The videotape as a plot device

Videos spell trouble. That seems to be the message when filmmakers point a camera at a camera or put a cassette in a character’s hand. And there are quite a few such movies lately. Distrust of images pervades more than Wag the Dog and The End of Violence; in several other films, videotape invariably unleashes a chain of events that ends in destruction, death, and other painful erasures. Bring these home at your own risk.

SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989) Graham (James Spader), a loner who gets women he meets to talk about sex on videotape, arrives at the home of his college pal John (Peter Gallagher) and intrigues both John’s wife, Ann (Andie MacDowell), and her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who is John’s lover. Graham tapes Ann, Ann tapes Graham—and when the video-induced truth telling is done, John ends up sleeping alone.

SLIVER (1993) A creepy New York landlord (William Baldwin) secretly records the goings-on of his tenants—including those of his new girlfriend (Sharon Stone)—and then watches endless loops of them from his inner sanctum: a home-entertainment center that’s like a cross between the Batcave and a showroom at Circuit City.

MONEY TALKS (1997) An on-camera spot by a crusading Los Angeles television newsman (Charlie Sheen) catches small-time criminal Chris Tucker as he pulls a ticket-scalping scam at a car wash. Once busted, the con lands in prison and becomes part of an escape by a Belgian terrorist group.

LOST HIGHWAY (1997) A couple (Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette) receive a series of anonymous, very personal, and progressively creepier videotapes on their doorstep that mysteriously culminates in footage of the two asleep in their bed and the husband murdering his wife. Eventually, a white-faced death’s-head figure (Robert Blake) wields a video camera. It’s the Grim Reaper as grim taper.

KISS OR KILL (1997) An Australian couple’s (Frances O’Connor and Matt Day) happy life of duping traveling businessmen comes to an abrupt halt when one victim dies, sticking them with a video of a popular sports star seducing a little boy. With cops and the jock in pursuit, the thieving pair take off into the outback.

TRAINSPOTTING (1996) When the home video Tommy (Kevin McKidd) shoots of his girlfriend Lizzy (Pauline Lynch) and him making love is stolen by his buddy Renton (Ewan McGregor), she breaks up with him—and Tommy, the only clean liver in a gaggle of Scottish heroin addicts, turns to the needle.