Cult of VHS – Arrow Video FrightFest 2022 Review

vhs Cult, 2022.

Directed by Rob Preciado.


A feature-length documentary featuring interviews with VHS collectors, filmmakers and enthusiasts as they take a trip down memory lane and take us through their early experiences with the medium and what it means to them.

If this documentary about the continuing, even resurgent, popularity of VHS movies preaches much to converts, as comfort food for media acolytes, it’s certainly an entertainingly friendly offering: a wide-ranging, snappy travelogue through the history of the era and where VHS has come. until the day.

From the reveal of the opening title alone: ​​A tribute to John Carpenter The thing – The clear love for the genre and the medium is evident, as director Rob Preciado traces the birth of VHS, the avenues it opened up for low-budget filmmakers, the “nasty video” moral panic of the 1980s, and the collector culture that still thrives now.

While many similarly themed docs have proven relatively blind about their own rose-tinted nostalgia for a medium that is objectively visually inferior to what has come since, VHS cult he earns respect for eschewing wet-eyed evangelism in favor of something more self-aware and pragmatic. Yes, several subjects denounce both the death of rental shops and the restrictions of our algorithm-driven present, but there is also an honesty about the vulgarity of VHS and how much of modern fandom is clothed in nostalgia. As one guy hilariously puts it, “It’s like vinyl…if vinyl sucks.”

And yet, though we’ve moved on to more convenient and “higher” formats, it’s easy to see why VHS endures; the beautiful hand-painted covers, the tactile quality, and the “personality” of a second-hand tape that is riddled with blurry tracking markers over the more repeated parts, usually nudity and violence, is something we’ll never experience in a digital medium. Format. Watching a VHS has a transporting time capsule quality that will evoke early childhood memories for just about anyone over the age of 30, and given that today’s youth will likely not retain the same primal fondness for Blu-rays and certainly without streaming , there is a singularity in the nostalgia of VHS.

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If Preciado’s film lacks interviewed megastars, genre enthusiasts and independent filmmakers make for a captivating and amusingly eccentric group. From the owner of one of the few VHS stores left today – it’s pretty much a sanctuary at the moment – to those with VHS body tattoos and even a weirdly horny interviewee (you’ll see), the subjects meet the promises. of the movie title.

While the interviews are based more on passion than new perspectives, there are some funny and memorable stories offered, like how one contestant nearly died with a VHS copy of the 1990 It miniseries, and another’s unexpected fondness. for the legendary training of Jane Fonda. videos All of this is enhanced by quality B-roll and an incredible synth score by Ancient Order of the Droids and Infra Violet. The sound recording is a bit muddy in some of the interviews, but it’s relatively easy to forgive considering the obviously modest scale of the production.

There are moments when this documentary can feel like it longs for a bygone era, but there’s an affectionate conviction that quickly becomes infectious, even if it’s happy to leave VHS tapes behind and embrace the crystal clarity of 4K HDR. Familiar but appropriately lo-fi and made with a clear enthusiasm for its subject matter, VHS cult it’s a passionate window into the medium’s enduring fandom.

Flashing Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Shaun Munro – Follow Me On Twitter for more cinematic ramblings.

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