VHS Obsessions: The Tapes We Wore Out

Do you own a VCR? These days, those once-ubiquitous household items are mostly found in art studios or with die-hard collectors of anachronous media, but once upon a time, they held the key to so, so much formative wonder! The eighties (and even some nineties) babies remember when a favorite movie wasn’t just a constant presence on your “recently watched” list, but a talisman (with its own plastic case, no less) subject to the wear and tear of our undying—at least, at the time—affection. We asked the Fandor staff what VHS tapes paid the ultimate price for repeat viewings, and at least some of the answers…may surprise you: 

DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp dir. Bob Hathcock, 1990

DuckTales has always been a mishmash of different cartoon characters and borrowed tropes, but the movie takes this formula to the next level. It’s a heady morality tale that somehow combines Aladdin (which, by the way, it predates by two years), Pinocchio, and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I played this tape again and again. Seriously, it lived in my VHS player. By the end, the tracking had gotten so bad that I would have to sit in front of the TV, hand-adjusting the tracking knob. But alas, one day the tape…just…snapped. Ooh-woo-ooh.” — Joaquin Lowe, Editorial

Labyrinth dir. Jim Henson, 1986

“I remember the exact moment that I saw Labyrinth for the first time: On the TVs at my local video store when I was five, trying to pick out a movie to watch for a sleepover with my best friend. I stood frozen in the middle of an aisle, transfixed by Jennifer Connolly and David Bowie. When my friend came over to see what I was doing I pointed and said, ‘That’s the one! We have to watch that one!’ It was over from that moment on—I couldn’t get enough, and I must have renewed that rental a hundred times. It’s safe to say that it was a formative movie for me, and that David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly were my first and second celebrity crushes. My dog even bears an uncanny resemblance to the sometimes-valiant Sir Didymus!” — Hannah Piper Burns, Editorial

Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory dir. Geoff Murphy, 1990

“In a world without the Internet, young people across rural America only had one way to experience the culture of the outside world: The VHS tape. From gritty New York City to the neon lights of Las Vegas, from the cobbled streets of Paris to the sunny shores of Los Angeles, the world was shown (most times after extensive tracking) through this wonderful rectangular medium. I went through multiple copies of many famed films like The Burbs, Beverly Hills Cop, and E.T., but none got more play than the rare and fabled Young Guns. It featured not one, but two members of the Estevez/Sheen family, a sprinkle of Lou Diamond, a dash of Kiefer Sutherland, and a whole lot of what young people wanted at the time—a Western. The film was nothing if not spectacular: There was Emilio Estevez playing Billy the Kid, shooting down those who would hunt him down, escaping the law multiple times, and being gunned down by one of his best buds (who was played by someone random that I can’t remember). The best part, though, was the soundtrack! Bon Jovi did an epic tune called ‘Blaze of Glory; the music video has him shredding guitar atop a mountain or something. Bon Jovi even has a cameo falling into a pit. All in all, it’s a great… wait…Oh dang, I’m talking about Young Guns II. Can you believe they made two of these things? Anyway, go stream it on your phone, or ocular implants, or whatever the heck you kids watch movies on these days.” — Matt Novak, Editorial

Raiders of the Lost Ark dir. Steven Spielberg, 1991

“I couldn’t have been older than ten when I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was in my parents’ bedroom, and for some ill-advised reason was left alone to watch the spirits from the Ark kill the Nazis. I was standing in front of the T.V. eating a box of Nerds, and when the beautiful spirit suddenly turns into a terrifying, skeletal ghoul, I screamed and threw my arms in the air, spilling Nerds everywhere (I haven’t told anyone about this until now, and I’m sure there is still candy under my parents’ bed). But, of course, I loved getting scared like that, which is why I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count.” — Matt Maraynes, Editorial

Godzilla vs. Mothra dir. Takao Okawara, 1992

“I’m not sure why there was so much hype for Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, considering how bad the 1998 film really was—but thankfully, for a four-year-old like myself, it was monster-mania heaven. Because of the hype surrounding that disaster of a Matthew Broderick vehicle, I was also introduced to the originals, starting with Gojira, and fell in love with all of the Toho films right up through last year’s Godzilla Shin. But the VHS I remember the most vividly wearing out was Godzilla vs Mothra. No, not the 1964 version (Mothra vs. Godzilla), directed by original creator Ishiro Honda (however, I wore that out too), but the darker 1992 iteration—with decidedly less-obvious ‘that’s a dude in a suit’ visual effects. As a four-year-old with Godzilla and Mothra toys in hand, I remember being in awe of the battle sequences between the gargantuan kaiju. And once it was over, I rewound the tape immediately, and watched it again and again.” — Levi Hill, Marketing 

The Princess Bride dir. Rob Reiner, 1987

“I remembered buying the VHS of The Princess Bride from Blockbuster Video on New Year’s Eve at some point in the late nineties or early aughts. We were picking a movie for a sleepover, and my mom was frustrated that we were taking so long. This was the movie we could all agree upon (though my mom was not pleased—since all the rental copies were out, we had to buy it). It was subsequently watched, and quoted religiously, at every sleepover. I bet you ten bucks that it’s still at my parents’ house in Kentucky.” — Becky Gillig, Content Operations

Vertigo dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

“I used to sit in front of the T.V. and our trusty family top-loader with a copy of Vertigo that we had recorded off of The Movie Channel. It was really only a few select parts of the film that concerned me, and in fact, when Vertigo was screened for ‘Hitchcock in Hollywood,’ it was as if I was watching it for the first time. What I was obsessed with as a child were the two Mission sequences: Kim Novak goes up the stairs in a zolly shot, Jimmy Stewart is unable to catch up, falling body—stop, fast-forward, play—Kim Novak up the stairs, zolly, Jimmy Stewart catches her, nun, a falling body, church bells—stop, rewind, play…” — Bradley Hyppa, Content Operations

Aladdin dir. Ron Clements and John Musker, 1992

“Like so many millennials, I was raised on a healthy diet of Disney movies. While I had my favorites—The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella—nothing hooked me quite like Aladdin. As an overly imaginative five-year-old, the opening scene sparked pure awe in my impressionable mind. A sparkly flying golden scarab flitting through the sky? A cave emerging from the sandy desert in the form of a roaring tiger’s head? Is a secret magical phrase necessary to gain entry? I was mesmerized right off the bat. Aladdin’s charisma, the Genie’s songs, Abu’s charm, Jasmine’s pet tiger, and Jafar’s menacing goatee—it was the perfect recipe. (Xanax bars) The influence (read: Obsession) ran so deep that for months after my ‘Aladdin phase,’ I insisted that I had ‘officially’ changed my name and refused to answer to anything other than Jasmine.” — Shaina Hodgkinson, Editorial

The Green Room dir. François Truffaut, 1978

“This isn’t so much a story of a VHS that I enjoyed watching as much as it is a tale of my relationship to a particular cassette tape. It was 2007—DVD reigned supreme, torrenting was quickly replacing peer-to-peer downloading, and YouTube videos were starting to go viral. And yet, despite this newfound accessibility to so much content, I still could not track down this elusive film. I was an obnoxious, film-hungry college geek who wanted to complete my viewing of all of Truffaut’s films, and this one title was easily the most difficult to find. Well, not entirely—some sellers happened to have used VHS copies available on Amazon, with a pretty hefty (but justifiable!) mark-up. My satisfaction upon the tape’s arrival was unparalleled at the time: At long last, I can watch this rare Truffaut film!’ But my elation quickly faded…Why did I purchase it, especially considering I didn’t own a VCR, much less anyone else in the dorms? Even when I finally got my hands on a player, I could never quite muster the enthusiasm to watch the film, partially because I had gotten over my infatuation with Truffaut (and had, alas, moved on to Tarkovsky), but also because that small, rectangular, plastic VHS tape stood as a valuable reminder of many lessons to come. For instance: Giving into temptations on Amazon is far too easy! But also, some desires–cinephilic or otherwise–are best left unconsummated.” — Haroon Adalat, Creative

“Canadian Music Videos”

“As an angsty teen growing up on suburban Long Island in the nineties, I wielded the VHS tape as a symbol of my rebellion against everything that appalled me about the culture of the time. You see, at some point, I discovered that my parents’ cable package included Canada’s answer to MTV: MuchMusic. It was an uncanny valley of American 90s pop culture, with a seemingly wider breadth of diverse artists, particularly on ‘The Wedge’, a celebration of indie weirdness hosted by VJ and filmmaker Sook-Yin Lee. And, perhaps because it seemed almost incomprehensible that I had found this alternate universe, I was determined to capture it all. Throughout the tenth grade, my seventeen-inch TV-VCR combo sat at the ready, loaded with a fresh cassette. With one push of the worn red button on the remote, I could record every odd wonder broadcast to my bedroom from the faraway land called Toronto. If I was attentive, I could make clean cuts between my targets. When I played them back (which I often did), I admired my handiwork and reveled in the secret world I’d curated on the tape.” — Kimberly Corry, Analytics

If we’ve piqued your interest in all things VHS, you won’t want to miss the documentary “Adjust Your Tracking”—which profiles VCR junkies all over the world who just can’t give up the ghost, as well as the way VHS tapes revolutionized the distribution of media, among other things—now streaming on Fandor! And for more of that sweet, sweet nostalgia, check out our articles on “Throwback Cartoons We Wish Were (Good) Live-Action Movies” and “The Top Ten Most Disturbing Children’s Cartoons!”
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