Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Is VHS Dead or Alive?

If you remember the 80's and 90's, then you probably also remember video rental stores and all the nostalgia that goes along with them. One of those nostalgic things is VHS videotapes which filled store shelves before becoming obsolete due to a new format known as DVD. For a while VHS cassettes and DVDs shared the shelf space until the latter established itself as the superior format and completely took over. DVDs were less bulky, had better video quality and never needed rewinding.

The last major Hollywood movie to be released on VHS was A History of Violence in 2006. It was clear that VHS was dead and never coming back.

Or is it?
There seems to be a recent, albeit minor VHS renaissance with some movie makers offering limited edition copies for sale in addition to DVDs. Undoubtedly these are aimed at collectors or "tapeheads" which is probably why they're only produced in small quantities.

Two movies that I've watched and enjoyed recently have had VHS copies produced for purchase. One is Turbo Kid, which is a futuristic, retro-eighties, post-apocalyptic action movie. The other is Instruments of Evil, a micro-budget horror anthology about cursed musical instruments.

Of course, the most obvious title that you would expect to be released on VHS is the movie that is named after the format in question. V/H/S is another horror anthology which also happens to be a found-footage film. It would have been a shame had they ignored the market for which collectors seek out this particular format. Thankfully for everyone involved, V/H/S made it onto its namesake format.

Not all releases on videotape have to be in the horror genre.

Weird Paul Petroskey runs a YouTube channel that features hours and hours of home movies from when he was a teenager. He makes new videos also but he still records them on an old video camera which gives them an authentic VHS picture quality.

An upcoming documentary about Paul is even offering one of ten limited edition copies of the documentary film on VHS.

It's not surprising to know that today's kids have no idea what a VCR or videocassette is. Their reactions to seeing these antiques, are priceless. Maybe they can figure out how to stop the clock from flashing 12:00 P.M.

When VCRs first hit the market, even if you didn't own one, you could still watch rented movies by also renting the bulky machines that played them. Before you could do that however, you needed a membership card.

Here are two I still have. Movie Gallery has gone out of business but Eye on Video still has some locations open.

video store membership cards
That is nothing compared to Weird Paul's membership card collection.

There used to be thousands of mom-and-pop video shops that catered to a crowd with eclectic tastes. They stayed in business because they offered what you couldn't find at big chain stores like Blockbuster Video. Eventually, even that wasn't enough and the small-time video stores dwindled to practically zero as owners got out of the business. Now even Blockbuster is out of the picture.

There are still a few stores here and there that rent out videos, including VHS tapes. One of those is Scarecrow Video in San Francisco which boasts having 120,000 movies in its inventory.


With VHS nostalgia seemingly at an all-time high, quite a few documentaries have popped up examining the history and love of the format. Rewind This! and VHS Massacre are just two examples and both feature interviews with Lloyd Kauffman from TROMA..

Over the years there have been movies that featured VHS tapes as part of the plot. The Ring immediately comes to mind, in which an unsuspecting victims watch a cursed videotape and once finished, receive an anonymous phone call in which the caller says "seven days." The cryptic message becomes clear when those people mysteriously die seven days later. It's very creepy and a great horror movie.

The comedy-drama Be Kind Rewind  is about a VHS video store employee and his friend who must cheaply recreate the movies in the store after the videotapes are all accidentally erased when the friend becomes magnetized in an accident. The funniest moments are when they reenact scenes from Ghostbusters and Robocop, with the cheapest props, costumes and special effects. I'm just glad I never rented a video that was made by one of the employees of the store from which I rented.

I mentioned V/H/S earlier
There are far too many examples of VHS tapes in movies to mention here so if you have a favourite, mention it in the comments.

While Beauty Day is not a documentary strictly about VHS, it is shown quite a bit as the format that Ralph Zavadil used to record his Cap'n Video public access TV show.

Apparently there is quite a demand for VHS tapes and collectors will pay a lot of money for rare and obscure titles, especially ones that are not available in any other format.  I don't consider myself a collector but I do own two titles that are somewhat rare, those being The Pit and Elephant Parts which you can see at the end of this interview with Kansas Bowling.

I've come down with a case of VHS fever myself and the only cure is more VHS! That's why I decided to design a whole collection of videotapes and call it the Movie Vigilante Home Video series. The video cassettes were designed with CorelDraw and the high quality vector drawings were uploaded directly to the products with a PDF file so that the designs retain their sharpness and detail regardless of how big it is enlarged.

Several designs have a place for you to customize the text and on some (pillows for example) you can change the background colour. Most products have only the front of the videotape but a few products include the back of the videotape when allowed, such as business cards. Click on the image to view the whole collection.

home video logo

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