FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 9, 2008

VHS zeitgeist

This morning I walked by my big honkin' movie shelf thing and spotted a lineup of films on VHS that made me pause. Yes, pause. I looked and Wow, that's a whole lotta sweet right there in that little section. I mean, see for yourself!

In the last couple of years I've re-become a bit of a VHS junkie, scooping up as many old horror titles as I can. I'm sad to say that there's a part of the love that has to do simply with the format itself. Is it the fact that VHS has gone the way of the dodo? Do I fancy myself some sort of archivist? Do I simply like the box art? Am I attempting to recapture bits of my youth, those heady days before Blockbuster and the homogenization of the home video market? I spent so many hours at New England Home Video, poring over clamshell boxes, working up the courage to rent a movie that would surely drive me stark raving mad, and it just doesn't feel the same in the age of the DVD.

Maybe I'm attaching too much sentimentality to the medium and not enough to the message. I mean, the movie itself is the thing, isn't it? Surely April Fool's Day looks better on DVD- why am I so loathe to replace my VHS copy? Suddenly it feels like I'm one of those people forever trapped in high school because it was the best time evarrrrrr- it's difficult to talk about the here and now with them, for all they want to do is reminisce about that time So-and-So pissed his pants at the bonfire.

But dammit, movies used to be more of an experience- for me, anyway. Now there's instant access to virtually everything; movies can be bought on the street for a few dollars before they've even left the theatre, clips can be easily found online, and there's an information overload a mouse click away. What's missing, though, is the tactile.

The same can be said about music. Buying a record, pulling out the inner sleeve, reading every lyric and liner note, flipping it over after five songs...really spending time with it and getting to know an album are a thing of the past thanks to digital downloads. I've got albums...well, I can't really call them "albums" because I don't have anything but the songs on my iPod...for which I have no idea what the key artwork looks like. Obviously it doesn't change the music itself and buying stuff on iTunes instead of at the store is a choice. But...I don't know. I don't know why seeing those movies on my shelf has made me all wistful, either. You'll probably think I'm insane or maybe you'll get it...most likely depending on your age and how often you hug your media before bedtime. At any rate, I'd better lay off before I feel any older.

In other news, what's up with the way kids wear their pants nowadays?


Anonymous said...

The artwork is in tact in the vhs version and no recuts, edits, or weird transfers.

I might go along...start snagging up some vhs.

RJ said...

Hehe . . . I recognize that Killer Workout VHS that sits on my movie shelf.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any real VHS nostalgia—other than the titles you occasionally can only find in that format—mostly because I need all the space I can get, and they're just big and chunky. (Plus, the picture quality slides over time.)

That said, I'm down with your general point. I'll still buy albums on CD when I suspect I'm going to like them. Of course, now that the RIAA says that putting a bought CD on your computer is stealing... I may just have to stop buying music and start listening to the voices in my head...

Unknown said...

My romanticism for VHS lies, in-part, in the box art. I hate the way most films now have the generic, giant heads of the stars-style covers instead of the original poster art that was prevalent on the VHS/laserdisc packaging. It's particularly bad with horror films. The DVD re-release art for "April Fools Day" is freakin' lame. What the hell happened to the girl with the ponytail noose? Why does it look like some girl is hiding in a snow storm? cripes.

Then there's the nostalgia factor. There just seemed to be more excitement involved when hitting a video store and seeing all those titles littering the walls. When all you had to go on was the box art and the blurbs on the back. Thankfully there are still some places in LA that have VHS available if I get a jones for my favorite "dead" format.

Adam Ross said...

And has anyone ever figured out why bonfires tend to weaken a person's bladder?

I have many memories of passing by the VHS of April Fool's Day at the video store, always wondering if a noose made of hair would actually work.

Anonymous said...

And yet, in the face of that much awesome, all I can think of is "Why aren't they alphabetized?"

...methinks I've worked in offices for far, far too long.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

I have to agree, the box art had a lot to do with it. I still like the looks of a lot of VHS more than the DVD counterparts. Plus, they had weight to them. Something about just picking them up, with the tape inside, it felt like something more than just a movie.

Despite loving this blog, I was never a big horror fan in the 80's. I remember actually being AFRAID to go into the horror film section because of the box art of some of the titles.

Anyone remember the cover of COLOR ME BLOOD RED? The rather grotesque bloody image in the big oversized box? Or the back cover of DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.? I would often dare friends to pick it up and look at it.

You don't really have that experience anymore with DVD. But then again, video stores are gone for the most part.

Anonymous said...

Can't say I share your VHS nostalgia. But then again, I maybe owned only 1 or 2 movies on tape. When the movie rental place up the block closed last year, I though it was weird they had so many more VHS than DVDs. Although I do agree that so many DVD re-issues have lousy cover art.

Queen Anthai, of course they should be alphabetized. How else would someone organize their movies or CDs?

By the way, what are records?

Unknown said...

Um, am I exposing myself as too much of a nerd by revealing that my movies are not only alphabetized but also organized by genre?

Anonymous said...

I get what you are saying; even though I sold almost all my VHS tapes a few years ago (I still have a bunch of different versions of Halloween and my trusty VHS of Slumber Party Massacre). I’m more that way with LPs. I recently acquired an LP copy of the Halloween 2 Soundtrack. Of course I have it on CD, I’ve even downloaded it from a blog (even thought I could simply load it onto my computer!) so I could instantly put it on my iPod. But damn, it is so cool to have it on vinyl.

-Chris- said...

Man, what an awesome time I had reading this blog entry and these comments... I have a great collection of Horror VHS going (thanks to such notable establishments as Bull Moose Music and Newbury Comics). Sometimes my friends and I do 'Retro Fridays.' We order Domino's, settle in and slap in a (usually horror) video. And we always watch the previews.

Our next 'Retro Friday' will be Demolition High: (from the back of the box) Corey Haim stars as 'the new kid' in a tough high school. But even his martial arts and inner-city background could not prepare him for what happens next. A group of militant thugs takes the high school under seige--and take all the students and staff as hostages. Now he'll have to pull out all the stops and use every possible resource to keep them from launching their satelite-linked weaponry. With the help of his chief-of-police dad (Alan Thicke), Corey's got to stop them or school will be out...permanently. Mellissa Brasselle, Dick Van Patten and Kimberly Roberts also star in this explosive, high-voltage film.

If that doesn't sound like the most awesome movie ever, then I am completely out of touch with what is/was cool now/in the 90's...

(sorry about the long comment)

Anonymous said...

VHS Nostalgia is totally understandable. I could only afford to rent the VHS tapes when I was a 14-15 years old, and I remember just loving the box art and the tape and everything along with watching the movie. Weird. It is similar with Lp's VS CD's although not the same as movies. Something real weird is that now that I have been buying music online exclusively for about a year or more when someone recently gave me a CD, I really noticed how much I missed all the artwork! I think we are underestimating the value of the packaging these days.

MaT said...

I just LOVE VHS for some weird ass reason. Some of it has to do with the great boxes. I've got a holographic cover of Mirror, Mirror and a liquid blood cover for Bleeders. It's just a quirky hobby for me.

Love the blog


Stacie Ponder said...

"Hehe . . . I recognize that Killer Workout VHS that sits on my movie shelf.""

Aww, yeah. Did you know that the picture on the front of the box is actually Marla Maples? Even though she's not in the film, there she is, aerobicizin' her heart out.

"Why aren't they alphabetized?"

Yeah. I don't know. In my last domicile, I had them arranged sort of weirdly- my favorites in one spot, then subgenres, maybe all of a director's work clumped together...but never alphabetical. After setting up in the new home, though, I've got a sort of 'fuck it' attitude about the whole arrangement. I've kinda got my favorites in a prominent spot, and TV stuff is all together, but otherwise it's just all thrown up there. I kind of like it better that way- I kind of have to search for stuff and I come always across movies I haven't watched in a while.

I fear if I tried to alphabetize, I'd get all super-anal about it and I'd never leave the house.

"Getting all super-anal about it" sounds really really wrong.

I bought a friend a video for Xmas, and the original price tag was still on the side: $99.95. Remember when tapes were so pricy and stuff just wasn't really available for purchase? It kinda sucked, but it was kinda cool. I guess I'm just feeling like instant access = less mystique or something.

Then again, does it matter? Only the movie itself really matters. UGH. I feel old.

I need some salve.

But regardless, the art does get completely fucked up and...lamed when these titles appear on DVD.

Anonymous said...

Salve? You new-fangled whippersnapper. Don't you know that unguent is the VHS of balm?

Unknown said...

I've not been nostalgic for my old VHS tapes (in fact they are in 3 grocery bags ready to be tossed) because of the difference in picture quality w/ DVD. What a revelation to see Halloween (the Divimax edition!) as compared to my old murky VHS copy. Because the quality difference is so profound, I just can't do the VHS thing.
Now laserdiscs....

Victor said...

I have quite a large collection of VHS movies. They're nice to have even if I don't watch them that much. Like The Frightening, Drainiac, Demonicus, Slashers, Frightmare, Hellion, Milo and others.

Anonymous said...

The thing I miss about VHS was that some of the boxes where made out of a really, really nice plasticky material that smelt of the factory it was vacuum formed in and really, really squeeked in a special sort of way when it was opened. I don't miss it as much now as I still have a Dutch edition of Tombs of the Blind Dead on VHS that does the trick - if I ever want to watch 'Tombs' I will watch it on DVD, but before hand I will squeek open the VHS box, sniff and imagine I am in my 20's again!

FatalPierce said...

Oh man I miss my VHS collection. Well technically I still have it because I just can't part with it. But I have no where to put it out so I still have it all stored up and safe.

I think a big part of the VHS love is the size, they just seem more real with some weight behind them. Plus obviously the art thing. About the only thing I don't miss is that heartbreaking day when you would eventually have to retire a VHS tape because you had played it to death.

I'm not sure what is up with the kids today but as long as they remember to keep off of my lawn I think it'll be ok.

Anonymous said...

Oh My God!!! You have Humongous!!!
I am so envious. I remember the summer I had to sneak downstairs late at night to watch that one. Great follow-up to Lynch's Prom Night!

You Rock Girl

Stacie Ponder said...

"unguent" is one of the best words ever. EV-ERRRR.

Whilst out Xmas shopping, I had to stop myself from buying a copy of Exorcist II in the big clamshell box. The box was sweet, but the movie ba-lows with a capital suck, and I just couldn't buy it strictly for the package.

I still think about it, though.

And yes, Humongous! I need to review that ASAP.

Anonymous said...

I've got a huge collection of 70s & 80s horror tapes, and my rule is, I can't go looking for movies on eBay--I have to find/stumble across them. The time I ended up doing jury duty across the street from a video store that was liquidating its VHS section was, like, the greatest day of my life.

The only time I broke that rule was, I just HAD to have "The Burning," so I plopped down $20 plus shipping. Hey, guess what movie I found a copy of for two bucks at the Salvation Army less than a week later? No, really, guess.

But I figured, hey, that's cool, the one I ordered was the Thorn EMI clamshell version, so I can just resell it and maybe even make a profit.

A couple of days later they released it on DVD, so now the tape's not even worth what it would cost to ship.

Always obey your own rules, is what I'm saying.

Mark Hodgson said...

Rediscovered that I also have a copy of HUMONGOUS on my VHS shelves. I'd almost forgotten the film altogether. Will run it again soon.

My most precious VHS's are the first ones I owned, and the ones that still haven't come out on DVD yet. No way am I getting rid of those.

Anonymous said...

I can still recall the smell of the old neighborhood video store, and see the sun faded NES boxes next to the window. Ahhhh. Now I'm feeling a bit down in the dumps. I miiiiss it....

Anonymous said...

I could go on and on about my VHS horror collection and how much I love VHS, but instead I'll just second everything you said, Stacie. I'm gonna go curl up with my clamshell-boxed He Knows You're Alone and The Burning and try to figure out what in the hell the people who made Class Reunion Massacre were smoking.

Anonymous said...

I still have hundreds... okay, make that's thousands... of videos, but I try to get rid of movies once they become available on DVD (I started this process when Laser Discs came out in the early '90s). Thankfully I've got access to great spots like Amoeba and Rasputins Music where they still take videos and also sell used DVDs so I can trade in my old stuff for other people's old stuff and everyone is happy!

theotaking said...

I still have a soft spot for VHS, especially the early oversized boxes (like the original box for Video Violence). The movies just popped out from the rental shelves in a way that DVDs don't. The boxes are just too thin to look at on a shelf.

The one thing I don't miss from the VHS heyday was the price tag for "rental copies." I wanted the Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies for years, but couldn't afford the $80 price tag for each tape. Once laser discs and DVDs came out, this practice stopped.

Someone I know wants to archive VHS covers, since the art for them is very different from the DVD releases. He feels the cover designs will be lost forever because most people just get rid of their tapes. I agree with him and pass on any tapes I replace with DVD copies.

I have to agree that VHS tapes just feel more tactile, more visceral than DVDs. If I didn't have to worry about space considerations, I'd probably continue to buy VHS tapes today.

Anonymous said...

I can see how you can be nostalgic about VHS's the same way people can get about those old records. I can't share it though. Can you still buy working VCR's?

Unknown said...

my most prized VHS is the two tape set of "Nightmare on Elm St." It's more or less a port of the old Elite special edition laserdisc, so it's uncut (unlike the DVD) and has a tape with a bunch of deleted material (again, stuff not found even in the Nightmare DVD box).

And Borehole is right: stumbling on something is oddly more satisfying. I found a pristine copy of "Student Bodies" on VHS at my local Out of the Closet thrift store. $4. Awesome.

Stacie Ponder said...

"And Borehole is right: stumbling on something is oddly more satisfying."

Hell yeah. I only go cheap. Finding Humongous for a buck makes me feel like I'm really putting one over on the world or something!

Anonymous said...

Humongous! I need to review that ASAP

I was walking on the beach at Point Dume a couple of years ago and HUMONGOUS star Janet Julian walked right past me. I'm pretty sure that's how she'd introduce herself, too.

Anonymous said...

I get chills when I see rows of VHS tapes. Sometimes I think maybe I should go all the way and design a house that looks like an 80s video store wire racks and all. I could live in it and charge an outrageously cheap admission price to view it like a quarter. Unfortunately I'd say like 90% of all the movies I can't even watch, most of them really do deserve to be trashed and forgotten about forever. Yes it's purely nostalgia but those were the worst of times and the best of times! Back in the day you could just stare at box, the kind with a painted cover, and just imagine how wild the film was. So what I'm saying is that damn those painted covers still instantly take me back to those days of video stores. I love VHS.

Anonymous said...

I can't WAIT for the day 20 years from now, when everyone has all their movies on fancy hard drives, and everyone is nostalgic for those carefree days of Blu-ray...:)

Caitlin said...

Man, I'm seventeen and still miss audio cassettes and VHS =P
I have to admit that actual records are before my time, though, and our record player broke thanks to my brother jumping up and down a tad too close to it.
But my attachment to VHS is somewhat spoiled by the fact that my video player is broken. And my attachment to tapes is probably just due to the fact that I associate them with better music (my father's) and fun car drives.

Unidos na Diversidade said...

iN my university in Lisbon we have 1000 vhs tapes ! In BOXES! Nobody wants them... do you want to come and pick them up?

I will keep as many as I can because I just love VHS TaPES. And now... It´s for free... INCLUDING THE VCR`S !!
cumprimentos de portugal!
VISIT MY Blog leave a comment please

soufex. said...

when i was little, my mother used to work at my old hometown's video store. (sadly, the thing closed down back when... dvds became the singular format, actually. i don't entirely remember except for one day dropping into town, walking past and going, 'oh shit, it's a carpet shop.')

one of my earliest memories of spending time downtown (i used to live about half a mile out- so surrounded by trees and forests and things that wake you up at 5am by banging on the windows, yay british countryside!) was going in and sitting behind the desk when she was at work- and every time i was in that store up until the age of about 10, i would detour around the centre shelf of videos so i wouldn't have to walk past the horror shelf.

i was terrified of those covers! i had nightmares about pinhead and chucky and the alien queen, and everyone else staring down at me in slightly faded ink.

thank you so much for reminding me of that- i've never had that experience since, even when i was working in a store that sold a fuckton of horror films. there's a certain it's-just-not-the-same-ness about it. my nostalgia gland just swelled up :D

Stacie Ponder said...

That's awesome! I think my nostalgia glad is in a permanently-swollen state. I should probably have it looked at.

I'm really thankful to have grown up when I did, and to have seen the video age come to be. The days when a "trip to the video store" was a monumental event can't really be replicated- hell, no one even wants to go TO the store anymore. I love Netflix instant watch, but it just isn't the same.

soufex. said...

i spend a lot of time in australia 'cause my girlfriend lives there, and we're ridiculously spoiled by this store. we moved to the other side of the city and still considered it our 'local' even though there was one across the road from the new place. the staff there are amazing, keep stuff behind the counter for us, politely ignore our occasional late fees, send us lists of all of the films they have in stock of particular actors/directors... the nicest bunch of guys you could want for a video store, really.

however, i'm back in england indefinitely and i'm fretting because there isn't a video store anywhere near me! i think there's maybe a blockbuster about 45 minutes' walk away, but apart from that, you're pretty much screwed. (the place i used to work sold second-hand movies, games and whatnot and pretty much let the staff use the entire stock as a private library, which was AWESOME and i miss it.)

regardless, even if the blockbuster store was five minutes' walk i'd not feel the same amount of musty, magnetic-taped pride i had for hollywood house. i probably clocked in a few solid days of my childhood spent in that little shop, poring over/hiding from the covers and helping my mom choose films to put on the tv behind the desk. i was going to work there myself but it closed down before i got old enough, which is such a burn.

...i'll stop ranting about video store politics now, if you like ;D