VHS is the new vinyl

I thought video was a dead medium — until I discovered the analog underworld of VHS snobs
By MICHAEL NEEL  |  January 26, 2011

SEX, GUTS, AND VIDEOTAPE: Some of the fine VHS specimens in Sleazegrinder's collection.

I was a VHS addict. In the '80s and '90s, I practically lived at the video store, renting every movie I could get my hands on (except for romantic comedies). As my obsession with movies grew, renting was not enough; they needed to be mine. I amassed a few hundred videocassettes, and I was proud to own each one of them.

But as soon as DVDs hit the market, I abandoned my tapes. These days, if I want to watch The Thing, I pop in my DVD, while my VHS copy gathers dust on the shelf. If ever a format deserved to be abandoned, VHS - fuzzy, with bad audio and no letterboxing - was it. Or so I thought.

So when I spied a heavily tattooed, middle-age woman at a horror convention a few years ago selling VHS tapes for up to $50 a pop, I was shocked. "Wow, fifty bucks?" I asked her. "Last year, I saw some of these tapes for on sale for a dollar." "Oh no," she replied, "you can't find them that cheap any more. They're very collectible." My jaw dropped. VHS? The crappy format of my youth? Really?

But it's true. Videotapes are trading briskly on eBay, HorrorHound magazine has a popular section devoted to VHS collecting, and House of the Devil - an '80s-throwback horror flick made in 2010 — just came out with an acclaimed special-edition VHS copy made to look like it's 30 years old.

On the surface, this trend seems to fly in the face of everything we know about media formats. For years, the push has been to deliver an ever-sharper, more perfect movie experience, while film fiends clamored for the bells and whistles that only digital can provide: a high-quality picture, remixed audio tracks, and buttloads of behind-the-scenes features. Why go back to the caveman format of VHS now?

It makes for the best crate-digging, for starters. "There are tens of thousands of movies that are currently not, never have been, and possibly never will be available on DVD or digital download, but if you're lucky, you can dig up a copy of it on VHS," says hardcore videocassette fanatic Michael Monterastelli, who runs Collecting VHS - a Facebook page where he and other VHS enthusiasts can share their collections and drool over each other's copies of The Night God Screamed and Hard Rock Zombies. Monterastelli's own vast collection includes the highly sought-after Blood Rage, an ultra-violent, cheesy Thanksgiving slasher that he bought for $2 at a Korean video store and can fetch up to $75 on eBay. And it's not just horror that's in demand these days: gonzo '80s action movies, vintage T&A sex comedies, and even rare versions of Hollywood hits (like The Godfather Complete Epic, which re-cut Godfather 1 and 2 into chronological order) are worth big bucks.

In the past few years, Monterastelli has witnessed an increasing number of film fans turn to videotapes to unearth their favorite movies - and VHS sellers have taken notice, drastically raising their prices. A quick search on eBay or Amazon can turn up collectible titles, but you'll pay out the nose. "Night of the Demon is a rare killer Bigfoot movie from the '70s that I can't find a copy of for less than 50 bucks, used," says Monterastelli. "I've seen a new copy on Amazon Marketplace going for $2495.99." To find a bargain, you have to dig deeper, he says: "Any of these films can also be stumbled upon in a used-video store or flea market, if you're lucky. There, they go for pennies."

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Related: Review: The House of the Devil, Video: 2010 horror movie previews, White losers rejoice: Fletch celebrates 25 years, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Entertainment, Movies, eBay,  More more >
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