What to Read Next

Tale of the Tape: The Best Viral Videos Within Movies

July 18, 2014

Viral videos often unleash a plague of trouble for the poor souls who wittingly or unwittingly star in them. That’s certainly what happens to the sex-starved married couple played by Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz in the new Jake Kasdan-directed comedy Sex Tape. In an effort to recapture the passion, energy, and creativity of their pre-marriage lovemaking, the duo put the video camera on their iPad to the test. It’s all fun and games until that private tape almost leaks out to the public, threatening to ruin their sterling reputation among their family, friends, and employers. Had Diaz and Segel seen the damage wrought by the following compromising and/or just plain disturbing videos-within-movies, they probably would have passed on the sex tape plan and just grabbed some ice cream and fired up Netflix like a normal married couple.      

American Pie (1999)
Tale of the Tape: Putting the still-young webcam technology to good use, Jim turns his room into a supposedly private peep-show booth, with Slovakian exchange student Nadia providing the adult entertainment for these hormonal teenagers. But then, Jim is persuaded by his pals to co-star in this video, rather than simply be another spectator. The results aren’t pretty to watch, though they are pretty funny.
Seen By: Just the entire student body at Jim’s high school. 
Creepiest Moment: Jim’s oh-so-’90s taste in music is more disturbing than his flailing dance moves.
Fallout: For the U.S. citizen: The usual abject humiliation in the face of one’s peers. For the foreigner: Instant deportation.

The Ring (2002)
Tale of the Tape: Nobody knows who made this scratchy, spooky black-and-white video, or who starred in it, or who released it into the wild. What they do know is that watching it means certain doom. And while you’d think that would make them reconsider popping it in the VCR, you’d be wrong. 
Seen By: It’s fairly easy to tell who has seen it—just check their pulse. If it’s still beating, chances are they haven’t hit the “Play” button yet.
Creepiest Moment: Take your pick; every frame is creeptastic. The one that gets us is the old nail-through-the-finger trick.
Fallout: The viewing experience always ends the same way: with a foreboding phone call, followed by seven days of nightmares and hallucinations and, finally, death.

Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Tale of the Tape: Why watch ordinary Hollywood movies when you can see the authentically homemade “Sweded” versions in this whimsical comedy about a failing video store making do? After all, those big-budget films only offer attractive actors, effects-heavy action sequences and exotic locations. The extremely-limited edition “Sweded” cuts feel like they were filmed in your backyard…because they probably were. 
Seen By: All of the residents of Passaic, NJ who haven’t yet upgraded from VHS to DVD.
Creepiest Moment: The knowledge that “sweded” has since become a legitimate meme.
Fallout: The videos are seized and destroyed by the copyright police, but the fledgling Passaic film community endures anyway, coming together to make one last production.

V/H/S & V/H/S 2 (2012 & 2013)
Tale of the Tape: This anthology horror franchise is basically one long viral video, with each individual short containing something that’s not for the squeamish. (The third installment, due out later this year, even includes Viral in its title.) Much like the tape in The Ring or an actual virus, these clips really shouldn’t be passed around.     
Seen By: Instantly forgettable characters that are part of the instantly forgettable framing device.
Creepiest Moment: The escape from the Indonesian cult is the freakiest, wildest short the series has yet produced.
Fallout: We’re still waiting to see who the mastermind behind these various videos are. In the meantime, the videos both depict — and cause — a lot of damage.

The Campaign (2013)
Tale of the Tape: As the war between Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis’s rival political candidates intensifies, things get personal in a big way, with Ferrell seducing his nemesis’s wife and filming the whole encounter for use in an ill-advised (and probably illegal) campaign ad.  
Seen By: First just his political operatives and then the rest of his beloved state of North Carolina.
Creepiest Moment: Ferrell’s Burt Reynolds-from-Cosmo pose.
Fallout: A distraught Galifanakis shoots his opponent in the leg, while a vaguely guilty Ferrell has his campaign manager quit on him. Remarkably, they’re both still considered electable! 

Veronica Mars (2014)
Tale of the Tape: Thanks to the spy-cams of Neptune’s not-so-finest private eye Vinnie Van Lowe, the public is able to see that a celebrity like James Franco really is just like us…in that he also has trouble fitting into skinny jeans and coming up with words that rhyme with “orange.” 
Seen By: Anyone with access to YouTube.
Creepiest Moment: The scary plausibility of the notion that Franco sits around his trailer rhyming words with “orange.”
Fallout: In addition to providing endless minutes of amusement, the Franco videos eventually help ace sleuth Veronica connect the dots of the murder case she’s working and crack it wide open.   

Photo: © Everett Collection