Despite what naysayers might say, the VHS is not dead. Despite the fact that you cannot buy newer films on VHS (although this is changing), the VHS is not dead. You may not be able to walk into your local Walmart or Best Buy and pick up a VCR player (you’ll have to go to Ebay or Amazon for that) but the VHS is still not as dead as say the LaserDisc or HD DVD. In fact, since the DVD and Bluray Disc have taken over the mainstream market the VHS has thrived in the collector and secondary markets. The reason for this is that despite the fact that there are hundreds of films released every year on DVD and BD, most of these are contemporary films leaving many of the films from earlier cinema days left unreleased except for on VHS.
I came across this discrepancy of unreleased older films by way of the Horror Hound magazine column “The Video Invasion: Remembering the VHS Boom!” and Fangoria magazine’s column “Dead Format” not to mention the magazine Video WatchDog which focuses a huge portion of its pages on classic films just finally reaching DVD and BD. I was never one for keeping my VHS collection once I became 100% immersed in DVD (and now BD) so I sold my over 500 tape collection for pennies. Boy did I make a mistake.
A little background on the secondary VHS market. There are two types of collectors for the VHS secondary market. The first type collect films that have yet to be released to DVD or BD (which includes, at this time of writing, the comedies BIG SHOTS and PARAMEDICS and the horror films HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and POPCORN, to name a few). Many of these films have no foreseeable release date on either DVD or BD so a VHS copy is the only one that is available. The second type of collector is one that collects special editions of films such as the much coveted “Clamshell” and “Big Box” films (so-called because the box was larger than the average VHS release to give it more prominence on the video store shelf) or the rare film released as Letterbox/Widescreen on VHS (a rare feat left mostly for high profile studio films). Needless to say that there are still a lot of films on VHS that have yet to be released on DVD or BD which makes collecting them on VHS the only alternative. It should also be noted that films which have received limited release on DVD & BD have also been huge collectable items on the VHS market (such as WATCHERS and FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 and MAID TO ORDER and SPACE RAIDERS, to name a few) because their DVDs can claim a price tag of $50 to $100 on the secondary market.
Seeing that some of my favorite films may never make it to DVD or BD any time soon I’ve decided to go into VHS collecting but my goal is to get films that I can’t find on VHS (or refuse to pay $50 to $100 for the DVD version). My first purchase was the great crime thriller AMSTERDAMNED (1988) which is still an excellent thriller that has yet to see DVD release. I must make a confession. This wasn’t the first VHS film in my collection. That honor goes to my special edition version of the 1933 KING KONG (because the box “roars” when you press a button on King Kong and the button still works after all these years) and my Anchor Bay special digitally remastered edition or HORROR HOTEL (two of my all time favorite classic films). I quickly added VHS copies of Alex De La Iglesia’s THE DAY OF THE BEAST (1995), of which I now own an import DVD version, and Volume 1 of THE FEARMAKERS (2007) series. These are minor editions to my VHS collecting but I do have the “bug” now.
I’ve got a huge appreciation for classic and foreign films (which is not surprising that THE DAY OF THE BEAST and AMSTERDAMNED being among my first acquisitions) and since there are only so many films I can purchase on import DVD I’ve decided to go to the next best thing which is the VHS. I’ve already made purchases of the films TRANSMUTATIONS (1985), which is inspired by a story by Clive Barker, THE GUARDIAN (1990), a film that is OOP on DVD and expensive on the secondary market, HORRIBLE HORROR: THE BEST & WORST HORROR & SCI-FI (1986) (hosted by Zacherley), STEPHEN KING’S WORLD OF HORROR (1986), and THE KISS (1988). Some other films that I hope to get on VHS soon include RAWHEAD REX(1986), also based on a Clive Barker story and OOP on DVD, BIG SHOTS (1987), THE TOMB (1986), WATCHERS I & II (1988 & 1990, respectfully), PARAMEDICS (1988), WILLARD (1971) and its sequel BEN (1972), THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS (1996), and SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1988), to name a few.
I find looking for older films on VHS an interesting hobby especially in regards to films I remember growing up with which are unavailable to own on DVD or BD. Finding them on Ebay or Amazon can be expensive but I’ve now taken to finding them in “used” book stores which still carry VHS tapes and are much cheaper than on the web (since these places don’t know the goldmine that they are sitting on).
To give you an idea of how much these films on VHS can run I will go through a few of some of the ones I am looking to someday purchase (unless of course they make it to DVD or BD first). Prices range depending on condition on VHS and box:
*RAWHEAD REX - VHS -$9-90; DVD (OOP) - $50-90
*BIG SHOTS – VHS - $12-$50; DVD – (Warner Bros. Archive only) - $25-30
*FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 – VHS - $9-$50; DVD (OOP) - $40-$125
*SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 1 - VHS - $30-$90; DVD (OOP) - $19-$120
*SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART II – VHS - $12-$100; DVD (OOP/Only Available with Part 1) - $40-$130
*WATCHERS - VHS - $9-$30; DVD (OOP/sold with Part II) - $35-$120
*WILLARD – VHS - $14-$75; DVD – NO OFFICIAL RELEASE
*BEN - VHS - $14-$80; DVD – NO OFFICIAL RELEASE
*William Friedkin’s THE GUARDIAN (1990) – VHS -$9-$30; DVD (OOP) - $30-40
Now, none of this may convince you to go out there right now and start collecting VHS tapes but I do hope that you come to realize that there are many films which have yet to see DVD and BD and even if they have (such as FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) sometimes they are too expensive for the casual buyer. A VHS copy is an alternative. And even if you only want to know more about the business of VHS collecting the articles in Horror Hound and Fangoria are a good starting point (as most of the more expensive VHS tapes are cult horror films or obscure comedies and genre films).
Despite the fact that there are many older films being released yearly (as studios are now beginning to understand that there is an audience for the more obscure films) for the first time on DVD and BD there is no harm in continuing to build (or start) your own VHS collection like I have. Eventually, I hope that all films will be made available on DVD or BD (such as the cult films INTRUDER and TWINS OF EVIL making their simultaneous BD/DVD combo début, the former as a “Director’s Cut”). I don’t really foresee all of my choice films making their DVD or BD début any time soon (a good time for WILLARD and BEN would have been when the remake was released several years ago) nor do I see a huge demand for the re-release of OOP DVDs (such as FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 or WATCHERS) but we can dream and until that dream comes true I’ll still have my VHS copy.