike Sabine, I plan to carry on, but I can’t watch her anymore. I can’t be burdened with perpetuating her legacy in my lonely apartment anymore. I’m going to sell the tape. Not to the highest bidder, but to someone even more wretched than myself. Someone who needs her more than I do.
There’s a minute that I’ve watched countless times I’m surprised I haven’t wrecked the tape. It’s towards the end. She’s just finished blowing the dog, a Great Dane, and she masturbates it until the animal ejaculates on her tits. Sabine lets out a relieved, exhausted sigh (at least I think she does, the tape is silent) and lies back on the bed of hay. The dog shakes and runs off, probably to eat a long-promised post-coital treat. The camera should cut then. It stays rolling. It zooms into Sabine’s face. Her eyes are lodged deep inside a previous year. Her face is affectless, until she smiles wide, broadly happy, eyes stapled to the ceiling of the barn. Is she happy for now, for what just transpired? Or did she manage to successfully uproot a memory that was good and fine? A day of solitary rock climbing as a girl? A first kiss from a sturdy hitchhiking boy? I don’t know. The Nasty ends there. Once I froze the image at the exact moment her zombie smile pierces everything, pierces the zoophile loop that always holds her, pierces the room where a lost girl who hates herself is watching thirty years on. The bottom of the screen shook with a distorted strip of static tracking. I lay on the bed, pulling up the blanket and hugging my pillow. We didn’t take our eyes off each other. I watched Sabine’s ambivalent mirth until I passed out myself.