Thrift Store Adventures Volume 5: VHS Edition

The last few themed installments of Thrift Store Adventures turned out better than expected, so I’d like to ride the coattails of Ryan’s review of V/H/S with a discussion of VHS tapes, most commonly found in thrift stores, along with used bookstores and garage sales. To be realistic, VHS tapes are outdated, bulky, you can degrade the tape by rewinding it improperly, you can degrade the tape by watching it too many times, magnets don’t really work well around them and they’re afraid of water. Why watch something on VHS when you can watch it on Bluray? Well, “it’s not available on Bluray or even DVD” is the best answer to that. I collect VHS tapes because they’re cheap, and because I have a fondness for 90s anime. Most have made it to DVD, although when a production studio closes the distribution rights it owned may not be immediately available. Some are formally out of print, or in that græy area until another studio comes along to re-re-release the anime on Bluray. It’s an innocent “thrill of the hunt” kind of collection, where I’ll occasionally look through a thrift store’s VHS selection and see if there’s anything I recognize or anything that looks cool, and might only pay more for something I clearly owned or wanted to own. Here are seven examples of the kinds of tapes I’d buy:

1. Æon Flux as a History Lesson

Æon Flux was an experimental animated series in the 90s broadcast on MTV’s Liquid Television turned visually creative but flat action 00s movie. The animated series is not current available on Bluray, though we could expect to see it once the DVD format is phased in the next 10+ years. What I like about this particular tape is the history it wears on its plastic sleeve. Blockbuster originally sold this “value priced” tape at $14.99. (Isn’t it crazy that by comparison you can buy Blurays for $5?) Eventually, it ended up in the bargain bin of Half Price Books for a quarter, mere moments away from the dumpster. The tape is still in shrink wrap, where it will probably remain.

2. Tae-Bo as part of the Fitness Exploitation series

According to the Expendables 2 bonus material, the action movies of the 80s helped to inspire the fitness craze of the late 80s. I remember the general attitude. In the early 90s, we had one school-wide fitness session during an extended recess in elementary school, where fitness advisors would take groups of kids and teach them basic jumping jacks and such. I was a fat kid, so I didn’t like this much. I also remember the privatization of fitness in the 90s with the rise of home entertainment. ‘Don’t have time or confidence to go to the gym? You can exercise in front of your television! (You were going to be there anyways.)’ I remember the informercials and Tae-Bo in particular briefly saturated the market. We now have a few workout programs inspired by the Mixed Martial Arts (Jeet Kune Do lite) like P90X, so this home fitness craze is still around, albeit probably not as prominently featured as maybe it should?

3. I no longer have an excuse to avoid watching Doctor Who

The staff here at A Nerd Occurrence are big Doctor Who fans, along with a majority of nerd culture. That obsession is second only to Firefly, and though sometimes that rabid fandom reminds me embarrassingly of otaku (typically represented as Americans disturbingly obsessed with anime), the audience for Doctor Who is wide and varied. On a recent conversation during the morning talk show the BJ Shea Morning Experience, the host BJ Shea was trying to convince his co-host Steve the Producer to watch Doctor Who. Steve the Producer was like me, not disinterested but more overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of Doctor Who, so BJ Shea recommended him and the audience an episode he described as a popular episode to recommend because of its level of quality and dramatic content. (Paraphrased.) I don’t have the name of that episode to continue my stubborn “if I watch this episode, I’ll end up watching the whole thing in two days” attitude I usually have with TV shows. When I found this tape of the Five Doctors for a quarter, I thought, “damn, now I don’t have an excuse anymore.

4. Terminator 2: Special Edition is the masthead of this collection

One thing I enjoy about collecting VHS tapes is the unique packaging. As the forerunner into the home entertainment genre, there weren’t many thoughts about having a compact movie collection to easily fit on your shelf. Video stores were a completely new concept. How do you sell a product that your customer has already used? If I saw a movie in the 50s or 60s, (besides being a traveler of both time and space,) what would convince me to buy it in the 80s or 90s? That’s why I think the packaging was so diverse. There’s also a definite attitude to the packaging of this special edition of Terminator 2. Most two-tape releases like the pictured American Beauty were packaged compactly, back to back, but here the tapes are arranged side by side. This edition won’t sit quietly along with your other tapes. No. This is your videocassette masthead, to be proudly displayed. (I have two, so interested parties can comment below.)

5. How many Reservoir Dogs do I have? Not nearly enough!

My attitude on buying movies depends on their replayability. If I borrow a movie from the library and enjoyed it well enough but don’t consider it something I’d watch again, I won’t buy it. If a friend lends me a movie and I might want to watch it again, I’ll buy it. If I really enjoy the movie, I’ll buy more than one copy of it (used on DVD – sorry movie studios), so I might be able to lend it out to others. Reservoir Dogs is one of my favorite movies, so I own multiple copies of it on VHS and DVD. I bought the Bluray before I owned a player, with the attitude that my future Bluray collection should only include my favorite movies, rather than any cheap or bargain bin movie, and obviously Reservoir Dogs fit the bill there. So just how many copies do I own? Two [same edition] on VHS, three [same edition] on DVD, and this unopened BR. If you have any other editions you’d like to get rid of, such as the gas can DVD edition, let me know!

6. Media that was almost lost to time, or was it?

My introduction to collecting VHS tapes seriously started thanks to the crazy bastards at VHShitfest. Years ago, Dan Kinem started a message board to talk about movies – films, sorry – with some of his close friends. I was starting my academic study of cinema at that time, so when Dan invited me to join, I used the opportunity as a sort of online Film Class with friends. More recently, Dan and friends put their love of the Criterion Collection to the side in favor of weird, horrible, and forgotten horror VHS tapes. Odd choice, but as I read further, I realized they had a good point, and besides they were movie historians even back then. This intrigued me enough to start looking in VHS bins and recently found MTV animated series (serieses?) The Maxx and The Head. Both are now available on DVD, even though I hadn’t heard about their late 2009 DVD release until I did the research for this sentence. I assumed they were still out of print and nearly lost to time.

7. Memories from the past and meeting new friends

I saw this random anime VHS tape at the thrift store yesterday. For me, AWOL (with a clearer shot of the cover) was just another tape to add to the collection. For the cashier, the random anime (specifically the sci fi cover) brought back waves of positive memories growing up, watching Japanese cartoons, Ultraman, and Kamen Rider in his native Thailand. These memories were such a tidal wave of good vibrations for him that we ended up having a wonderful conversation in the Books section. Charoen is the store manager, and was a stand-in cashier handling extra customers, so our conversation didn’t hurt professionally in the least because two staff were still able to ask him questions regarding prices. His affable personality was really inspiring! Our conversation might not have happened without my interest in anime VHS tapes.

Honorable Mention: Home Alone

My favorite movie as a kid was probably Home Alone, along with Super Mario Brothers, and its blue box is something very nostalgic for me. While sorting through VHS tapes at Half Price Books, I overheard a conversation two employees had while sorting out books that people brought in to sell. One employee was reminiscing about textbooks, “not just the ones from college, but the ones from when I was a kid.” I don’t remember the exact phrasing for the rest of it, but it went something along these lines: ‘there are some things I forgot, or didn’t understand at the time.’ ‘Yeah, or seeing the exact book you had as a kid.’ These sorts of memory-holding-items are very valuable to me. I like picking up a book or VHS tape and having a memory attached to it. I don’t really have any strong memories with the VHS tape of Home Alone, but maybe that’s because I just bought this particular tape, though I’m not sure holding my childhood tape would be any different.


About Zombiepaper

My interests are very specific and sometimes esoteric: writing, videogames (EarthBound), movies (zombie, martial arts, and animated), music (listening and bass guitar), thrift stores, philosophy, and toys. Also, Cowabunga!

Posted on January 8, 2013, in Occurrences, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Couple quick notes rather than edit the document:

    The last photo used the tape of Terminator 2 and is a riff on the screenshot from Ryan’s V/H/S review.
    – Surprising no one, I bought three more VHS today: Top Gun (not opened), 80s Transformers movie, and a Godzilla cartoon from the 60s.

  2. “and though sometimes that rabid fandom reminds me embarrassingly of otaku”, said the guy with a bin full of VHS anime.

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