VHS: A Love Story

Documentary About VHS Tape Hunters & Collectors Hits Montreal On International Screening Tour

For many of us, VHS tapes are reminders of our childhood—recording home movies on clunky VCR cameras, watching The Lion King and other Disney films over and over, and falling asleep to a Barney tape in your jam-jams without having loud, repetitive menu screens wake you from your precious, drooling slumber.

The VHS represents a bygone era, and tapes are relics of the past—and that’s precisely what has sparked a second wave of VHS lovers, collectors and hunters.

Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector is a feature-length documentary by first-time filmmakers Levi Peretic and Dan Kinem, who travel across the United States analyzing the newfound phenomenon of “tape rescuing.”

The film itself was shot on a digital camera but edited on VHS, creating the all-too-familiar aesthetic of scratchy-but-lovable analog.

An appropriate soundtrack of 1980’s-style synths completes the time warp.

Adjust Your Tracking begins with the birth of VHS, with many interviewees laughing as they recall the outrageous prices and sizes of the first VCRs—hundreds of dollars for tape-playing machines as large as mini-fridges.

The rise of Blockbuster outlets and DVDs and the subsequent demise of mom-and-pop video stores and VHS are briefly mentioned, but the true focus of the film is on the collectors themselves and the crazy lives they lead hunting for tapes.

Kinem admits he was naïve in thinking that the move from VHS to DVD would be seamless, and that nothing would be left behind in the transition.

“It took a few years, but I realized that was never going to be the case,” he said. “There’s so many movies that people have forgotten about, and so much obscure stuff that was released on VHS. I was like, ‘I have to start writing these titles down, I want to see these movies, see why they might be lost or forgotten.’”

VHS being forgotten is one of the film’s main themes. The collectors see themselves as treasure hunters, even archeologists, responsible for rescuing abandoned and neglected tapes. If not for these collectors, what didn’t survive the switch to digital could be lost forever.

“With most collections, you’re not going to find old ‘50s movie posters in the trash, or Star Wars collectibles, or old comics,” said Kinem. “Most of the public knows these things are at least somewhat collectable and valuable. With VHS, people throw those out.

“That’s what sets it apart from other collections, that rescue factor—you want to archive and save these [tapes].”

Eccentricity 101

Cheesy, outrageous and ridiculous films are currently experiencing a kind of cinematic revival— Rubber, Teeth and most recently Sharknado are only a few examples. But VHS is the true ruler of this domain. When the first camcorders became available to the public in the ‘80s everyone could become a filmmaker, and the results were often hilarious.

“So much stuff was released, almost anything you can think of—from how-to videos, to regional shot-on-video movies that were made in people’s backyards,” explains Kinem.

“It became a whole new world, a whole new subculture, these over-the-top and ridiculous movies. That’s part of the joy of hunting for tapes, finding all these weird things that you can’t believe even got a release, let alone were made.”

It’s this craziness that drew Kinem into collecting in the first place—seeing a laughably low-budget horror film on tape.

“The first movie that got me into hardcore collecting was Birds II: The Land’s End. It was a TV-made sequel in 1994 to Hitchcock’s The Birds, and it’s terrible,” Kinem laughed. “The movie was just garbage, and it piqued my curiousity and I really wanted to see why this movie was made, and from that point on it was full speedv ahead.”

A few of the outlandish horror films mentioned in the documentary released solely on VHS include classic titles like Vampire Hookers, Zombies Vs. Mardi Gras with the caption “Beads, Breasts, Blood!,” Woodchipper Massacre and much more. To the collectors, the crazier the film, the better. One collector described such films as “bad decisions that have been released.”

One Tape to Rule Them All

The most bizarre and obscure of these “bad decisions” is Tales From the Quadead Zone, a 62-minute self-released horror film from 1987.

“It’s just so poorly done—they sing songs in it, the audio is hard to hear, the sound effects are so bad,” says Kinem. “Sometimes it sounds like you’re listening to a commentary track, because the audio is so off and sounds like it’s in the distance. The stories don’t make any sense.

“The movie is called Tales From the Quadead Zone, meaning four, but there’s only three stories in the movie; it’s almost as if they ran out of money halfway through and decided not to make a fourth story at all,” he said with a laugh.

Kinem claims the Internet and word-of-mouth boosted Quadead Zone to cult status. It is indeed rare —it’s estimated that only 100 copies of the film exist, and an eBay auction for one of the tapes sold for nearly seven hundred dollars.

“People were blown away that a VHS tape was selling for so much money,” Kinem said. “And it was this shitty movie that nobody had seen.”

Hitting the Road

Kinem says he has travelled across the United States twice before—once with a band and once to get all the interviews for the film. Now he’ll traverse the States once again, this time for a month-long cross-country screening tour that stops in Canada briefly for screenings in Ontario and Montreal in late August.

“The response has been amazing, tons of sold-out screenings. I knew this was a worthwhile documentary to make,” said Kinem. “I knew it would appeal not only to the collectors, but also have a wider appeal, entertaining people that might not know anything about VHS.”

After screenings, the event will transform into a VHS swap and sale, giving viewers a chance to talk to real collectors and experience a VHS hunt first-hand. The swap in Montreal, however will take place before the film.

“Our car is packed with almost a thousand VHS tapes and we’re taking them to every screening,” said Kinem. “The documentary does bring that out in people, gets them excited about buying tapes.

“There’s an immediate bond and friendship between VHS collectors that I’ve never experienced with anything else.”

Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector // 5860 Ave. de Lorimier, Broue Pub Brouhaha // Aug. 31 // 9:00 p.m. // VHS swap meet @ 8:00 p.m.