Viva VHS #1: A Homage to Bad VHS Tapes

Remember when VHS and Beta first came out? The video stores that arrived on the scene were often tiny little rat holes that smelled like pot and body odor. I lived in Dayton at the time, and my video store was literally in some dude's house.

Gradually, they started popping up in strip malls and convenience stores. To someone who liked a good horror flick or sleazy trucker movie, this was manna from heaven. HBO mostly played crap like Somewhere in Time, and never the good stuff - now these movies were at our fingertips. And the best thing of all were the gloriously awful VHS covers.

They were usually torn and ratty as hell from the thousands of sweaty fondling hands. Some were still damp from spilt bongwater. But it didn't matter - like a well loved paperback book, they didn't stay in mint condition for long.

Also, the covers were like those manic over-the-top movie posters from the grindhouse and drive-in days of yore. The racy covers literally beckoned a young man to grab them. If you could bear to face the video clerk with your embarrassingly grotesque and tawdry selection, you were home free! Sure the picture and sound quality were the pits, it was all about the experience, and getting to see something that you never could before.

Of course, if the movies were ever as good as the cover art, I might have gone insane with euphoria. But alas, it seemed that they were inversely proportional - the higher the expectation from the VHS box, the crappier the movie is bound to be.

I could literally spend all day at this gallery of cover art pouring over the hundreds of long forgotten VHS covers. Click on the company name (ex. Magnum Entertainment) and be treated to a vast collection of obscure covers from the past. I implore you to check it out.

What's the worst, most offensive, ridiculously awful VHS cover you ask? The video nasties were so plentiful, that it's almost impossible to choose. If I had to make a choice, I think I'd have to go with this one to top my list for sheer audacity.

There's lists of bad album covers aplenty, yet VHS covers haven't yet reached the LP record in terms of kitsch yet. I'm sure their day will come.


  1. Hey Gil. What an awesome post. I can remember when we got our first VCR. Video stores were popping up all over the place around here. You had everything from electronic stores to guys in a backroom of their house renting movies to customers. There were so many movies that I had never heard of. I lived out in the country. These movies really opened my eyes. Many times I rented movies based on the covers. I had no clue who directors, actors, etc. were. The box many times enticed me to rent a movie. Sometimes you found a real gem, while other times the movies were real stinkers. I love the art on these video covers. Those were the days!

  2. The first BLANK tape I bought in 1980(Beta, natch) cost 25 bucks! The best video store though....now there's a story. First, I needed two days off in a row and completely open. I had to take 1 bus into Cincinnati, then take another bus to a shopping mall outside town. About an hour and a half trip,total. The bus had a half hour layover at the mall and there were no more til late in the day so I had to run in the mall, find the little store, quickly choose two or three videos to rent at 10 bucks each (with a 50 dollar downpayment on file)for a 1 day rental, rush back to the bus, get home about an hour and a half later, watch all of the movies I rented by the next morning and then do it all again to take them back! I probably did this about twenty times circa 1982-83 but then they opened video stores closer. Strangely, I haven't rented anything since 1990!Last thing I rented was a Mickey Mouse cartoon collection!

  3. Keith - The worst thing for me was always presenting the video clerk with some embarassing title like Schizoid. To offset it, I'd always rent something respectable like a Meryl Streep film... it's sad, I know.

    Booksteve- That is so hilarious. I derived special enjoyment from your tale of hardship because I had to endure similar tests of endurance to rent overpriced movies. This is a true story: My friend and I would cut across a golf course to get to the video store (circa 1983) and actually got stuck in a blizzard midway. We had to abort the mission, and at home my mother took us to the emergency room because she thought we had frostbite!

  4. Gilligan, this is why we love you! You are able to articulate what is lurking in the backs of our minds, but hasn't yet come forward.

    That crack about Somewhere in Time is hilarious and timely! My wife and some other gal were just talking about how much they loved that movie and how I would hate it.

    I remember that no one I knew owned a VCR until I was out of high school (1984), so we always had to rent the machine as well as the movies. Then we had to finagle behind the TV while our parents worried that we would break something. It sure seems there was more variety in the videos stores then. Of course, most of it was a lousy variety, but it still is really.

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  6. Our nearest video store was a mere 5 minutes away. But it was in this hole in the wall building that was very dark and dank inside; almost like a cave. Our first VCR was ppurchased in 1984. It was a BETA and had one of those remotes that was attached to a looooong cord so it could be controlled from across the room.

  7. Another thing about video stores, once Hollywood got over its phobia of home entertainment, is that they were the only place to see a lot of moves that were good, just never distributed to the theaters.

    Judge Reinhold did five films that never made to distribution. The company went belly up and any other time these would be a in a vault till the end of time. Eventually they went direct to VHS.

    Most movies only deserved a VHS showing I agree. But some just were victims of bad financial times.

    Some forward thinkers, like Michael Nesmith (The Monkees), embraced the format and started the direct to DVD industry we "enjoy" today.

  8. Another thing I found interesting about the video industry, in its infancy, was that it was a magnet to recent immigrant shop owners.

    Almost every new shop in my area of California was owned by a barely English speaking couple who had a head for business.

    The store names revealed a lack of knowledge of the American landscape. "Home Box Video," "Cinivideo," "Videos R Us," and my favorite, "American Video World."

    But they were immigrants who came to this country, started a business, put down roots, paid taxes, and lived the dream.

    Good for them.

  9. I actually have some of those Magnums. Most notably the Shocking Asia series & Mondo Magic. But uh...WTF is with Robo Vampire?..