VHS: The Fall and Rise

As a child of the late 1990’s, I was not overly receptive to the times, seeing as I was just three when my time alive in the 90’s ended. But, there were a few quintessential signs of the times I indulged in, things like disposable cameras and the best fast food kids meal toys. These were no match for my first love though, the one single building that shaped me into the cinephile I am today, my local Blockbuster Video. A veritable wonderland of candy, films, and meagerly paid teenagers. To the frustration of my parents, I would spend countless hours of my developmental years perusing the off-white particleboard stacks, looking at every glistening title and design. This is where I learned just what VHS was.

Though it may seem a relic of a far off time, the VHS tape was once the king of media. Starting with the 1976 release of The Young Teacher, a South Korean Drama, this little black rectangle took the world by storm. Through the 1980’s, nearly every film (successful or not) found its way to a tape (through legal means or not). As these films grew longer, the technology going into VHS grew in an attempt to maximize space and minimize double tape releases, such as the infamous Titanic two tape release which gathers dust on grandmothers’ shelves to this day.

Anyway, in this time the media giants we still see today ruled the scene; HOB, Fox, Universal, Paramount, they had the money and prowess to push whatever films they wished. The underdogs were the small niche based companies like Wizard Video and Orion who would take the films no major company would dare produce and give them their time to shine. They made movies about the LGBT, the gruesome and campy horror flicks, the unadulterated action and violence. Regardless of their place in the food chain, the late 90’s saw a shift that would spell the doom for VHS.

March 25th, 1997 Twister became the first film to receive and full commercial release in the US. This was bad news, the DVD was smaller, lighter, and could hold more footage with better resolution. Bad news for the VHS. Although tapes grew to become part of the lexicon of United States, given away as deals at McDonald’s even (talk about full circle), it was a losing battle. As the 1990’s graduated into the 2000’s small video companies began to drop like flies, not able to keep up with the times, technology, and astronomical costs associated with converting from a VHS to DVD. The larger players in VHS did manage to hang on longer than you may think. Despite small localized releases of Cars and Eragon on VHS in late 2006 and early 2007 respectively, it is generally agreed that the final major release came on March 14, 2006 with A History of Violence. This was in fact the day the VHS died

Or was it?

Since the death of VHS there has been no major resurgence on the studio film level, but many “tape heads” have taken to shooting short and experimental films on VHS. You can also see the growing cult of collectors seeking out some of the most grotesque, gory, rare, campy, and fantastic titles ever to grace a tape. Frankenhooker, I mean how could you not want that? Even further underground you can find the subculture of people making copies of newer films on VHS for (illegal) resale, and sometimes as a carefully crafted art. It may not be the glitz and glamour that once was VHS, but this new life of misfits and weirdos using it as a medium of expression and a collection piece is far better than no life at all. It is fair to say that VHS has not come back to life, but is one of the dead, walking among us.

(Photo credit: Be Kind, Rewind)

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