Videotapes… do you ever think about them? About once a day, I often think about the retro-ness of videotapes because of the sheer hilarity of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, telling people that he needs to return some videotapes. When I think about this, I have intense nostalgia for walking down the aisles of Blockbuster with my dad for a VHS to rent for the night. Almost every night of my childhood was defined by a feature film at dinner time. However, when Blockbuster started to carry more DVDs, those movie nights were halted until my parents could afford to buy a DVD player. I am 23 years old and I have vivid memories of when videotapes were replaced by DVDs.
I have never bought a VHS tape before since by 2008 (I was nine) the videotape stopped being produced and in 2010 Blockbuster went under. However, within the last few weeks, I have had the intense desire to collect VHS tapes. As my mental health fluctuates with the evergrowing stressful world we live in, I keep turning to horror to escape. There are many classic 80s horrors I have had the itch to rewatch. Understandably, I went to The Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Hellraiser first. By the time I go around to watching The Nightmare on Elms Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, I couldn’t help but be so awe-struck by the obvious dated look of the film.
Streaming it on my flatscreen tv from HBO Max, made me remember those nights when I would watch weird horror films off of VHS with my parents. To intensify this nostalgia, many horror fans on Instagram regularly post about the new videotape they are adding to their collection. I am tuned into the horror IG community by following both the horror movies and horror community hashtag. My feed will be interrupted by trending pictures within these tags and more often than not, someone is showing off their newest tape find. Some of my favorite horror accounts like Horrorheadx (Follow Allison here) and Rigbyreads (Follow Rigby here) regularly post about their horror VHS collections.
Allison has a dream set up with a TV dedicated to VHS viewing. She regularly pairs her photos with engaging conversations within her captions. She is a badass in the horror IG community and is not afraid to start a critical discourse on horror favorites. Rigby and I are mutuals and have similar tastes in horror. Every time I see her aesthetically themed pictures featuring a videotape, I cannot help but feel so inspired. She discusses her newest additions and where she finds them. With props and matching outfits, Rigby effortlessly makes horror tapes feel accessible to non-collectors like me. Seeing them so happy with their collections just brings back so many rose-colored memories of being when I was excited to go to Blockbuster for tapes.
One instance I can distinctly remember was when I was about 7 and I was finally allowed to roam the aisles by myself and look at things. I remember going into the horror aisle and being fascinated by all the weird and scary movies I wasn’t allowed to watch yet but so desperately wanted to. I don’t remember what movies my dad rented that night. However, that feeling of wonderment for horror films never left me.
I still wasn’t completely sure if I wanted to get into collectin myself until I remembered David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Videodrome is an intense body-horror, sci-fi film that I saw much too young. It’s nowhere on streaming services and not even Shudder has it available. I quickly went to eBay to see if I could buy a cheap, used DVD of it off of someone. On the first page, you will come across people selling their used videotapes of it. When looking at these VHS tapes, I felt so intrigued by the blocky rectangular packaging that has long been abandoned. Blu-rays and DVS offer thin and compact storage nowadays. The black and white labeling of videotapes was always something I loved when I was a kid. I used to always love seeing film logos printed on the label and reading the FBI warning and length of the film.
Videodrome on videotape led me down a rabbit hole of horror VHS collecting on eBay. I think the drive to really get VHS tapes sits within my desire to view Videodrome on tape. Cronenberg’s film explores the state of TV at the time. Within the film, there is a TV program called Videodrome that showcases intense violence and sex, a commentary on how television was portrayed as being a vessel for nothing but gore and pornography in the 80s. It is considered a cult classic and one of Cronenberg’s best. I haven’t seen it in years but the idea of watching this classic on an authentic tape would be a completely new and different experience that I want to have.
For me, VHS collecting will be like experiencing these films I love or appreciate a whole new light. This couldn’t ring truer for Fire Walk with Me, in particular. Allison posted that she was watching in on tape a bit ago. Her picture was just of the famous blue screen and white title text. Fire Walk with Me is such an important film to me and I was taken aback by the fact that you could just view it on tape. I have watched that film about twice a year for the last three years of my life and the idea that there is still a way for me to experience it in a whole different way is fascinating to me.
As I find myself wanting to consume horror films, I keep thinking what it would be like to pop in a videotape, turn off the lights, and experience the film the way someone would have upon its original release date. The graininess of the video quality, the tv static right before the videotape starts rolling, the authenticity of escaping into horror, all of it calls to me. I am so excited to engage in the medium in a way I haven’t experienced within my adulthood. I do not have any Blockbusters to rent and return videotapes too to my dismay. I will never live in a world where I can escape social situations by telling people I need to return some videotapes. However, I can scour the internet to build up my horror VHS collection and you bet my first purchase will be American Psycho.