Thursday, January 28, 2021 12:53

To VHS or not to VHS?

For this post I’m indebted to Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror for a recent debate he started on Twitter. It relates to VHS, DVD, and a wave of nostalgia for the former which has sprung up over the last ten years (although to be fair, certain VHS cassettes were rare from the get-go and have had collectors for many years more – but, I digress).

Mr. Solomon asked where people stood on this issue, as for his part he didn’t regret the passing of VHS whatsoever. He bought a DVD player relatively early on and relished the clarity of picture, the concept of extras, and, as other people suggested, the relative ease in finding films.

For my part, I largely agree with regards to quality. There was nothing more galling than watching a rental video for an hour and twenty minutes and then have the cassette warp at the end. In fact, I’ve seen countless horror films in my time where I still have no idea what happens in the last ten minutes, which may reflect in my mania for a compelling ending (or lack thereof) when I write reviews today! At my mother’s house I still have a top-loading video player (which still works after a fashion, miraculously enough) that used to be the bane of my life when I depended on VHS as a teenager. To get it to play properly, and for some reason which I am not technical enough to understand, I had to prop the left side up with books or video boxes. Just the left side. This was the only way to coax the machine to do the one thing required of it without gnawing through the tape like one of the zombies on the screen.

But I still have the damn thing, which says a lot…and when we moved house last year, dumping fifteen refuse sacks full of video tapes was utterly galling. Most of those warped far before the end of the movie as we’d picked them up second-hand (which reminds me: a charity I work for will no longer accept second-hand VHS due to them being cost-ineffective and obsolete) but regardless, it felt hard to part with them. I know how ridiculous that is.

I’m reluctantly nostalgic for the VHS days. I know, how quickly we forget. But poring over gratuitous posters in the local video shop, or the big-box cover art – this was a big draw for me as a kid, and it’s there still. Hey, nostalgia used to be classed as a mental aberration just like mania or melancholia, so don’t ask for too much rationalising from me. I went to a cinema on the weekend which belongs to a rather arty, dare I say worthy chain, and I was surprised and delighted to espy a collection of original ‘video nasty’ cover art on display. It meant something to me. For anyone who can only consider the film quality and not the whole package – I think you’re missing out. Just as album art and sleeve notes were part and parcel of the enjoyment of records, so it is with VHS. I received a big-box VHS version of Troll last year and I remembered how entranced I was at the age of seven, not just by the film but by the box!

There was also something to be said for the often arduous process of tracking down rare horrors (note: this affected me as a teen, not as the self-same seven year old who thought that Troll was terrifying). I found a contact via a UK horror magazine who furnished me with a vast list of banned and rare titles. I’ve never been so enthused. And for what? To receive a poor quality copy of Salo – which you can now pick up in HMV, remastered, and with a commentary for fuck’s sake! Back then finding and watching many horror films was a real challenge and when you finally got a tape containing titles you’d only ever seen stills from in The Dark Side magazine (this was pre-internet of course) you felt like you had made a real effort.  Often you had – it had been a real investigative process. You had to work for your salacious gore in those days, and so, having invested so much more than a quick trawl through Ebay, you could forgive and forget the shaky quality (which often even helped films attain their cult status: now, when you see some of the more infamous titles on DVD, you’re forced to notice that the quality – gasp – is just plain bad, and no new-fangled audio commentary can change that).

So I respect and largely agree with Brian’s criticisms of the VHS format, and I have a hefty collection of DVDs to my name these days. But for all that, I can’t help but maintain a respect and fascination for a now-outdated phenomenon. No one ever said rose-tinted spectacles gave you a clear view, but sometimes it can be nice to wear them regardless.

Oh, and – I didn’t throw all the videos away last year…

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3 Responses to “To VHS or not to VHS?”

  1. Brett G. says:

    I made a few comments on Twitter on the subject, and I agree that nostalgia is an appeal of VHS. That and the generally superior box art are two areas where the format still has a leg up. But I also suspect in about fifteen years, the next generation will be waxing nostalgic about DVD, which will likely be replaced by something else. :)

    For the record, I still have my VCR and some titles that haven’t made it to DVD yet. Even that handful will eventually be phased out once I transfer them over to a DVD-R, though.

  2. I think a lot of people love VHS simply for nostalgia factors. Those factors alone can sometimes outnumber video quality and convenience for people. I know the quality is shit on a big screen TV and it’s a pain to rewind… but I love doing it. I loved doing it as a kid and I’ll always love doing it. Brings back memories.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Solomon, Hellbound_Heart and Brett G., Hellbound_Heart. Hellbound_Heart said: After Mr. @b_sol mentioned his opinions on #vhs, I was inspired to blog: [...]

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