The VHS quality lottery

Richard Sandling won So You Think You're Funny this year. He's currently touring his show, VHS 2: Planet of the Tapes - and here, he talks about his love for VHS. What else?

Rock and Roll Nightmare

I am proud to say that I love collecting videos. I love VHS as a stock and I love video as home entertainment medium. I aim to bring video back to the people because I genuinely believe that it is better and greater than DVD. And more charming.

There is, simply, no charm to DVDs and there is nothing exciting about shopping for them or discovering them. Not like the way shopping for VHS is exciting. Of course nowadays I am limited to charity shops and the odd rental place that still embraces VHS and what I find exciting about scouring these shops for my tapes is the “Quality Lottery” element. I’ll be in there riffling through all the predictable Trainspottings and They Think It’s All Overs and occasionally I can come across some real gems. Amazingly intriguing films that I have never heard of, directed by people I don’t recognise (I suspect they are Italian soft-core Goremeisters using pseudonyms but can’t be sure about it) and starring absolutely no one I have ever heard of – these are the films that don’t even have Klaus Kinski or Lewis Collins in them.

Of course, having no frame of reference for its quality puts you in a quandary. Should I buy it? Is it worth my hard earned cash? I like to think positively and I convince myself that there is a good chance it could be another hidden gem like Vroom!, Number One, Intruder but I secretly know that it is far more likely to be another stinker like 72 hours To Die and Throne of Fire. On the plus side, though, it is only 50p, it is in a lovely, original big box and if I am especially fortunate it will be pre-certificated and unrated. At the very least I will have a load of amazing trailers to watch before the main feature advertising other films I have never previously heard of so that the next time I am out and I see these films that I recognise from the trailers on the shelves, I can eagerly buy them for 50p and I get to have more trailers for even more films I hadn’t heard of. Brilliant!

And sometimes, particularly on Rank and Palace Pictures releases, you get a message telling you to stay tuned after the feature – for more trailers! And it’s not just trailers either. What DVD has Capcom’s advert for Red Heat on Atari ST and Amiga, Cannon and Ball promoting Video Charity Day or Gary Davis advertising Video Times (the complete guide to the world of Video)? These welcome surprises are easily better than any Easter egg you can get on any DVD.

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Now I don’t want you to think that I am one of these people who like rubbish things for the irony and think that rubbish things are brilliant simply because of how rubbish they are. No. I am fully aware that, depending on your particular tastes, I have the best or worst VHS collection in South East Essex (over 3000), but take a film like John Fasano’s The Edge of Hell (aka Rock and Roll Nightmare) as an example of why VHS is better than DVD. This is a terrible film from the mid-80s about a sub-standard Saxon style rock band who record an album in the middle of nowhere so that the lead singer can summon up the devil, fight him on behalf of heaven and humanity and restore the balance of good and evil in the universe.

If you haven’t seen it, you would be correct in assuming that it is a bold project for the limited financial resources they had. The monsters are, essentially, sex toys with eyes or papier mache demons with no opposable limbs or joints. It is an ambitious but deeply flawed project. However, the box has my favourite thing that you don’t see any more – it has an artist’s hand drawn front cover which depicts a very exciting and intricate fantasy landscape with Thor type heroes in furry pants holding buxom, tanned Valkyries in their arms whilst monsters and dragons rage war with each other behind them. It is an amazing thing to behold. What has been depicted on that cover is EXACTLY the film I want to see and I am very excited about the cinematic possibilities of what I am holding in my hands. Sadly, reality all too soon rears its ugly head when I see the stills from the film on the back of the box and I realise that nothing in this film will be anywhere as good as the front cover pictur. But, on the plus side, it was only 50p, has a great box and it had loads of great trailers. Quality of the actual film aside, this is definitely a video worth owning.

However, should I go to a shop and buy The Edge of Hell on DVD all I am doing is buying a rubbish film. As I said before, there is no charm to DVDs and there is certainly no charm or even a real point in owning films of questionable quality on DVD. DVDs might be crammed full of so-called special features and all other sorts of extras but none of these are as genuinely exciting and enticing as all the added and often unexpected bonuses of buying original release, big box, ex-rental videos. I shall shamelessly continue to buy and watch these videos with pride and joy and I urge you to spend just one afternoon rediscovering the innocent delights of buying and watching an 80s ex-rental and just see how much more enjoyable and honest it is than the cynical and clinical DVDs that you have been brainwashed into believing are actually better than video.

Go on, once more for old times’ sake.