Saturday 3 September 2022

CULT OF VHS (2022)

Directed by: Rob Preciado. With: Graham Humphreys, David
Gregory, Michael Keene, Kevin Martin. Feature-length documentary. 89mins. Strangelove & Q Cumber Films & Studio POW.

World premiere screening at Arrow FrightFest on 28th August 2022.

“VHS you know, it’s like vinyl, if vinyl kinda sucked.” (Michael Keene (‘The Head’, ‘Fatal Future’).

Despite the above opening quote, Rob Preciado’s documentary about the VHS video format is a kind rewind back to the origins of the home video revolution. It’s a fascinating celebration of the experiences of the renters, the mom-and-pop (US) and corner shop (UK) independent video stores, the current-day collectors and curators of the treasured tapes bound in amaray boxes, and a speculative fast-forward to the future: will VHS enjoy a vinyl-like renaissance?

It revels in the tactile (sometimes forbidden) pleasures of under-age viewing of age-inappropriate horror films. It highlights the luscious and at times lurid cover art which lured us into renting those often obscure and dodgy titles, whilst celebrating arguably the finest exponent of the art, the UK’s very own Graham Humphreys.

Naturally, no discussion of VHS can take place without considering the ‘video nasty’ saga – something which us UK horror fans of a certain age still have nightmares (in our damaged brains) over the vilification and moral panic which saw some of our beloved gore fests being withdrawn, or cut to ribbons, robbing us of most of the best bits.

CULT OF VHS draws in the (often moving) global experiences from a multitude of fans and collectors both young and mature. From Mexico to Holland, from Australia to Spain as well as here in dear old Blighty. Conceived during lockdown, it’s poignant that so many of the interviewees highlight the advantage of being able to watch a physical copy of a film as opposed to having to rely on your broadband speed to stream a selective algorithm-curated range of largely mainstream fare. Whilst the world was stuck at home who had the last laugh when internet providers couldn’t cope with demand...?

Accompanied by a suitably rocking retro synthwave soundtrack, a bounty of old VHS adverts and juicy trailer snippets – and a fabulous opening credits sequence homaging John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, CULT OF VHS is a love letter to VHS for both seasoned home video romantics, and a timely reminder to current and future generations of the advantages and unadulterated pleasure of owning physical media – whether that be in ultra-HD, or pan-and-scan snowy tracking 4:3 VHS.

“VHS is a cult, but it’s not the creepy kill yourself cult, it’s the let’s kick ass and let’s be good to each other kind of cult because movies fucking rule, and in a time like this, escapism is the best and their ain’t no better escapism than trying to go back to the 80’s and 90’s when life just seemed simpler”. (Kevin Martin, Owner of the Lobby Videostore).


Paul Worts