GB’s VHS Vault: Why It’s Awesome – A UK History

In recent years there has been a massive resurgence of the collecting of VHS. There are art gallery displays, Facebook pages like Horror Vhs Collectors Unite and VHShitfest where groups of collectors can meet and show off their goods, as as well as just talk about the format they love.

If you type “VHS” into YouTube, you will be bombarded by videos of collectors saying how awesome the format is, like Richard Sandling here:

Hell, some fan boy even did an Expendables 2 retro VHS trailer of the new film!

So what’s the appeal of the format? For me personally it’s an age thing. This is the format I watched as a child; I grew up with VHS. Nothing was more exciting than going with my father down to the video shop and picking up a copy of Flight of the Navigator to watch, or even Flight of Dragons! Also there was nothing naughtier than looking at all the adult horror movies while my dad was not looking. Titles like Squirm or the classic Friday the 13th part II blew my tiny mind.

For a lot of people, it’s the appeal of a film which has never been seen on DVD before that draws them to the format. To my knowledge, there is no great rush to put out the Return of the Radioactive Reporter on DVD, but if you love that kind of film VHS is the only way to go about it!

In the UK especially, some of the more valuable titles are videos that were put on the infamous ‘Video Nasties’ list. When VHS first hit the scene in the U.K there was no regulation of titles because it was a new format and no one knew how to police it. The British Board of Film Censors (a board set up for cinematic releases) was worried about the fact that most of these straight to video hits had not been screened for content, and could be harmful to children. Another worry was the threat of piracy this new format was susceptible to.

The British Board of Film Censors in 1983 changed to the British Board of Film Classification and came down hard on VHS. A list of videos was drawn up which, under this act, were seen as unsuitable to have in any stores due to the content and disturbing nature of the movies themselves. Video store owners had their shops raided and sometimes said owners were actually jailed for having what was seen at the time as obscene, harmful material.

This list is like a tick list for UK VHS collectors. For the complete list of titles click here. Most of these titles, such as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Cannibal Holocaust are now readily available on DVD uncut. However, they are still massive on the collectors’ scene because of the historical significance and the fact that they look amazing on a shelf!

So that covers historical value and rarity, but what else? On a visual standpoint, the covers looked incredible. Because of the video boom in the 80’s people were making films left, right and center. Anyone could in theory pick up a camera and make a horror flick if they had a red ketchup bottle ready for the blood! Video stores would buy pretty much anything to fill their shelves up. But, because of the glut of products available, you had to make your video stand out on the shelf. It did not matter if the film was awful as long as it stood out. Here is where the covers came in. The more gruesome the better! This is, however, what got the police involved. Because of the extreme nature of the covers. the media took interest which sparked the whole ‘Video Nasties’ debate. Below are a few examples of some of the more famous or just great looking VHS sleeves.

DVDs now tend to have the generic photo shop style cover with computer effects, which just does not grab the audience like it should. Some DVD covers I remember seeing which had the same look as the VHS were the Harry Potter cinema posters. They featured the painted artwork of Drew Struzan, a big 80’s film artist who did Big Trouble in Little China and Star Wars, among others. A link to his web site is here. Just for comparison purposes, here are a few VHS releases of titles and the DVD counter parts.

DVD Release

VHS Release

DVD Release

VHS Release

DVD Release

VHS Release

Bit of a difference, hey? But it did not stop DVD with its superb picture quality, special features and smaller size knocking VHS off the shelves. Then, when the children of the VHS era grew up, they missed watching a tape with tracking lines all over it and sought out the tapes they once had. This is where the re-emergence of VHS started, on the collectors market.

VHS was then embraced by youth culture because of the above reasons… I guess also because it’s something different and new for them. Retro is back in, and VHS has never been hotter. From Johnny Dickie and Dan Kinem and Tim May, life long fans of VHS who have now made there own feature films, to the Found Footage FestivalEverything is Terrible and TV Carnage that do regular tours where people can watch the best and worse of these movies and experience them with a live audience.

Fanzines are hugely popular too, with Lunchmeat magazine combining the best and worst that the VHS era had to offer, while sites like VHS Wasteland display its VHS art like a virtual gallery for all to see.

The VHS has come full circle with films like House of the Devil which offered a special VHS version of the film and up coming movie V/H/S, which involves a group of thieves trying to find a valuable VHS tape, which they have to watch in all its grainy, gory tracking glory!

So when you are on the net and looking for something to pass the time maybe check out some VHS sites and see what all the fuss is about. If nothing else, look for Simon Bates certificate warnings where the former DJ tells the viewer that this film may have “sexual swear words” in it. Man, if sexual swear words don’t make you want to watch a film, I don’t know what will!

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