Welcome to the VHS Underground

It is estimated that less than half of the movies that have ever been released on VHS have some kind of (legitimate) digital equivalent. Just think about that for a moment. Since the inception of VHS as a mainstream format (1979ish) to its “death” in 2006, there are more than a half million estimated titles that were released on VHS ranging from workout videos to movies to “how to” tapes to adult titles lost forever. Fully 50% of these titles are still unavailable in any other format today. If you included titles previously available on other formats such as Laserdisc, CED, Cartrivision, Betamax, Video 8 and CVC, the number of lost titles grows even higher.

The reason for these lost artifacts consisting of 240 lines of resolution varies from title to title, but what remains consistent is that they never made their way to DVD or any proper digital format. Sometimes a rights issue holds up a title making its way into the future, other times it is a lack of potential marketing and some have convoluted reasons that make little sense. I know of more than one film lingering in the limbo between this generation and the last simply because the rights holder sees no market for said title or does not wish to release the film to spite a former business partner. The rights issue is an understandable one; the sitting on a title for no reason other than you don’t see an audience for it is downright insulting to the film and the fans. A myriad of legal mumbo jumbo and bizarre rights curses keeps us from enjoying our appointed films.

The VHS underground is a growing market simmering just beneath the surface of the mainstream.

With the shocking number of analog only movies confronting you there are obviously a great deal of amazing films that have been lost during this digital revolution, some of which are well known and some of which are so obscure that many people fail to even understand they might exist.

With these videos being absent from the digital arena, the legends of them has only grown in proportion to their scarcity. And yet… are they worthy of the small cult surrounding them? The prices of finding original VHS tapes of these films range from “affordable but inflated” to “absolutely fucking ridiculous” and that is if you can even find a copy that has not been played over a thousand times (a common issue as many of these were perennial rental favorites) or that will track worth a damn (fucking SLP/EP speed tapes). The VHS underground is a growing market simmering just beneath the surface of the mainstream.

Film Threat’s weekly column When VHS Was King will take a look at the most bizarre VHS oddities that ever existed. True film fans will hunt these rare tapes down. Be warned: our goal is to uncover the best of the worst, the worst of the best, the strangest and most obscure in pursuit of VHS gold left to rot in the landfill. Prepare to be introduced to lost VHS treasures.

The first of Josh Hadley’s column will debut later today. Until then, enjoy other content on the Film Threat website. Or perhaps listen to the latest episode of the Film Threat podcast. And if you would like to suggest obscure VHS titles worthy of being featured in this column, please make suggestions in the comments below. 

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