May 18, 2022

San Antonio VHS Tape Collectors Save the Bygone Format for Nostalgia, Chills, and Sometimes Big Cash

Watching Jason Dyer’s VHS collection is like stepping back to the days of Blockbuster Video and a flashing “12:00” on the VCR.

More than 3,000 strips line the walls of the Gen-Xer’s converted garage on the northeast side of San Antonio. A standee of Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” guards a corner of the room, which mostly houses horror films ranging from classics such as “Halloween” and “The Evil Dead” to oddities like “The Capture of Bigfoot” and “Barn of the Naked Dead.”

Dyer’s passion goes far beyond his time capsule. The 44-year-old drilling engineer co-founded Planet VHS Horror!, one of the largest VHS groups on Facebook with over 16,000 members. It even cleans and repairs VCRs and VHS tapes.

Most of the movies he owns are readily available on high definition streaming services. But he says there’s something about literally getting his hands on that gritty image carrier, especially when it’s one of those schlocky horror flicks he used to stumble upon when he was a kid at the video store.

“It always brings back nostalgia,” Dyer said. “Holding it in your hand, being able to look at the front and back and the cool covers. The time and effort put into it. Sometimes they even have a certain smell.

Cinema-related objects decorate the closed garage of Jason Dyer’s house.

Jerry Lara / Team Photographer

Welcome to the world of VHS collecting, a subculture of enthusiasts and everyday people who dig up these square plastic relics for a bit of old-fashioned fun – and in some cases a lot of cash.

Like the resurgence of vinyl, VHS is getting serious reruns. VHS conventions and swap meets continue the tape’s history with long-time collectors as well as newbies. Meanwhile, a niche group of deep-pocketed collectors buy and sell VHS tapes graded and sealed as if they were vintage baseball cards, sometimes for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

A recent report compares the trade in sealed tapes to other alternative assets such as NFTs, these one-of-a-kind digital works of art. But one VHS expert said there’s a much bigger picture to VHS collecting, which is that it’s all about finding tapes for fun, not flipping them for profit .

“We live in a very digital world now. So if people are able to manipulate a video tape, a physical, tangible object… I think there’s something special going on there,” said Paul Zamarelli, VHS collector for nearly 20 years and founder from the Pennsylvania-based website VHSCollector.com.

Zamarelli said most VHS collectors are just purists like him who cling to tapes for the memories they bring and the legacy they leave behind.

Jason Dyer holds a copy of

Jason Dyer holds a copy of “Doctor Butcher MD”, one of his favorite VHS movies in his collection. Like many VHS collectors, Dyer loves horror movies the most.

Jerry Lara / Team Photographer

“I can imagine all the people putting this in their homes and their VCRs,” Zamarelli said. “I always wonder how many houses, how many slumber parties and how many first dates these movies have had. I love this intrinsic value.”

Ty Menchaca can understand. The co-owner of GG’s Emporium, a nostalgic novelty store in San Antonio, once drove to New Mexico to fill his truck bed with more than 5,000 tapes for less than $500. Menchaca also organizes VHS exchange meetings. And like Dyer, it has a special place in his heart as well as his store of late 70s and early 80s slashers and parties.

“Most collectors tend to be horror-bound,” Menchaca said, “due to the fact that there were a lot of (those) movies that never made it to digital.”

Dark horror tends to be the genre of choice for VHS collectors. Part of that is the thrill of the hunt. Many VHS horror movies have never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and probably never will be because the original negatives and rights to those movies are long gone, Dyer said.

Then there’s all that grindhouse gore, both film and box art, that first shocked and intimidated collectors as kids. Dyer’s all-time favorites include 1980’s “Zombie Holocaust”, also known as “Doctor Butcher MD”, and 1982’s “Boardinghouse”, which was also released as “Housegeist”.

But the real scary thing about collecting VHS is running out of time and tapes to enjoy.

The last major film release on VHS was “A History of Violence” in 2006, while the last mass-produced VCR rolled off the assembly line in 2016. Even in the best of conditions, with no mold or moisture, a VHS tape has a shelf life of maybe 40 years, which makes it harder to find older tapes that you can still play.

“You’re talking about a format that won’t be around forever no matter how you store it,” Dyer said.

And then there is the arrival of a new breed of collectors who are participating in the shop flipping frenzy. Tape graders such as Investment Grading Services and VHSDNA typically grade a sealed VHS release on a scale of 1 to 10 based on its condition, then package it in a clear case for viewing. The higher the rating, the more money the tape can fetch in the secondary market.

VHS movie cassettes were a household staple throughout the 1990s.

VHS movie cassettes were a household staple throughout the 1990s.

Beaumont Company File Photo

For example, a 1987 sealed copy of “Top Gun” with an IGS score of 8.5-9.0 sold for over $4,000 on eBay, while a 1986 sealed copy of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on eBay with an IGS score of 8.0-7.0 fetched nearly $3,500.

Zamarelli noted that the tape rating has only been around for about two years and the quality of a tape cannot be guaranteed, sealed or otherwise. He said the boom in the sale of high-priced graded tapes — much like the previous enthusiasm for sealed, graded video games and comics — was essentially spurred on by the arrival of the grading companies themselves.

“In my experience in the collecting community, there’s never been a huge demand for sealed tapes,” Zamarelli said.

That’s why Dyer said most VHS die-hards like him and Menchaca want to see those grainy videos come to life on their TV screens, or just roll off the shelf with their gonzo cover art.

“We’re the same as with comics and toys,” Menchaca said. “Comics are made to be read. Toys are made to play with. And movies are made to be watched.

So how do you enjoy such analog entertainment in the digital age? Menchaca recommends buying VHS tapes and VCRs at estate sales and garage sales, as well as flea markets and small thrift stores. If you’re blowing dust off your old VCR, you might need a $10-$20 adapter to connect it to your HDTV. And yes, some TV repair shops still repair VCRs, although depending on the cost, it may be cheaper to purchase a replacement.

“In this case, you have to rely on the knowledge of VCR groups and make contacts,” Dyer said.

Remember that the VHS experience is not about picture quality.

“There are people who love 4K Ultra HD and want to see every pore of someone’s face,” Dyer said. “But for VHS it’s like, OK cool, put the tape in and you’ve got this grainy stuff that shows up on film like those grindhouse movies.

“And you can drop a frame at some point, you have to adjust the tracking at some point. But everyone should worry about going to their player. And hitting rewind.

[email protected] | Twitter: @reneguz


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