Cult of VHS Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Strangelove Films
Directed by Rob Precadio
2022, 90 minutes, Not Yet Rated
UK FrightFest Premiere on 28th August 2022
Like many a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, my love of film first began with VHS tapes. Rented copies of Jurassic Park, The Lion King and Small Soldiers opened my eyes to what would be a lifetime obsession. At my best friend’s house, I would watch those my parents had forbade – Predator, Blade, uh, Scary Movie (which I saw long before I ever did Scream). Later, I would cultivate my own horror collection by recording films as they would air on late-night TV (usually Channel 4): Urban Legend, Night of the Living Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2. Found in the back of a charity shop, a dusty old copy of The Evil Dead was the first horror film I ever purchased with my own money.
And yet, when the shiny new thing came along, I abandoned VHS without a second thought. And who could have blamed me – Blade II, on DVD, with two discs, all those special features, and that sleek, shiny packaging. For me, it was about the film, not the delivery method.
Rob Preciado's documentary, Cult of VHS, follows those who didn’t; tracking the popularity of the VHS through the years, from its heyday through to its resurgence as a collectible and cult curio. Preciado gathers a lively bunch of collectors, enthusiasts, film directors and video store owners (former and current) to espouse their love of video. This nostalgia trip examines what it is about VHS tapes that its fans love, and why newer, younger enthusiasts have come to carry the torch. It’s not just horror either – the workout videos of Jane Fonda get some love too. More than the usual suspects who tend to populate this kind of thing, its talking heads are varied and interesting bunch from around the world, all of whom are packing an enviable film collection.
Striking a balance between self-effacing and knowledgable, the film is funny and informative, while also not being afraid to poke a little fun at its subject. The biggest laugh goes to Jordi Camacho (actor in the short film Porncorn), who dismisses those who mocked him for his obsession with the line "bullies can go fart themselves."
At the same time, the documentary serves as a history lesson through the years, spending ample time on the UK ‘video nasties’ controversy of the 1980s, and its impact on horror since. Much of this has been covered elsewhere (most comprehensively in Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide), but this fascinating period is always worth revisiting. It also nets viewers a series of interviews with artist Graham Humphreys, FrightFest legend and the talent behind some of the greatest horror imagery of all time.
More than just nostalgia-bating (but still nostalgia-bating quite a lot), Cult of VHS does admirable work in exploring the medium’s present and future. As The Last Video Store’s Kevin Martin threatens to steal the show, a new generation of filmmakers and fans emerge. Through short films, low-budget splatter features, and such throwbacks as the V/H/S franchise, video lives on, harkening back to its grimier, underground video nasty days. Horror on VHS – the new punk?
While not even the infectious enthusiasm of Cult of VHS could awaken the VHS collector in me, I was left dewy-eyed for a bygone age, and glad that there are those out there still carrying on the tradition. Now, where's that Evil Dead VHS at?
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