Weekend Roundtable: VHS Memories

As we speak, the last remaining manufacturer of VCRs (Funai Electric) is finally ceasing all production of the obsolete videocassette players. I bet you assumed this happened years ago. For those of us who grew up during the home video boom of the 1980s, the death of VHS may be bittersweet news. Let’s reminisce about some of the good times (or bad) we had with the format.

Viewed from modern standards, VHS was an abysmal way to watch a movie. Fuzzy, low-resolution, poor colors, pan & scan… honestly, what was there to like about it? However, the perspective was very different at the time. Videocassettes truly revolutionized the way movies were consumed by allowing anyone to watch (and rewatch) movies from the comfort of their own homes, on their own schedules, without needing to go to a movie theater or pay theater prices. Through the convenience of video rental stores, kids of my generation had easy access to hundreds or even thousands of movies from every era of cinema. This was unheard of in prior decades. I doubt that I or most of our site’s contributors would have grown up to be so movie-obsessed if it weren’t for VHS.

Shannon Nutt

My family got into the VHS game fairly early in the format, buying our first VCR in 1982. The model was so archaic it not only top-loaded the cassettes but had a WIRED remote that only had a single option: “Pause.” (This was primarily so you could cut out the commercials for TV shows you recorded without having to stand in front of the player.)

My neighborhood didn’t get its first video store until around 1984 or ’85. While I can’t remember the first movie that I really became a fan of on VHS, I do remember (thanks to a lenient video store clerk who was just happy to get my business) that it was a chance to rent R-rated films that I wasn’t old enough to see yet in the theater. (This was back in the days where movie ushers actually enforced the under-17 policy, kiddies.) Some of my earliest VHS memories are sneaking videos (my parents were still trying to keep me away from R-rated titles) like ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Escape from New York’ into the house to see what I had missed in the theater.

I also was going to relay how I discovered the wonderful world of adult film on VHS, but I figure that’s a topic for a different Roundtable – and probably a different web site.

Brian Hoss

I have what feels like two decades of good to great VHS memories, but I also have a few bad ones. Once when I was little, the family VCR acted up. In spite of my older siblings’ warnings, I decided to test the VCR using my favorite tape, which was filled with EP-speed recordings of cartoons (mainly ‘Transformers’ episodes that I wouldn’t see again for 10+ plus years). That was a hard lesson well learned.

In the summers, we were sent off to visit our grandparents in the country. One thing we got to do was occasionally rent a tape from the only rental place in town. After deciding to screw up our courage and watch ‘The Omen’, we returned to town the next day to bring the tape back, only to find that the rental store had burned to the ground. That was the last tape we got to rent for a while.

Mike Attebery

I’ve mentioned this before, but I grew up in a household without a VCR. When we wanted to have a movie night, my dad would go to the rental shop and take out a loaner unit, which was often just a big VCR strapped into a suitcase and padded with egg crate foam. (I’m not making this up.) When I saw the big suitcase and a stack of tape cases, I knew it would be a fun weekend.

The top two VHS rental memories for me will always be the first time I saw ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ (I laughed myself silly when Pooh bouncef off tree branches in pursuit of honey), and the time my mother rented ‘Masters of the Universe’ and let me watch it twice in one sitting (both times accompanied by a plate of clam strips; it’s the little things…).

M. Enois Duarte

My favorite memory with VHS is the first day I discovered George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in the early ’80s. I was already a horror-hound starving for more gory scares to consume. While walking down the aisle of my local video store, I saw the cover art featuring people munching on what looked like the flesh of others. I rented the movie on a whim largely based on that cover, a very common approach for deciding what to watch. Popping the tape into the VCR, I was surprised to discover that the movie was in black-and-white. At first, I felt a bit disappointed because I didn’t think the movie would show the sort of blood and guts I was hungering for at the time. To my surprise, the seminal zombie classic was violent and shocking enough to keep me glued to the screen, and instantly made me a Romero fan.

Luke Hickman

When ‘The Fugitive’ hit theaters, I was one obsessed 13-year-old. I saw the movie at least seven times in theaters and countless more times when it hit VHS the next year. Because Suncoast Video had ridiculously high prices (except for the occasional random sales on specific titles), I typically purchased my tapes from Blockbuster. The chain’s monthly in-store fliers listed sale prices, so I went in and pre-ordered my copy to ensure I’d have it on street date. The folks behind the counter didn’t even know how to execute a pre-sale, so they simply taped a copy of my carbon-paper receipt to the front desk that said, “Paid – Ready for Pickup.”

When street date finally rolled around, I went in to pick it up and the cashier had no idea what I was talking about. I pointed to the receipt and explained, and the puzzled employee pulled a copy from under the counter and handed it over to me with a confused look. I remember peeling it out of the plastic and smelling the new VHS smell. Remember that? It smelled awful, like melted plastic, but because that smell signified the ability to watch a beloved film endlessly at home, it was fantastic to me.

I watched that movie so many times that, within a few years, the tape itself to pretty worn-out. It ended up getting so hideous that I ultimately purchased another copy. The only tape in my collection to ever get used enough to warrant a re-buy was ‘The Fugitive’.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I think I was all of 11 when I sat down with my mom and a legal pad to watch the first two ‘Halloween’ movies on VHS. Even at that tender age, I’d seen them both before. This time was special because my mother wanted to see how many more people were murdered in the sequel. We watched those movies back-to-back, keeping track of Michael Myers’ body count all the while. I believe it was nine kills in the sequel vs. six in the original, by the way. So, yeah, I had a weird childhood.

Josh Zyber

I spent many a lazy afternoon in my youth trawling the aisles of Blockbuster Video looking for movies to rent, drawn to them mostly based on their titles or weird cover art. I imagine that’s an experience my children will never have. As I became more and more of a movie buff, I sought out the classics – stuff my mom would never choose to rent or watch. I have a very clear memory of watching ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ at about 15-years-old and being so mesmerized by it that I rewound the tape and watched it in full again immediately afterwards. That’s a nearly five-hour viewing session for one movie.

The thought of watching a motion picture as magnificent as ‘2001’ in pan & scan on a 20″ television with mono sound, via a fuzzy tape that was probably filled with tracking errors from being played too many times previously, seems utterly ghastly to me now. At the time, I was hooked.

In addition to cropping the movie to 4:3, the studio that released the tape had also taken the liberty of editing out the intermission. The movie played through without interruption, and I didn’t even realize until years afterward that it was supposed to have a break in the middle. To this day, I still find the intermission jarring and do my best to chapter-skip past it on Blu-ray as soon as I realize it’s coming up.

Many years later, after I moved to Boston, I used to frequent a mom & pop video shop called, simply enough, “The Video Movie Store.” The owner was an eccentric movie buff who encouraged browsing and random discovery. He kept all the tapes themselves behind the counter, organized in some rational fashion, but the shelves of the store were overflowing with empty slipcovers arranged in no particular order. If you came in knowing what you wanted, you could ask for it and he’d get it for you. Otherwise, you’d just wander through the place until you stumbled upon something that looked interesting. Sadly, the store went under not long after the introduction of DVD. The owner couldn’t afford to upgrade, and renting VHS went out of fashion quickly. I still miss that place.

Did you have any fond (or perhaps not so fond) experiences with the VHS format? Tell us about them in the Comments.


  1. NJScorpio

    My Grandfather used to record the HBO movie premiers, on VHS tapes that had been used many times, and give them to my mother and I to watch. Fond memories of terrible quality recordings.

  2. Mike H

    It was a VHS rental of The Abyss that I was trying to watch when my player ate the tape (I am sure VHS veterans all know the dreaded crunching and whining sound). That is when I decided I had it with the format and went and bought the movie on Laserdisc thus beginning my long foray into higher quality home movie viewing. Thank you VHS for starting me down a better path to the world of home theater addiction. Nothing but love:)

    • William Henley

      I remember taking the top off the unit, gently removing the tape, smoothing it out with my fingers, and cleaning the heads with alcohol while I was in there. In a few instances, I would have to cut and splice the tape (some of the cheaper brand tapes would actually stretch and sometimes break when the VCR ate the tapes. Poloroid tapes were the worst at that).

  3. Chris B

    Oh man, VHS was the heyday of my movie-watching youth. I can’t tell you how many times I saw BTTF of Aliens on VHS at my house. A few years after that I received the Star Wars trilogy as a gift at Christmas from my aunt and uncle and wore it out pretty quick.

    I remember distinctly on the days when I would stay home from school because I wasn’t feeling well I would reach for one tape in particular. Sometime in the early to mid-eighties, my grandfather (a veteran of WW2) had recorded a tv broadcast of The Great Escape off of television. The quality was pretty bad obviously and a few seconds of footage were missing here and there (from stopping/starting the recording every time there was a commercial break), but it didn’t matter. There was something comforting about the film that always made me feel a little bit better despite whatever flu or cold I happenned to be wrestling with at the time. Plus, the movie is so long you could doze off for a bit and still wale up in time to see the finale!

    In the summers as a kid me and my sister would stay with my grandparents for 2 weeks, luckily there was a video store nearby with the whole “7 movies for 7 days for 7 bucks” promotion seemingly always going on. My grandparents owned one of those vhs/tv combo units that they had set up in the basement where we slept. It must have had like an 18 inch screen with a VCR built in. That baby hosted countless viewings of The Naked Gun (and it’s sequel) , Beverly Hills Cop (parts 1 &2) Men at Work, Little Shop of Horrors, Kuffs, and so many others….

    • William Henley

      That was a pretty good size for a combo unit – most I have seen had a 13 inch screen.

      Did anyone else’s VCR do this – you mentioned how there was a few seconds of movies missing from pausing out commercials. Our VCR actually had a sound drop of about 2 seconds when you did that. I actually got to the point where I started recording the “and now back to our program” bump to try to avoid the sound dropping out during the movie.

  4. agentalbert

    I remember my family’s first VCR in 1979 or 1980. Absolutely huge top-loading beast. It seemed to take about 50 pounds of pressure to push the slot holding the tape back down into the machine. The “remote control” was wired and just barely long enough to reach the couch. It was mostly used just to record things. For some reason the only VHS tape I remember my dad buying was Battlestar Galactica.

  5. merlich

    My first VCR experience was in about 1978 when I went to a friend’s house who had a Sony Betamax and we watched Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” I was blown away by the thing, even though it only had a 60 minute recording limit. Soon after I bought my first VCR, an RCA top-loader, a real beast. But a least it could record for 2 hours. I still own an S-VHS machine that I last used about a year ago to watch home movies recorded on VHS.

  6. Elizabeth

    My parents bought our first VCR one summer when my older sisters were away at summer camp. My father was willing to pick up any movie regardless of rating that any of us kids picked up or requested from the local video store. I saw movies like Porky’s, the first R-rated Police Academy (with the blow job scene which I actually didn’t understand until years later), and Nightmare on Elm Street long before they were age appropriate. So that’s why I find it weird when I read in the comments or the forums about some of you not letting your kids watch certain movies; that concept is completely foreign to me.

    I remember one night my dad brought home a movie for me that I had never heard of based on the recommendation of someone at the rental store. When he handed it to me, I read the title of the movie and thought, “What is this garbage?” The movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I loved the movie.

    One of the titles I requested was a movie called Avenging Angel. I was drawn to it because the trailer had shown this woman with a gun standing over the bad guy and she said, “When you get to Hell, tell them an Angel sent you.” I thought it was a cool line. Well little did I know it was part of a trilogy until my dad came home with all 3 films.

    • Csm101

      I remember the Avenging Angel series on Skinemax! I think one involved a killer who would sleep with the bodies and I also remember one where a baby crawled off a balcony and one of Angel’s friends caught him. I would totally buy that trilogy if and when it makes it to blu!

  7. Ross

    VHS started this home theatre bug of mine. My parents couldn’t afford a VCR when they came to market so we rented the machine until of my fathers friends gave us his spare. The first movie I watched on VHS was the Terminator, I was 5 Years old and it changed my life. Every weekend my parents and I would run to the video store and rent 4-6 tapes. I recall calling around to see when Robocop would be released and reserved it. My first 3 tapes I bought with my own money was Batman 1989, Lethal Weapon 2 and Total Recall. I also remember skipping school when my Columbia House orders would arrive. Damn I miss video stores.

  8. plissken99

    When I think of VHS, I think of crime. I once had a collection of hundreds, possibly thousands of movies all copied from Blockbuster rentals. Usually 2-4 movies to a tape depending on length. To this day I have never read an FBI warning.. Even at age 6 I sense of plausible deniability. Then getting my older brother to hook me up with R rated rentals! Good times.

    Then sneaking into my older brothers room, finding unmarked vhs cassettes JACKPOT. Then hurriedly copying them before he returned and putting the original back. That was my intro to XXX!

    My worst crimes occurred when I got an eye for quality. That happened when The Crow came out. No matter how carefully on SP I recorded it, I could not get it as clean as the original rental copy. I called B-Buster and it was $97 to buy the tape. Then it occurred to me I could switch the labels, keeping the original for myself lol. Kids are sociopaths.

    • I’ll do you one better…a certain someone I know (whose name will never pass my lips) used to sneak his home video camera (the old bulky kind that took VHS tapes) into the drive in, set it up on a tripod and film new movies – then dub the tapes and share them with classmates.

      I wonder what happened to that sneaky little kid? 😉

    • William Henley

      Yeah, some of those tapes were insane. I remember both Terminator 2 and Lawnmower man sold for $99, and they were previously owned copies (ie the rental store would buy 20-300 copies of a new movie, and when it started renting less, they would sell their used copies). I don’t think Lawnmower man was ever available to BUY on VHS, I think it was rental only, and they had heavy macrovision on them, so your only choice was to pay $99 and get them from the rental stores. Now movies that the studios actually sold to the end consumer on tape, you could get those previously owned for like $7 each.

      Needless to say, we didn’t have any $99 tapes. I think we waited for it to come to either Pay-Per-View or HBO, and then ask a friend who had cable to record it for us

  9. When I was a kid my dad would work late and get home around 11pm, always with a new movie from Take One Video. I’d pretend to fall asleep on the couch and watch whatever he had a taste for. Not all were great, but that’s how I discovered Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, and the underratedNic Cage movie Red Rocks West.
    My parents also taped every episode of Twin Peaks, which I of course fell in love with when I could finally watch it.

  10. EM

    The Age of VHS and VCR greatly overlapped with the Age of VCS, the Atari 2600 “Video Computer System”, the king of video-game systems.

    Once upon the time in the 1980s, my mother walked into the living room to find me sitting on the floor in front of the TV, Space Invaders cartridge plugged into the 2600, my hands working the joystick controller, as cosmic cathode rays menaced a pixel-based planet Earth. Suddenly I announced I needed something from the kitchen; rather than have my mother go get it, I got up and went to the kitchen myself. My mother stood amazed, for my onscreen cannon continued to dodge missiles, blast aliens to smithereens, and rack up a score evenly divisible by 5. My mother was no video-game junkie, but she’d played Space Invaders many times before (usually while screaming, “They’re going to get me!!!!!”) and knew quite well it didn’t run like that on autopilot, even in attract mode. She was beside herself with bafflement.

    But of course you’ve deduced what Mom didn’t: I had figured out how to record a video game and play it back. One of my best pranks…better than the rubber snake!

  11. Carlito

    My first introduction of the vcr and vhs tapes was at a friends house. I spent the night and they had rented the evil dead and southern comfort. Suffice to say I walked home in the middle of the night scared shitless.

  12. Bolo

    ‘Mario Paint’ is really the only experience I have that is specific to the VHS format. Everything else about VHS (such as renting and buying movies for home viewing) carried on into DVD and blu ray. But using a videogame console to make animated movies that could be played back on a VHS tape was a ton of fun in its day. I used it to make what today would be called a “proof of concept” for a videogame idea and sent it to Nintendo. They were sweet enough to send me back a letter complimenting me on my creativity and saying they looked forward to me working there when I was an adult.


    When I first got a VHS recorder in the early part of the 80s I rented it from a TV rental service. I only got a VHS because where I lived everyone else had a Betamax and lending each other the tapes rented from the local store and I was not into lending others so I got a VHS and it was better. Loved the 80s video nasties like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw even Driller Killer. Mine also a remote that was wired and only had a pause and stop on it I believe. Only last year I took nearly 1000 tapes to the tip to throw them away.

  14. Bolo

    I saw a documentary called ‘Rewind This!’ about the history of VHS. I thought it was really good, but I didn’t know a lot about the history of this format. I would be interested to know if any of you experts saw it and whether you found it to be an accurate presentation of history.

    It was interesting to watch in how nobody ever saw the next step. In retrospect, the evolution seems obvious, but this documentary was really good about showing how one guy would innovate without any thought of where the next guy would take it. They tell the story of VHS as being that the companies that invented home video recorders only thought they’d be used to record tv stuff onto blank cassettes. Like if you were going to miss a sports game or the news, you would record it. Then some other guy got the idea of selling tapes with content already on them. He went around trying to get the movie studios to buy into this and they all thought it was dumb. They thought movies were religious experiences and cinemas were like cathedrals, so putting something as grand as a movie in this little plastic cassette thingy cheapened the artform. Only Fox was willing to sell this guy the homevideo rights to some of their movies (which they later had to buy back at a hefty cost). But even this guy who thought up putting movies on tapes didn’t foresee the rental market. He thought everybody would just buy the movies for their home collections.

    Interesting stuff.

  15. SuperSugarBear

    The great thing about the video store was the gathering of cinephiles. I would spend hours upon hours at at time there just talking film with people who were like-minded, and who also had deeper knowledge than the layperson (and probably subscriptions to PREMIERE, AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, FANGORIA, Etc.).
    I rememeber when the first video store opened- they were releasing art-house “new classics” that people were definitely coming in for: MEAN STREETS and DEER HUNTER among them.
    I remember that in the early days – your choices were based not on “what you want to see” but more on “which one of the 100 videotapes in the stire had you NOT SEEN YET!”. This lead to viewings of things like SLITHIS and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. Not things I would normally choose! Or maybe a Laura Antonelli foreign softcore italian skin flick!
    And I’ll never forget that the 2 tape editions of movies felt long – just because they MUST BE -they were TWO TAPES! But, in actuality they were mostly 2 1/2 hour films. (Some having the second tape being 20 minutes long!). In my youth, I really though NASHVILLE was like a 5 hour film!
    But, I will forever be sad that the folks today will never know the experience of walking the aisles on a weekend looking for a movie. That was a unique ritual. Back when studios knew you could be sold on box art alone! Or bribing the counter clerk to get you the next returned copy of the out- of- stock new title once it drops in the return box!
    Good Times.
    The image was not great, but the fact that you watch these in your own home when you wanted to was just a revolution.

  16. Ronald

    That was an awesome memories of the heyday of vhs, Josh! In our country in the Philippines, vhs was in full swing before the ld and dvd format came in. Im embracing now the blu-ray format.

  17. Grant

    I have a lot of fond memories of VHS. In fact I still have two VCRs and almost two hundred tapes to keep filled with nostalgia.

    My mom didn’t buy us a VCR until 1986. Until then we rented the device several times from our nearby video store. Yes, it did come in suitcase that looked like it was carrying a disassembled sniper rifle than an entertainment machine. I remember having to carry that machine home for my mom.

    I remember when my friends parents bought a VHS tape rewinder. Which I thought was the craziest thing because VCRs already had that function. I remember being filled with anticipation to see a movie, going to the store to get it, getting home and instead of watching it right away I had to take the time and rewind the damn thing. Or being hit with disappointment when I discovered that the one movie that I was jonesing to see was out. After a few years I thought “Enough of that. Screw late fees and the inconvenience of returning tapes I’m just going to buy ’em!” I remember my first VHS purchases: Conan the Barbarian and The Green Berets; mostly due to lack of stock at the store. I remember wearing out my editions of Star Wars trilogy and Top Gun. A 13 year old home theatre, movie loving monster was created. I haven’t any regrets.

  18. William Henley

    I like how Luke mentioned the smell of new VHS. To this day, I still like the smell of opening a product, knowing you are getting a brief whiff of air from another part of the world that was trapped in the packaging.

    And Mike, I remember the suitcases with the VCR strapped in with all the foam.

    I got several memories, but I will try to be brief. I believe we got our first VCR with the income tax money in 1985. I was 5. I remember my dad going down to Highlands Electronics to pick it up, and I was so excited, I played like we already had it, and put a blank tape on top of the television. My dad got home and freaked out and said how I should never do that because it would erase the tape. My only experience with the word “erase” at that time was with a pencil eraser, and I thought it would be cool to watch the tape disappear, and would occassionally put the tape on top of the TV again. It never disappered.

    And yep, that VCR had a wired remote. It had a couple of buttons on it – Play, Pause, Stop, Cue and Review. The VCR itself had a push button channel selector, and you had tiny gears underneath the button to tune the channel and select VHF or UHF. It had a tiny plastic yellow stick to make it easier to turn the gears. It was also the first front-loader VCR that most people had seen. It took me a while to learn how to use it – all my friends and the church all had top loaders.

    I had my own tape, and I used it to record Muppet Babies. My friends thought it was so cool because I had like 6 episodes of it, and I could watch it whenever I wanted.

    That Christmas, my mom started our Christmas show tape. They actually still have it. We have been trying to get it digitized for years because there are a couple of shows that were one-time specials (such as Sherry Lewis’s Christmas Special (it must be very rare, its not listed on IMDB – should be from around 1986 or 1987). One of our favorites was The Christmas Story, which finally did get a DVD release, but it didn’t have the begining or the interscenes that showed on television where Kermit is telling the story. It also had a stop motion cartoon called The Little Drummer Boy, which I haven’t seen aired since the 80s. I also think there was a California Raisans Christmas special.

    The church library had several tapes to check out as well. One tape was all Davy and Goliath, one was all Jot, and they had our Christmas and Easter programs. I think it was 1986, it was so cool because our church actually rented a second camera and did stuff like cross disolves, cuts, and fade to black.

    There was a video rental store about 20 minutes away (that area is now 5 minutes away from where we lived, but they were still building the highway). They finally opened one up much closer to us. They didn’t have as big of a selection, but it was a good selection. Then the place got really cool and started renting NES games! I remember those Xeroxed game manuals that you couldn’t read because it was black and white (no grayscale in the 80s). One of the very first movies I remembered renting there that wasn’t in the children’s/family department (that was up at the front of the store, everything else was in the back) was Back To The Future. I think I finally went back there when I realized I had seen everything up front. I believe that was in 1988. I saw “To Be Continued” at the end, and went and asked the clerk if they had Part 2. Luckily, I only had to wait a few months, part 2 came out about a year later.

    The tape I remember wearing out the most when I was a kid was Star Wars. 4×3 Pan Scan, recorded off of television, with snow and washed out colors and ghosting. Still, I was fascinated.

    One year, for my birthday, my parents gave me a couple of movies. My dad gave me Ghostbusters and Gremlins and my mom gave me Return to Oz and Follow That Bird. Return to Oz freaked me out, but the other three movies I watched over and over again. There was a ton of room left after Follow That Bird, so I recorded Big Bird in Japan after it.

    I am thinking it was around 1995 when I saw my first letterbox movie, and it was Star Wars. I knew that “widescreen televisions” were coming out, and started buying everything in letterbox to “future proof my investments” . I didn’t know a thing about resolutions, with the exception of my computer monitor, and even then, I just knew that 640×480 looked better than 320×240, 800×600 was better than 640×480, and if you were really geeky, you would have 1024×768. I had no clue what it meant, just that it looked better. I also had no clue that they would ever change the resolution of television – I had never seen higher resolution video before, and codecs were awful, so I thought television was higher quality than computers. I mean, Quicktime for Windows encoded at 320×240 in 256 colors (some I think were even encoded at 64 colors) on my 1024×768 monitor didn’t look near as good as VHS, so VHS had to be a higher resolution than 1024×768, right?

    When I was in college, I started to learn that Super VHS was better, so I bought a SuperVHS ET 6 head recorder. This was also around the time that I got my first DVD player.

  19. In 1984, the home video market in Norway was growing steadily, but it was still pretty small. Then the Norwegian national broadcaster (we only had one TV-channel at the time) decided to not buy new episodes of Dynasty. They had just finished airing season 3 (about one year behind the US broadcasts). A video distributor got the video rights for the series, and the next three seasons were exclusively available as rental video in Norway. This coincided with the introduction of loaner units (like the one Mike described).

    At the time, I thought it was weird that people would pay to rent episodes of a TV-show. But it was a massive success, and it was a huge factor in the increase of the home video market in Norway at the time.

    • Speaking of Norway, I own a copy of a-ha’s ‘Hunting High and Low’ in the weird hybrid format ‘Compact LaserDisc’. A combination of video and audio: chapter 0 is the index, chapters 1-3 are video clips, and chapters 4-13 are the audio tracks with a still frame.

  20. Lovely article. Some observations:

    -I learned a few new words, e.g. ‘legal pad’ and ‘clam strips’. Thanks, guys!
    -It baffles me that ‘Blade Runner’ is an R-rated movie. There’s nothing questionable of objectionable in said film. A 12-year old should be allowed to watch it (if he wants to)
    -@Brian Hoss: the video store burned down? So I’m guessing you got to keep your copy of ‘The Omen’?

    • William Henley

      When Blade Runner came out, there was no PG-13 rating (or 12+ or 14+ or whatever it is depending on your country) in the US. Most Americans were (or at least pretended to be) more conservative than they are now. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the movie was considered inappropriate for a PG rating at that time, and as there was no PG-13, it got an R rating.

      On the flip side of this, same year, 1982, Poltergeist was released. It got a PG rating, despite having drug use, sexual inuendos and scary moments in it. The same movie nowadays would have gotten a PG-13 rating (although at that time, drug use probably wasn’t frowned upon like it is now – nowadays drug use alone justifies a PG-13 if not an R rating).

      • Right, PG-13 was created for ‘Temple of Doom’, if my memory serves me well. Still, do you honestly find anything shocking or inappropriate in ‘Blade Runner’? The themes and symbolism are quite dark, but it’s not a graphic movie (save for those three seconds where Batty breaks his fathers’ eyes through the skull).

        Oh, wait, now I remember: there’s one (however brief) topless scene. That explains the R-rating.

  21. Csm101

    VHS was definitely the “gateway drug” for cinephiles. My fondest memories of movie watching come from that era. My brother and I have made it a point to try and track down every movie we remember from those glorious vhs days. My dad used to rent two to three movies almost every night and we all watched religiously. My dad got our first vcr around 1984 I would say, and I remember watching Splash redpeatedly. My bro and I would constantly watch the “botchy balls!” scene, although we loved the movie enough to watch it over and over again. We never were Blockbuster fans, three dollars for a movie was just way to much and who needed it for three days anyways?! They didn’t even do unrated. We had a big selection of video stores to choose from, but I believe our first place was called the Newsstand, which also sold books, comics, and dirty magazines. Then came Video Center, which was right across the street from us, so I would get to go with my dad and help choose outer entertainment for the evening. I remember that’s the first time I saw the Demons cover which had the horned demon that tears out of the lady toward the end of the movie, which fascinated me but also terrified me and it wouldn’t be many years before I got the courage to rent it myself. We did however, watch Demons 2 and I absolutely fell in love with it. Video Center, Movie Gallery, and Specs were also stores that we would frequently rent from.

    The first video tape I ever bought was when I was when I was in sixth grade and it was The Terminator. I bought it at Zayre which was at the same plaza the Newsstand and Specs was at, and it was like 25 dollars and I was worried the girl wouldn’t sell it to me but she did with a big smile on her face. I still have it and it is in very good condition. Years later my dad bought me T2 when it was priced for retail stores. My collection of videos only made it to about 46 before DVD came and I quickly replaced them. I even double dipped on vhs tapes when widescreen movies were made available and opened my eyes to how movies should really be experienced. I even remember the thx digitally remastered tapes in the hard cases. Robocop and Aliens introduced me to the term remastered. I could go on for pages about all the greatness of the vhs days, but I’ll leave it at that. Good times those were. Speaking of good times, remember how shitty Good Times video tapes were? They were cheap though.

  22. Chapz Kilud

    I had a Super VHS. For me VHS quality was just mediocre. I had to use scotch tape to tape a hole to make regular VHS tape record as Super VHS. But the fake Super VHS tapes were very noisy, and they don’t survive multiple recording over. Earlier hardware were loaded with so many features. I remember some had spectrum equalizer, manual recording levels,…etc. They were very sophisticated hardware. Later VHS players were all stripped down to basic functions.

    • Correct! Our Panasonic-unit from 1989 still works, and has at least 50 buttons. What a beast of a machine, yet sleek and stylish and not clunky in design. I love it.

    • William Henley

      My last VCR was a SuperVHS ET. It allowed you to record a VHS signal on a VHS tape, but you could only play it back on other SVHS ET machines – it would not play on SVHS. They looked terrific (no noise, looked every bit as good as SVHS), but the extra signal tended to be the first thing to degrade on the tape, and usually within a year or two, the tapes were unwatchable, even on high quality tapes (Sony’s, TDKs) that had only been viewed a few times (I don’t mean started to degrade, i mean without that extra information, the tape litterally became unwatchable – you could always tape over it in regular VHS mode and it would look fine). I do have a couple of things archived on real SVHS, but it was the difference between paying $3 a tape and $15 a tape, and you had to go to special stores to get the SVHS tapes (I think Best Buy carried them, but there were no Best Buys at the time in the town I was living in and had to drive two hours to get one). I think I finally started ordering them online, but then I had to pay shipping.

  23. My household had cable and things like HBO around the same era. Staying up late to catch a movie we wanted to see was the norm.
    Back when VHS first came out the video stores were also renting the VCR itself too. After a few such rentals I, the youngest person in the household decided I was going to buy one of these new devices. I went out of my way actually to get a top load because I knew well enough that this was an entirely new technology and the front loads had far more moving parts. At a bargain price of $469, a lot of hard work and a standing layaway my shiny new Panasonic top loader came home. We had an open account set up at a local video store and the understanding that I could rent just about any movie out there, even the R-Rated ones, despite being a minor. Years went by and this vcr got lots of usage… both for playback and recording from HBO and other channels. Anyone that remembers the first vcrs also might remember the way the tuners themselves worked. You didn’t have channel 2, 3, etc… You had presets that you had to manually tune each one with a series of switches and knobs. Once they were set you could pretty much forget them. There was even a sticky label sheet you would use on these presets. Around the time this vcr wore out we had it serviced – idlers, belts, pinch rollers, apparently all normal things to wear out. It never quite worked the same since but it still worked. At this point as well cheaper brands were coming out (Emerson, Goldstar, and such.) Rather than get a cheapie though I ended up getting a Panasonic AG1240, which was a pro-model. This was around the same time that commercial movies started using Macrovision – My original Panasonic and the cheapies in the house were unable to make copies of rentals that employed this new protection but the new Panasonic was not affected. Anyone that remembers early Macrovision and the first movie to employ it, Back to the Future will also remember that Macrovision also affected legitimate viewing as well with the bright and dark flashing of the picture. Thanks a lot asshats. I was known as the family member that could copy these protected movies, and the copies themselves were copyable, oh boy. I also got my first laserdisc player around that time and a 27 inch tv in my bedroom, w0w!!
    Still did not completely give up on VHS but moving forward when I had wanted to record something off of broadcast tv it was done on my newest acquisition, a JVC HRS73 (I think) Super VHS Player/Recorder. That VCR still is present in a box somewhere in the storage shed. I have several SVHS tapes of tv shows that never made it to dvd or BD and if I ever get ambition enough I may very well transfer them to the digital realm.

    • William Henley

      Macrovision, while an annoyance, wasn’t something that affected me on playback until I went to DVD. My first DVD drive was in my computer, and my television only had an RF input, so I had to run it through my VCR. Unfortunately, I ran into Macrovision issues. Here is the ironic thing – my decoder card was one of those Creative Lab overlay cards, so everything was done hardware side. It was also the first DVD to be cracked for Linux. Macrovision on that card had to be turned on hardware wise, and no one was really concerned with doing it. So I pretty much used Linux to be able to watch my DVDs on my television without Macrovision.

      About a year or two later, they came out with RF modulators. (Actually, they may have been out before, but I don’t remember anyone having DVD before me, and everything before then had RF). By that time, I had upgraded my television, though. I was hoping the previous one was able to last until “widescreen televisions” (as I called them at the time) came down in price, but they sat in the $5k+ range for several years, so I finally caved and bought a 27 inch Sony store display model, so I got it for around $200. I still had that set up until my fire in 2013. About 3 years after I bought that television, I bought my first CRT HDTV (mainly for color accuracy, if you remember those early flatpannels, they were horrid on black levels and color gradiation and refresh rates)

  24. Gail smith

    Can I still buy a VCR from the company thats stopping productions ? I love my video tapes ! I have hundreds and can’t afford to replace them but a need a player ! VCRs also have a rewind so you can go back and see something you may have missed !! Thank you for the info !

  25. “After deciding to screw up our courage and watch ‘The Omen’, we returned to town the next day to bring the tape back, only to find that the rental store had burned to the ground.”

    That would make for an excellent short film on its own. What a story, Mark (or Brian).

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