Collecting dead media can seem like a fruitless endeavor in the age of streaming services and 4K resolution. However, to those in "The Scene", VHS collecting is more than amassing Titanic copies from thrift stores, it is about unearthing the obscure.
Meet three players in the VHS community: The Magpie, The Connoisseur, and the Seller.
Nick and his wall o’ tapes
Nick Villaire’s bedroom does have four walls. On one wall, however, you will not see a speck of drywall but rows of VHS tapes stacked on top of each other. Creating an 11 by 9 foot mosaic of movies. Sometimes they are arranged by color, other times genres, whatever system Nick desires at the time.
Nick’s penchant for video tapes was borne, like most enthusiasts, out of a love for movies. Growing up in the heyday of VHS and video rental stores, Nick spent almost all of his grocery clerk paycheck on movies. He quickly cycled through the blockbusters of the time and became enamored with the seedier, cult classics his older brother showed him.
This started a lifelong fascination with a specific type of movie, generally called the B-movie, low budget trash that leans in on genres like horror and action.
Before IMDB cataloged everything, Nick got a hold of a movie guide book called Videohound and he began to pore over the filmographies of favorite actors like Charles Bronson. He starred in a movie directed by this person who also directed that movie which starred that actor who…and you can see how the wicked web began to form.
With the new Millennium came the DVD and consequently, the VHS was made obsolete. This is when Nick’s collection started in earnest as video stores were selling their tapes for bargain prices. Only a few years prior, new VHS tapes could set you back as high as $30 dollars. Nick’s collection steadily grew close to 1000 tapes by rooting around video stores, estate sales, and thrift stores.
Nick is content with the status of his collection and looks upon his wall o’ tapes like a proud father. For him, VHS collecting is a way to connect to those movies he holds dear in his heart and when asked why he so adores “bad movies” he will tell you that they are the philosophers of their time.
(From left to right) Nick and Alex at a tape swap where collectors buy and trade tapes.
Join any of the VHS collector Facebook groups and you are likely to see Alex Bernhardt commanding the comment section. Alex takes the culture and his collection of VHS tapes very seriously. He will readily decry Pete Davidson’s half-baked scheme to sell sealed tapes as an affront to everything he holds sacred about VHS collecting. Not yet 30 years old, but Alex has put in the 10,000 hours to claim himself an expert.
Alex got into VHS collecting in the beginning for purely financial reasons. Like Nick, Alex loves the horror and exploitative genres.
Why would he buy a Frankenhooker DVD for $20 when you could get the VHS tape, with better cover art and bonus button feature, for $5?
Alex started to pay attention to the various distributors listed on the VHS boxes and started researching production companies and the home video distributors who held the rights to movies. Back when VHS were being made, distribution companies released movies with differing quality, cuts, packaging, and art work.
To the collector, one version of Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama could be worthless while the same movie distributed by another company could be worth its weight in gold. Alex could also be called a completionist as he seeks entire catalogs of distribution companies like Media or Prism. Some companies made hundreds of movies while other companies only spewed out a dozen. If it is not entire labels, Alex revels in having every version of a certain movie from each of its distributors.
Alex puts his hope in the future of VHS collecting with in-person tape swaps as he sees the online community getting filled with bad actors, labeled “mutants,” who are only in it to make a quick buck. Wherever the scene goes, Alex will be there with an eye like Sauron searching to complete his collection.
Owner of Static Tapes, Harrison Lange, leans happily on a tower of CRT TV’s.
Static Tapes is appropriately located in what used to be a dying mall in Muskegon, Michigan. Harrison Lange, the owner, opened his shop a few years ago as an act of defiance against streaming sites and the death of the video store. He saw his opportunity to champion physical media, so he started buying up large caches of VHS’s from people on Craigslist.
He amassed enough VHS tapes to open the store and now he says he doesn't even look for tapes anymore, people come to him.
The store sells DVDs, Blu-Rays, and 4k discs but his largest inventory is VHS tapes. More than half the store’s shelves hold sleazy, cheesy titles on sale for a dollar. Harrison’s vision was to have a video store where both the mass market and the niche consumer could be satisfied.
For a long time the only way one could watch the more obscure movies was to have the VHS tape. Now with streaming sites like Tubi and distribution companies like Vinegar Syndrome that specialize in preserving the lost or forgotten genre films, the B-movie fanatic has every medium.
The average customer of Static Tapes has no typical age. Harrison sees the younger generation clamoring to get a piece of the VHS pie just as much as the older crowd. He says young people want to experience that nostalgia and deeper connection to media when the streaming sites feel at the same time impersonal but also driven by the algorithm. Static Tapes offers what Blockbuster had when you had to judge the movie by its cover and let’s face it, VHS cover art is leaps and bounds more artistically pleasing than the lifeless promotional art in the MCU era.
Static Tapes has beaten the odds of the naysayers so much that Harrison is planning on expanding the store by the end of the year. He will take over the space that used to house The Gap. Harrison’s dream for the future of Static Tapes is to move to an independent brick and mortar location with enough space to open up a small drive-in theater in the back.