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Old VHS tapes have never been creepier in trailer for James Wan's Netflix horror series 'Archive 81'

Be kind, rewind.

By Josh Weiss

Children of the '90s, beware! Netflix is here to make VHS tapes spooky with the first trailer for Archive 81. Loosely based on the podcast of the same name, the Sinister-meets-Last Night in Soho television series (out Jan. 14) hails from executive producer James Wan (director of The Conjuring and Malignant). Written and executive produced by Rebecca Sonnenshine (a veteran of shows like The Vampire Diaries and The Boys), the project was first announced in October of 2020.

Archive 81's dual narrative follows Dan Turner (Mamoudou Athie), an archivist tasked with restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from 1994. The tapes contain a documentary project from filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi), who was investigating a dangerous cult linked to the Visser building prior to her terrifying demise. Dan soon takes an unnatural interest in the case, forming a supernatural connection with Melody that may help solve a spine-tingling cold case nearly three decades in the making.

“I'm obsessed with mystery box shows, the kind that lead us down a rabbit hole into a strange, dark world," Sonnenshine, who also directed four episodes, said in a statement. "Archive 81 is a character-driven, deeply emotional story about the nature of art, faith, and the search for identity — all wrapped up in a frayed blanket of existential dread. The show also gave this film geek the chance to unearth all sorts of forgotten media formats as found footage, which results in a unique, visually-textured story that is both beautiful and terrifying.”

Watch the trailer below:

According to the official production notes, the minds behind the show were influenced by such genre classics as The Shining, Suspiria, Rosemary's Baby, The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Fringe. In addition, they "extensively researched the many complex and often eerie themes the series touches on: night terrors, paranormal belief and its relationship to schizophrenia, Pagan rituals, hallucinogenic properties of mold, 20th century Spiritualism and quantum physics, among many others."

The cast also features Martin Donovan as Virgil Davenport, an eccentric billionaire who hires Dan; Matt McGorry as Mark Higgins, Dan's podcast-obsessed best friend; Julia Chan as Annabelle Cho, Melody's best friend and a fierce protestor; Evan Jonigkeit as Samuel, a charming professor who most likely leads the aforementioned cult; and Ariana Neal as Jess, an enterprising ninth-grader with a mysterious ailment who strikes up a friendship with Melody.

Michael Clear, Rebecca Thomas, Antoine Douaihy, and Paul Harris Boardman serve as executive producers alongside Wan and Sonnenshine. Rob Hackett, Evan Bleiweiss, and Michael Narducci are co-executive producers, with the original podcast's creators — Daniel Powell and Marc Sollinger — on board as co-producers. 

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (the duo behind Synchronic) and Haifaa Al Mansour (Motherland: Fort Salem) directed the remaining four episodes. Sonnenshine's writers' room includes: Paul Harris Boardman (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Michael Narducci (The Night Manager), Evan Bleiweiss (The Vampire Diaries), Bobak Esfarjani (WandaVision), and Helen Leigh (Outcast).

Archive 81 premieres of Netflix Friday, Jan. 14.