Dan Kinem is co-founder of VHShitfest, a website dedicated to all things VHS, and co-director—with fellow tape-hound Levi ‘Dabeedo’ Peretic—of a new documentary about the format. Jennifer Wallis speaks to Dan about collecting and the documentary Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector.
JENNIFER WALLIS: Could you tell me a little about how the documentary came about?
DAN KINEM: In early 2011 we started filming videos about VHS, getting footage of video stores, and interviewed a couple of old video store owners. We fiddled around with this footage for many months trying to figure out what we wanted to do and the producer, Matt Desiderio, and I came up with the idea to do a full-fledged VHS culture documentary. We wanted to remind people why VHS is so amazing but also to explain to any VHS haters there are out there why so many people still love and collect it. It just seemed like the right time.
Who have you interviewed for the documentary? Were the directors you spoke to enthusiastic about VHS?
We interviewed many collectors, filmmakers, video store owners, and people who are currently releasing VHS. They were most definitely enthusiastic! Keith Crocker (who directed The Bloody Ape and Blitzkrieg) was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He has an insane VHS collection and still loves the format, so much in fact that both of his movies have been re-released/released onto tape by Wild Eye Releasing. Fred Vogel loves the format, too, and is currently putting out a limited edition VHS copy of the masterpiece Last House on Dead End Street. Lloyd Kaufman, too, while not a huge fan of VHS, had a ton of stories to share and is re-releasing Toxic Avenger on tape. We interviewed a couple more filmmakers who loved and appreciated the format and plan on interviewing many, many more.
How was Lloyd Kaufman to interview? He looks suitably eccentric in the trailer (I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t!).
He was amazing. I love just listening to this man speak. He had so many stories, so many funny pokes at himself and Troma, and just overall oozes information. People are going to learn and laugh so much from the Lloyd stuff we got. We also got to talk with the ever-elusive Michael Herz and he was great. He and Lloyd have a hilarious relationship together: they banter like a married couple!
There’s been an upsurge of interest in the pre-cert era recently in terms of the films themselves, but what made you focus on the collectors?
Well, there are no movies out there that talk about the collectors. There are no movies that are even being talked about in regards to VHS collecting and current video culture. That’s the main reason I jumped on the topic. It’s also something I am incredibly passionate about and have experience in. I wanted to take the topic and do it the right way. I wanted to involve as many VHS collectors and horror fans as I possibly could in this movie and make it for the fans by the fans.
How are most people finding and trading tapes at the moment? eBay seems to be less useful for this now. You also mentioned video stores: are there many still open in the US?
eBay will always be an amazing tool for finding and buying tapes, but the obviously rare tapes like Wizard Video and ThrillerVideo are damn near impossible to get for a good price nowadays with how many people there are after them. I still am able to snatch up some cool tapes on there and find out about some tapes I never heard of, but the best place to get tapes is on the Facebook VHS groups. No one is there to rip anyone off and there are many great people on there who will give you good deals. It’s a treasure trove of awesome tapes and a great way to trade and buy with other people.
For internet purchases, I also use Amazon, but that’s always a gamble and you really have to dig around to find the good deals. I can’t count the number of crazy sellers on there who have tried to rip me off.
Around me there are actually a decent amount of video stores still in business and where I often travel—toward the east coast—there are a bunch, too. They are slowly dying out, though. We’ve gotten a couple on film that were selling off all their stock and going out of business, but if you really look around and dig you will still find some places with VHS.
Why do you think VHS collecting is so horror-focused?
I think horror movies work best on VHS. For a movie by someone like Ingmar Bergman, you really want to see the movie in the best possible quality you can get, but for someone like John Carpenter you want to see his movies on VHS because the imperfections and gritty aspects add to the movie-watching experience. Horror also seems to be the genre that has the most lost films. There are countless movies that have never and will never receive a DVD treatment in the horror genre, and that really attracts people to them. “No one knows about this obscure shot-on-video movie? I have to see it!”-type of deal.
Collecting VHS is very often a male preserve. Did you find any female collectors for the documentary?
I have noticed that. We actually have only a couple of female collectors lined up for interviews, but we are always looking for more. It would be awesome to find some female filmmakers to talk to, too, but like you said, they are few and far between sadly.
What do you think the particular attraction of VHS is? I love the graininess of the picture, and the lines on screen that change a film over time.
I think it reminds people of their childhoods and how they grew up watching movies. I think people are often turned off by absolutely perfect picture quality and want to hear their VCRs running and their tracking messing up. It adds a different level to watching movies that DVDs just can’t do. They are also cheaper and longer lasting with oftentimes better artwork and a cooler history.
One to make all your fellow collectors jealous: how many tapes do you have? Do you have a favourite? What are the best (and worst) purchases you’ve made?
I currently am close to owning 5,000 tapes. It’s getting ridiculous and I like to joke about living in a house made out of tapes, but in reality it is actually true! My walls are lined with them! Picking a favourite is nearly impossible, but I love Hellroller, 555, Let’s Play Dead, The Hackers, Attack of the Killer Refrigerator, and the list goes on!
Some of the best purchases I’ve made were from other collectors that were getting rid of their tapes or needed money. I remember I was able to get the Planet Video big box of Nightmare, the big box of Lunchmeat, and a few other super rare tapes all for an average of about twenty bucks. I’ve also had my share of amazing dollar finds, too, like Hellroller and Invisible Dead on Wizard.
As for worst purchases, I would say the Let’s Play Dead big box. It was my most wanted tape so I was determined to win it. I actually had to bring my computer out to eat with me in order to guarantee I would win, and some crazy person must not have realized how bad I wanted this tape because with fifteen seconds left he bid, then I bid, then he bid, then I bid. The price ended up rising to about $80 which is way more than I wanted to spend on the tape and with patience I probably could have gotten it cheaper, but I still love it.
Is there anyone you would love to interview for the documentary but haven’t managed to?
Well, there’s some big guys in the horror world that we would love to talk to, but we are working on talking with them so I don’t want to spoil anything. But two people that would be amazing to interview, but are unlikely, would be Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. Both of them worked in video stores, collected VHS, and their careers were helped immensely by the format.
Are you releasing the final documentary on VHS? How easy is that to do in the present climate?
Yes, we are. It’s getting harder and harder to release stuff on VHS nowadays. Finding cases, good quality tapes, etc. is damn near impossible, but this movie needs a VHS release and that’s what we want to do. There will also be a special feature-packed DVD for those who appreciate the format but don’t collect VHS.
What’s the current status of the film? You’re looking for funding right now for the final stages.
We have collected over thirty hours of footage so far, but still have many more interviews we’d like to get. We have a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the rest of the interviews we’d like, which requires us to travel around the country. I figured out what would be the absolute bare minimum, sleep in cars, barely eat-kind of money we’d need, and that was $3,000. I’ll be happy if we raise that because it will help us make this into the best possible documentary it can be, and any money we raise beyond our goal will help greatly: it can be used to obtain even more interviews and for post-production work.
Is this your first film? Any other related projects that you’ve worked on or are planning?
This is my first feature-length movie, but we’ve done a couple of fairly advanced video reviews before and made some short films. You can check out VHShitfest’s review of Gore-Met Zombie Chef from Hell on YouTube to see that. There’s a couple of other projects I’m involved in at the moment including a possible VHS cover scans book I provided scans for, possibly co-producing a DVD release for a lost eighties horror film, and I’m also releasing Donald Farmer’s Invasion of the Scream Queens officially on DVD in October of this year.