VHS Daze!!!

Gory greetings! This one is a bit of a change of pace for your old pal Brain Hammer. Instead of just reviewing a flick or two I decided to attempt an “article” about my early adventures renting and collecting clas-sick horror flicks on VHS. I hope my fellow horror freaks will enjoy this little trip down memory lane.

My horror collection officially started with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is about as good as it gets, but sadly I owned the high speed Video Treasures VHS. I watched that tape over and over until it wore out. My mother bought that one for me at our local Ames when I was in 6th grade, and a year or two later she also bought me the Video Treasures VHS release of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Shortly after my folks finally got cable I taped a copy of Night Of The Living Dead from USA Network’s Night Flight. I later added Dementia 13 as a double feature on this tape, and interestingly enough I later bought this exact same double feature on Diamond Entertainment DVD many years later.

Those three tapes were my entire horror collection for years until I randomly found used copies of Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, and Day Of the Dead for sale for $5 each at my local video store. I immediately bought all three tapes, and my true love for horror collecting was born. Around that same time, I remember also scoring a used copy of the heavy metal horror epic Trick Or Treat, and convincing my father that he should buy Ruggerio Deodato’s Cut & Run because I thought the cover was cool. I was also lucky (and demented) enough to tape a copy of Confessions Of A Serial Killer when it played on Cinemax, and watched it over and over.

One summer day in 1996 I got high and decided that I wanted to own all of the Friday The 13th flicks, and spent the rest of the day driving around from store to store buying the cheapest copies I could find. I think I scored at least six of them that day, and then went home and had a massive marathon. Around X-mas time of that same year I was walking down the street and saw a window display in a used book store that included copies of both of John McCarty’s “Official Splatter Movie Guides.” I bought both of them, and was immediately obsessed with the idea of seeing all of the clas-sick films that were reviewed inside. I have to admit, at the time I wasn’t cool enough to own many copies of Fangoria…much less Gore Zone…so these used books wound up being an essential purchase for me. I first read about many, many different horror films in them and then spent the next several years trying to track down as many of them as I could.

Back then, all you usually needed for a Video Store membership was a driver’s license. Some of the more “high end” stores might require another form of ID, or perhaps even a utilities bill in your name. The rarest of the bunch would require a deposit check, or gasp – a credit card number. I would avoid those stores, and stick with the ones with free membership. I would then sign up, and rent as many horror flicks I could…before I would eventually build up late fees and then never return, or the stores would go out of business. I had a car at the time, and would drive as far as two or three hours in any direction from my house looking for new video stores to plunder. The greatest thrill of this was how random the experience could be. You never knew what kind of treasures might be waiting for you inside these little stores.

For example, I remember the first time I stumbled upon my local Hollywood Video, which had a rotting basement FULL of used tapes for sale. My jaw dropped as I saw the big box Continental VHS releases of Blood Feast AND the legendary double feature of Scalps and The Slayer!!! I bought them both that day. Over the years I found some really, really great stuff there, like House By The Cemetery, Don’t Go In The Woods, Maniac, Mother’s Day, Hide And Go Shriek, Chopping Mall, The Demon, The Ripper (with Tom Savini), and incredibly enough the uncut Lettuce Entertain You release of Toxic Spawn (aka Contamination!) Another store I found near my apartment would grudgingly sell you anything on their shelves for $10, and I immediately scored myself copies of 2,000 Maniacs and Bad Taste!

Other times it would just be the thrill of randomly finding a store with a huge selection of stuff to rent. The greatest example of this I can think of was a video store I found tucked inside an ice cream shop that had an entire wall of big box horror VHS that included stuff like Driller KillerThe Prowler, Return Of The Alien’s Deadly Spawn, Wizard Of Gore, and The Manson Tapes. This same store also had a large, gnarly selection of Faces Of Death, Death Scenes, and Traces Of Death tapes, and was even hip enough to have a copy of every John Waters flick, including the ever elusive Multiple Maniacs!

I remember another local store that had a ferocious porno section right next to their horror section. There would be German scat porn and dudes holding up enema bags on the covers…on the shelves right next to the horror section, which also had some great stuff like Hell HighRock N Roll Nightmare, The Devil’s Rain, Sleepaway Camp, Dead Alive, and even Rats: Night Of Terror! All of those were rented multiple times with friends and enjoyed over a lot of laughs. It was an awesome time, finding these new cool movies, and getting to share them with my friends, who also collected this stuff and loved it too.

Another video store I really liked at the time had a killer 49 cent rental section that included the Vestron Video VHS of House On The Edge Of The Park! I was so excited to finally see that one! The cover alone had me sold, and I wound up renting that sick little bastard a bunch of times. Demons was another clas-sick 49 cent rental from that store, along with Burial Ground and Massacre At Central High! The only drawback of this store was the fact that some of their flicks were pretty beat up. I was devastated the time I rented Grizzly only to have it get mangled beyond repair by my VCR when I tried to watch it. The same thing happened when I bought a used copy of The New York Ripper. I’m jumping up and down because I’m so excited to find a copy, and then got it home and only watched about a minute before the tape disintegrated.

Keep in mind, this was the pre-internet era, when things where not so easy to find and we didn’t have instant access to horror at our fingertips, so finding and buying a VHS copy of Street Trash, or Suspiria, or The Crazies, or even something more mainstream like Prom Night could be a real trip. The last stage of my VHS daze was buying used VHS copies of horror flicks on ebay. I spent a small fortune over a few years picking up as many as I could manage. I then discovered the wonderful world of “UNCUT VHS COPIES,” and went bananas buying all of the obscure Euro-horror flicks I had been reading about for so many years. Incredible stuff I had read about for years like Anthropophagus, The Beyond, Zombi Holocaust, Beyond The Darkness, and Cannibal Apocalypse was finally available for my viewing pleasure. Looking back, I could kick myself for all of the $25 blank tape copies I purchased from Midnight Video and Blackest Hearts Media, but this was just before the DVD craze really hit and eventually made VHS collecting obsolete for me.

Pieces currently holds the record for the movie I have bought the most times in my lifetime. I first picked up the strangely edited TZ VHS release (which is missing the entire opening scene and starts with the opening credits!). I then stumbled upon a used copy of the Vestron VHS. A few years later I bought the “uncut” Japanese version of Pieces (with Japanese subtitles) from Midnight Video. All said, that’s about $50 that was spent on those three copies. All of that went out the window when I went to the mall one day and found the Diamond Entertainment DVD release of Pieces sitting there…for $5. That cheap ass, bootleg dvd was the exact same quality, and had the exact same content as all the other “uncut” versions I had previously owned. There was no turning back at that point. Over a few years, I eventually replaced all of my VHS collection on DVD (or dvd-r) and then sold off or gave away all of my tapes. I no longer own a VCR. Those daze are over for me, but it was a crucial and memorable time as a horror collector, and I’m sad that that era of really cool, independently owned video stores is now a thing of the past.

BE KIND, REWIND, AND KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!! 

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4 Responses to “VHS Daze!!!”

  1. Dave Callahan Says:

    A great retelling of an iconic American experience!

  2. Catastrophoea Says:

    Even though you don’t normally do “article” style pieces, this may be one of my favorites of yours. I love hearing how everyone originally got into horror, and now I am pining for all of th’ weird little video stores of my own that I once hunted through for tapes!

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