The difference between 80’s nostalgia and 80’s aesthetic in a movie is one of identification. When some character walks into frame wearing parachute pants and a Members Only jacket and talking into a cell phone the size of a toaster while Men Without Hats blares on the soundtrack (to the extent that Men Without Hats can blare), it’s the movie’s way of saying “this is the 80’s in a nutshell. Remember the 80’s? They were pretty wacky, weren’t they? Not like these days, where everything is totally normal!”. It’s sort of like the hacky stand-up comedian who does a 20 minute bit about going to Taco Bell at 2 in the morning so every dumbass in the audience can go “hey, I’ve done that too! HA HA!”. It’s a cheap, uninteresting way to evoke recognition.
However, I’m all for employing styles and artistic aesthetics that happened to have been popular in the 80’s and have since been jettisoned by most as archaic or tasteless. One such movie that does so is Video Diary of a Lost Girl. Although it is ostensibly set in modern day, it’s constructed from the aesthetic rubble of 80’s pop culture; neon fluorescent lights, garish tiger prints, VHS noise, etc. If I may take a shot in the dark (not the Ozzy Osbourne song you dumbass), It’s biggest visual influences might be Stephen Sayadian’s Dr. Caligari, his surreal, neo-German expressionist, cocaine-fueled paean to cracked eroticism, and Liquid Sky, which is too awesome to even attempt to describe. Either way, I’m glad to see this sort of thing pop up nowadays. Just because you live in modern times doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to indulge in relics of a tainted past.
But, as usual, I’ve gotten ahead of myself folks. Louise (Priscilla McEver), named after famed silent film star Louise Brooks, appears to be a normal modern girl, what with her brow furrowing deadpan glance and emotionally distanced one liners and hip 80’s-horror t-shirts, but is actually a 100 year old succubus that has to have sex once a month and kill her lover in the process, black widow style (well, succubus style). There are probably all kinds of Freudian layers there, but I’m more of a Jung guy, so you’ll have to sort it out yourself. Also, Louise is more specifically a Lillin, which is based on the myth of Adam and Lillith (although I guess it’s not actually a myth within the reality of the film), and there are also allusions to the female birthing cycle. So, there are more layers there if you happened to ever take a class in feminist mythology, but I was probably too busy furiously studying for my Existential Crisis Management class while hopped up on a near lethal combination of caffeine and Kierkegaard-ian dread.
Anyway, Louise works at the hippest adult video store on earth (well, an alternate earth that still contains video stores), which happens to also carry other thematically relevant titles, such as My Demon Lover and Pandora’s Box (starring Louise Brooks). Maybe the audience is expected to assume that My Demon Lover is actually a porno flick and not an obscure romantic comedy from 1987 that stars Scott Valentine of Family Ties fame. As a borderline Scott Valentine apologist, I take the gravest offense at this insult to my intelligence, but I’ll let it slide for now.
Charlie (Chris Shields) is a frequent customer (and usually the only customer), employing his annoying charms to pester Louise into something approaching puppy love (if one of the puppies was a monster chick, if that makes sense). He is assisted by the fact that he is some sort of reincarnation of Louise’s true love, her first and only husband. This is Louise’s second chance at love, but this succubus thing is getting in the way. Relationships to her are merely corpse-enabling opportunities (to put it passively), not a wellspring of love and the sharing of emotions.
Maybe that sounds like a monster themed romantic comedy, like the aforementioned My Demon Lover (starring Scott Valentine as the boyfriend who leads a double life as a demon), and it sorta is but mostly isn’t. Louise’s dilemma sounds like a fantastic version of a regular romantic comedy, where a forced roadblock stands between two lovers destined to be together. However, the movie is mostly artifice, unlike My Demon Lover or Teen Wolf or something similar, which takes a relatively realistic world and inserts a single fantastic element.
I think Video Diary works on some level as an uber-stylistic version of this, where Louise’s true identity is considered fantastic within an artificial world, if that makes sense (Charlie doesn’t remotely believe that she is actually a succubus). However, this relationship feels like a short film that is augmented with other scenes that feel tangential. The movie begins with a lengthy dream sequence of Adam and Lillith, and there are scenes of Louise arguing with other Lillin clan members and attending a sacrifice, as well as many movie clips (public domain stalwarts like Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, Nosferatu, and even the out-of-left-field Savage Weekend) and scenes of Louise and her previous Charlie hanging out in a graveyard.
Oh sure, these all sound relevant on paper, even if just emotionally, but it’s a long time into the movie before their relationship really develops, and even longer until the audience is really asked to emotionally invest in the movie. It plays like the first half is a series of symbolic precursors to the meat of the relationship in the second half, but you haven’t yet figured out what the movie is really about.
Still, there is always something cool and unique going on in every scene. Maybe the movie is best viewed as a world to explore rather than as a variation on the romantic comedy. I’ll say this much; Video Diary of a Lost Girl is probably the only movie you’ll be able to see this year that will make you feel as if you’re seeing the world through window shade glasses after having injected your eyeballs with a cocktail of cocaine and colored phosphors. Kids, there’s no need to do drugs when movies can do drugs for you.