THE VHS QUALITY LOTTERY: A GUIDE TO BUYING VHS

richard sandling VHSNot only do I run a Video-only video shop, but I also collect and archive Video. I love VHS as a stock and I love Video as home entertainment medium because I genuinely believe that it is better, greater and, ultimately, more charming than DVD.

There is, simply, no charm to DVD and there is nothing exciting about shopping for them or discovering them. Not like the way shopping for VHS is exciting. Of course, nowadays, I am limited to charity shops and the odd rental place like mine that still embraces VHS when I want to make any purchases.

Limited though my retail choices are, what I find exciting about scouring these shops for my tapes is the “Quality Lottery” element. I’ll be in there riffling through all the usual Viz Top Tips with Vic and Bob, Celebrity Callisthenics videos, Green Trainspottings (which never really took off even though it was a video that had deleted scenes on it – not a DVD or a Video – and outcast by both sides) and entire seasons of Friends and occasionally I can come across some real gems – amazingly intriguing films that I have never heard of. These films are always directed by people with names like Chad Michaelson, so oddly American they can only be either genuine C-Movie directors or Italian soft-core Goremeisters using hastily constructed Pseudonyms. Either way it’s exciting. These films also proudly boast a cast list that doesn’t have a single name I recognise – these are the films that don’t even have Klaus Kinski, Henry Silva or Lewis Collins in them.

Of course, not recognising the film and having no frame of reference for its quality puts you in a quandary. Should I buy it? Is it worth my hard earned cash? How can you possibly make a qualitive decision based on the lack of information provided? Well, smart-alecs out there suggest getting on your phone and going on imdb to see what they have to say about it. But that doesn’t always work – I have films on Video that weren’t listed on listed on imdb at the time – 72 hours or Die starring Jon Finch was not on imdb for ages. I own it so I knew it exists, but it wasn’t on imdb.

Now, I like to think positively and I convince myself that there is a good chance it could be another hidden gem like Vroom!, Number One, Slay Ground or Intruder but I secretly know that it is far more likely to be another stinker like Hell comes to frog town 2 or Entrapment (not the Sean Connery one, although that is also a piece of shit). The argument in your head becomes all encompassing: “Should I buy it?” “Should I not buy it?” Eventually you stop and you think “well, it’s only 25p”. It’s in a lovely, mint condition, original big box and if I am especially fortunate it will be pre-certificated and unrated. At the very least I will have a load of exciting trailers to watch before the main feature advertising other films I have never previously heard of so that the next time I am out and I see these films that I recognise from the trailers on the shelves, I can eagerly and excitedly buy them for 25p and I get to have more trailers for even more films I hadn’t heard of in a self perpetuating Video buying inspiring Video buying cycle of charity shop awesomeness. Brilliant! And sometimes, usually on small CBS FOX boxes and Rank and/or Palace Pictures releases, you get a message telling you to stay tuned after the feature – for more trailers!

And it’s not just trailers either. What DVD has Capcom’s advert for Red Heat on Atari ST and Amiga, Cannon and Ball promoting Video Charity Day or Gary Davis advertising Video Times (the complete guide to the world of Video)? These welcome surprises are easily better than any Easter egg you can get on any DVD.

Here is a tip you can use to find out if the film is worth buying or not. Always check to see if the film has been rewound. Now, I am not a huge Be Kind Rewind Nazi, but it does increase the longevity of the stock and if you are serious about collecting and storing for posterity as I am then it is an essential and key element of the archiving process. However, on a more practical, quality lottery level, the status of the tape’s stop point can give you clues as to whether to purchase the film or not.

If the film is rated PG and has been stopped halfway through, then this pretty much means that not only is that as far as anyone could get through the film before they had to turn it off, but once they had turned it off they had to throw it away.

The same does apply to films rated 15 and 18, of course, but with a 15 or an 18 certificate this could also mean this is where the nudity is. Anyone who has ever rented or owned See No Evil Hear No Evil or Sirens (to name but two) knows what I mean.

I believe it was Joe Dante who first said that there are two types of film fans “Those who love the films they like and those who love films”. I am staunchly in the latter category and before I became an avid archivist, I was an avid buyer, renter and watcher of anything and everything. Format issues aside, I am fully aware that, depending on your particular tastes, I have the best or worst film collection in South East Essex. I have over 5000 videos and with that amount of quantity it is hard to have a 100% success rate on quality. But they are all charming and I am proud to have every single last one of them. And every single one of those Videos is better than a DVD

Now, to prove why VHS is better than DVD I will level the playing field by using the example of the worst film in my collection that I have ever seen (and that is quite a title to hold given some of films I’ve watched, believe you me…). The film in question is John Fasano’s The Edge of Hell (aka Rock and Roll Nightmare). This is a terrible film from 1987 about a sub standard Saxon style rock band who record an album in a barn in the middle of nowhere. The lead singer has staged this all as a ruse so that he can use the rock and roll excesses of the band to summon up the Devil himself, fight him on behalf of heaven and humanity and restore the balance of good and evil in the universe. If you haven’t seen this film, you would be correct in assuming that it is an ambitious project for the budget available to them. The monsters are, essentially, sex toys with eyes tipexed on or papier mache demons with no opposable limbs or joints that have been painted luminous purple for no logical reason at all.

However, the box has my favourite thing that you don’t see any more – it has an artists hand drawn front cover which depicts a very exciting and intricate fantasy landscape with Thor type heroes in furry pants holding buxom, tanned Valkyries in their arms whilst monsters and dragons rage war with each other behind them. It is an amazing thing to behold. What has been depicted on that cover is EXACTLY the film I want to see and I am very excited about the cinematic possibilities of what I am holding in my hands. Sadly, reality all too soon rears its ugly head when I see the stills from the Film on the back of the box and I realise that nothing in this film will be anywhere as good as the front cover picture. Still, on the plus side, it was only 25p, has a great box and it had loads of great trailers. Quality of the actual film aside, this is definitely a video worth owning.

However, should I go to HMV or whatever Virgin is called nowadays and buy The Edge of Hell on DVD all I am doing is buying a shit film. There is no charm, no kudos, no point to owning The Edge of Hell on DVD, I would just be wasting my money on rubbish.

As I said before, there is no charm to DVDs and there is certainly no charm or even a real point in owning films of questionable quality on DVD. DVDs might be crammed full of so-called special features and all other sorts of extras but none of these are as genuinely exciting and enticing as all the added and often unexpected bonuses of buying original release, big box, ex-rental videos and I shall shamelessly continue to buy and watch these videos with pride and joy and I urge you to spend just one afternoon rediscovering the innocent delights of buying and watching an 80’s ex rental and just see how much more enjoyable and honest it is than the cynical and clinical DVDs that you have been brainwashed into believing are actually better than Video. Go on, once more for old time’s sake…

Comments

  1. I love your article here on VHS!!!

    I LOVE VHS — IT LOOKS AND SOUNDS SO MUCH BETTER!! (Especially on a CRT set)

    It is analogue and ANALOGUE looks/sounds MUCH NICER!!!

    Alot of VHS movies HAD BEEN “DIGITALLY MASTERED” starting in 90s and are hard to find UNDIGITALLY MESSED WITH and its upseyting to me….. They look and sound like crap!! (Just get the 1991 release of TOY SOLDIERS and you will see that i mean)

    Thankfully I got alot of movies THAT ARE NOTHING DIGITAL! (Dolby Stereo for audio and transferred from the analogue master)

    I LOVE VHS!!!!! — I tried to find an email address for you Richard,i really would love talking to you!!!! (Maybe you have a movie i want in your shop,etc)

    I HOPE YOU DONT EVER DROP YOUR LOVE FOR VHS,IT IS 10000000% BETTER THAN THIS DVD GARBAGE!!

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