33-year-old Foone, a computer programmer from California, likes to buy random things at his local thrift store. That’s why, when he saw a VHS tape labeled only in sharpie, he got curious. "I threw it in the bag of stuff I was buying just to see what it was,” he said. There was something about this tape that gave off a mysterious vibe.
The tape was labeled simply “A Surprise!” in black handwriting, with a creepy smiley face next to it. It reminded Foone of the movie “The Ring,” in which a woman watches a mysterious tape and is hit with a curse. But what many people don’t know is that “The Ring” is based on a real urban legend.
According to the legend, three girls were having a slumber party and wanted to watch a horror movie. They drove to a video store, where they saw a dusty, unmarked tape sitting on the counter. The clerk said it was not an appropriate film for them. One of the teenagers decided to steal the tape while the clerk wasn’t looking. When they watched it at home, they got more than they bargained for.
When the girls put the tape into the VCR, the power went out. But the TV stayed on, showing only static. Then a woman appeared - a ghastly face with sunken eyes. She spoke out a curse, saying anyone who heard her words would be punished within two days. Then the screen went black. The girls were terrified. Two days later, they had vanished without a trace, never to be found. Could Foone’s tape contain something just as disturbing?
While urban legends are certainly intriguing, most people know they are heavily fictionalized. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real tapes out there containing powerful footage that has been lost to mankind. If someone were to find a tape like that, there’s no telling what impact it could have. Take, for example, the lost Pioneer tapes.
‘Pioneer 10’ was a space probe launched by NASA on March 3, 1972. It completed the first mission to the planet Jupiter and became the first man-made object to reach an escape velocity that allowed it to leave the Solar System. But an incident during its journey caused people at NASA to wonder about the existence of a new type of physics unknown to us yet.
In the early 1980s, navigators observed an abnormal deceleration of the spacecraft as it approached Saturn. They called it the “Pioneer anomaly.” Decades later, a team of researchers set out to investigate and find out its cause. But when looking at the files, they found that nine days of Pioneer footage were missing. And though it may seem impossible that NASA would let its files be found by random people, it’s actually not that far-fetched.
During the 70s and 80s, NASA auctioned off a lot of surplus items, many of which were scooped up by collectors. In fact, in 2015, more than 300 NASA files and tapes were found in a recently deceased man’s basement in Pennsylvania. So it wouldn't be a stretch to think one could end up at a thrift store. Could Foone’s surprise tape contain such valuable footage? There was only one way to find out.
Feeling the anticipation of his mystery videotape, Foone decided to record himself watching it. He connected his VCR to an old analog TV and put the tape inside. After a few seconds, the footage started playing… but it was only static. Foone’s heart stopped. The haunted tape from the urban legend also started with static. But what came next shocked him even more.
Music started playing. Foone saw the image of a young red-headed man, wearing 80s garb and dancing to the rhythm. It was the music video for Rick Astley’s hit single “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Foone stared at the TV, speechless. Suddenly everything made sense, but he still couldn’t believe he’d fallen for it.
“I was just shocked,” remembers Foone. He had been rickrolled, a term used for the popular prank and Internet meme. In what is typically called a “bait-and-switch,” unsuspecting victims are lured into clicking on a link purported to be something else, and then met with the Rick Astley video. It is widely known online, but Foone didn’t think he’d see it on a VHS tape.
“I had seen this joke been done before like 10 years ago on the internet. I never expected someone to do this in an analog form,” Foone said. Indeed, though Astley released the song in 1987, the meme originated well into the Internet era. The first instance of the prank reportedly occurred in 2007 on the message board 4chan. It quickly became an Internet phenomenon, and soon made it out into the offline world.
Popular TV shows like Family Guy and South Park have had episodes that feature rickrolling. Even high-profile figures haven’t shied away from the prank. In 2015, the Foo Fighters crashed a Westboro Baptist Church protest in a truck, with speakers blasting the song. In 2011, a group of legislators snuck parts of the lyrics into their speeches, which were then arranged together in a video. Even Astley himself has gone in on the joke.
During the 2008 Macy’s Day Parade, a performance by characters from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was interrupted by Rick Astley, singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” to enraptured crowds. Throughout the years, people have found many creative ways to sneak the song or its lyrics into unexpected places. But Foone’s VHS tape might be a first.
Foone’s video shows him throwing the tape in the trash after getting rickrolled. But actually, he kept it, and tips his hat to whoever made it, calling it “a very good joke.” “I don’t know when this was done,” he added. "This could've been done sometime in the last 10 years, so this is kind of a long con for the joke."