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Chris Haberman’s VHS Misadventures

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Need to ask a favor, folks. Here’s the deal: Months ago my wife and I and our friend John, whom you will meet later, decided to utilize our precious vacation time to rent a car and drive from our native Kentucky to Colorado. The goal was just to see what happened along the way. We departed on a Friday night with no reservations and a minimum of must-see destinations (the Badlands were imperative; the rest could be bypassed according to our whims at that time, at that moment).

I had no idea what was in store for me. Waking up in a national park to find an accusatory mountain goat looking in your filthy SUV’s window is one thing. Finding an ancient video store willing to sell hundreds of VHS tapes for $1.99 each is utterly another.

I present to you, dear, dear readers … The Video Vendor.

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

We were in Newcastle, Wyoming when I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the back passenger window of what I’d been truly hoping to find the entire trip. There was absolutely no way to drive practically across the country and not find at least one near-death rental store with an everything-must-go conceit regarding its VHS stock. I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s the way it is, and that’s where the gold is found.

A quick Google search seems to reveal accurate data regarding The Video Vendor’s past and present. According to Manta, whose reputation for maintaining current and factual information I know nothing of:

“Video Vendor in Newcastle, WY is a private company categorized under Video Tape-Rental. Our records show it was established in 1994 and incorporated in Wyoming. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of less than $500,000 and employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4.”

Twenty-two purchases later, I left the store with two garbage bags full of already beautiful memories. I had bought plenty of films that I had already seen and already owned, but there are several selections that I never believed I would obtain by walking into any entertainment-related store that was open for business. My dream had come true, though I hadn’t even made it to the car yet before wondering, “What will I find in the next one?”

So here’s the rub. Not only did I not find another store (disappointment), I now have a new branch of unwatched films in my library (joy), and I can’t decide on which one to watch first (dismay, confusion, embarrassment).

It’s honestly a cruel situation. Every time I go to reach for one, I can’t decide which to watch first because they are equally “intriguing.” By “intriguing,” I mean “just how good-bad, bad-good, bad-bad, good-good will this be?” That sounds like a lame excuse, but I’ve been viciously busy at work and my wife’s Netflix choices keep arriving by mail, making it difficult to set aside time to watch a cheesy slasher flick made by ne’er-do-wells in the mid-80’s when she’s obtained something assuredly superior that we’ve both been looking forward to.

Additionally (we’re getting there, I promise), like many adored films that one may wish they could go back and watch for the first time again, there are many VHS tapes whose cover art I cannot live without but cannot stand the film. A perfect example is The Supernaturals:

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Look at that. Just look at it. Could this movie really be as admittedly ambitious yet cripplingly boring as it is? I’ll likely never watch you again, little film, but I’ll always have your astounding skull.

At any rate, and with all of this personal information in mind, I’m extremely curious as to which one of the following you would watch first.

Which brings us to (mammoth timpani roll) your TASK. Please take a gander at the selections below. Consider the trailers and cover art, which I have also done, and let me know which film would set you aflame in terms of a first viewing choice. OR which one(s) you would play VHS Golf with.

I’m going to write a full-length review of whichever flick seems to be the favorite. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen these before or not. Feel free to warn me not to bother with certain films or overwhelm me with reasons why I should sit in the corner and cat-o’-nine-tails my own back for not having already seen others already.

I thank you in advance.

1.Attack of the Swamp Creature

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: This damn thing was one of many that caused me to lose rest in the car. The box is so big and flimsy and tender…it had to be handled with care. I’d roll over some lump of luggage and snap out of a weak sleep: “WHERE IS SHE?” I haven’t seen it yet, but I did do a touch of homework, and it’s original name is apparently Zaat.

Trailer Review: Lots going on here. First, we have the animal cruelty aspect to get past. As a person that eats flesh but does not hunt and fishes once every 11 years to “be one of the boys,” those shots of squirming catfish turn me way off. I’m hoping they all wound up on the craft services table, but that doesn’t make watching the catfish desperately wriggle in sharp Floridian grass any more comforting. On all other fronts, it looks like a winner. Any time I see a person, or fish-person, hovering over a dame in distress with a syringe filled with neon green, I think “the wife needs to see this” (she’s a huge Re-Animator fan). And how about that voiceover writer’s use of the title?! “Zaat is something you don’t want to miss!” It’s like a weird update of “The Viper”: “I am the Viper! I have come to vipe and vash your vindows!” No? No Tiny Tim fans here? Fine.

2. Bloody Birthday

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: I’ve seen a few clips of this and read a few reviews. Seems like a delicious way to spend any evening of the week, and yes, I’m aware that this thing can be found on DVD. That aside, killer kids = big smile. One of the reasons I devote far too much time to our beloved genre is because I caught a few scenes of The Children on late-night television at age 5 (1986, for the record). “Wait – I can be a monster in a movie?” Instant obsession. When was your first Killer Kid Film experience? And does this make you giggle?

Trailer Review: THAT’s pretty exciting. Not only does it have a kid that looks like the disabled teen wizard from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 shooting adults with a handgun at age 12, it also has one of my favorite trailer aspects of all time: The Probably-Not-in-the-Movie-or-Other-Marketing-Collateral-Final-Image-Freeze Frame. And the font they use for the title is so much more gorily wicked than the VHS’s dripping candle concept. Someone will have to work pretty hard to convince me that this won’t be fun to watch over any given adult beverage(s).

3. Blood Voyage

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: Saw the title on the spine of this one, picked it up, blinked at the cover, then instantly added it to the stack that my dear, devoted friend John Metcalf was dutifully maintaining. John says it helped that he used to work at Hollywood Video in his youth since by this point the collection of tapes he was holding was up to his stubbly, road-weary chin. If that sounds arrogant, just know that John thought it was funny, and he enjoys plenty of films at my house. Besides, he volunteered.

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Radio Spot Review: How…fascinating. Couldn’t find a trailer for this thing, but I did find the entire film online and THIS:

No real surprises there. That tagline on the cover already insisted on completely informing us of the plot, and when accompanied by an illustration of the supposed killer’s face that’s so enormous and detailed that I can sort of tell which way he likes to part his mussed hair, I can only hope it’s all a psyche-out. Perhaps there’s more mystery to this flick? Could the murderer be a presumably cute blonde on the boat we hear screaming in the background of the radio spot? We shall see. Well, if it gets picked. Moving on…

4. Cassandra

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: Video Treasures? 1987? First name of Elvira? Two-word genre description on the spine? Flaming eye? Let’s dance.

I have yet to read a review of this dream/murder Suspense Thriller that contained any passion whatsoever. There’s no weather vane of criticism out there to guide your pre-formed opinion, really – just one two-starred review after another, wondering why time was taken to assign a rating at all. Makes me worry about this one – once I watch it, will my hopes that some scene will make me love Cassandra, turning days spent in curious anxiety into fond memories of what I have then finally, happily embraced? Gonna lie down for a bit.

Trailer Review: Christ, I can’t even find one for this thing. If you look up ”Cassandra trailer” on youtube, you’ll find quite the assortment. There is a video regarding Shane (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell) Briant’s best scenes, but I refuse to watch it. And that, my dear friends, is journalistic integrity.

5. Demonoid

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: Crushingly, research implies that this is merely a silly film about a disembodied hand that has the supernatural ability to creepeth hither and thither and ruin lives. Fine by me. I didn’t expect that $60 Great White Shark “finale” firework to shoot awesome Quint-eating Bruce images into the night sky, but fuck it – it was the Fourth of July, and good packaging is good packaging. And I am a complete and utter sucker.

Trailer Review: Hot DAMN! Even though it appears below the title in the mousiest fashion possible, forgive me for not adding “Messenger of Death” to the title – it is clearly essential. Suffice it to say, this one doesn’t look as unbelievably mountain-moving as the cover art would have us believe, but it still appears to make a valiant attempt at making the disembodied-hand notion work far past the film’s budget. I’m fascinated.

6. Edge of Sanity

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: What really turns me on about this one is that I now own both the rated and unrated version of the film, even though I’ve never seen either in any format. Pleased as punch to have them on the shelf, and clearly grew up studying the front and back covers… But what to make of this hobby? Why collect two of the same film? Why have I made a solid decision to not watch either for three more years? Why?…

Trailer Review: Through years of reading about the film but never having watched it, I know what drug causes Perkins to go bananas. I wish not to divulge that here, for fear that it may sway opinion. Perhaps that’s just the trailer talking. Nevertheless, we’re dealing with a film about Jack the Ripper meets Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. And I have two versions of it! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I mean, please don’t make me watch both. Or do. It’s up to you.

7. Killer’s Moon

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: Perhaps the most frightening selection. Instead of promising an unforgettable experience that will rock your bod, pump your blood and encourage you to walk with better posture, this thing really wants you to spend the night in the gutter. From the back cover’s drunken stills to its hilarious copy: “As the innocent victims are brutally slaughtered one by one, it is up to the survivors to deliver themselves from the horror which has struck,” Killer’s Moon from VCL Communications has had a hard row to hoe. Look at that artwork. Who was this thing marketed toward? Not the Faces of Death cretins…not the slasher fans…perhaps the Blood Feast tribes? Nevertheless, it was time someone took this crusty copy of Killer’s Moon in – someone who wouldn’t rent it out every 13 months or so to complete strangers or to that one pasty guy that rents it every Friday night… It was time to go home to Chris’ VHS Library of Smiles – the end of the rainbow for all cassettes with reasonable jacket sleeves.

Trailer Review: BAM! KILLER’S MOON! Intoxicating accents make a rotten movie so much better, and I say that as a Southerner. Huh? What? Moving on…

8. Offerings

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: That artwork has had me drooling for quite some time. Some critics insist that it’s another droll Halloween rip-off. Mmmm… The thought of experiencing another Final Exam with a gift-wrapped theme has my brain simmering a strange stew of possibilities that I’m sure the film will NOT deliver. Damn, I love horror movies… A note to certain people who realize that I’m killing most notions of suspense by reviewing the trailers: Please do not watch the following trailer.

Trailer Review: The most honest trailer I’ve ever seen? Inexplicably, the trailer reveals its killer’s deformed face over and over. There are even close-ups. I was given to understand that this is a big no-no in 80’s Slasher Marketing Land. Money shots like that are typically confidential until a patron has purchased a ticket. What’s more, the voiceover makes no argument over what you’re about to see: a no-bullshit 1989 looting of anything that made Halloween or Friday the 13th “work.” Staggering, yet…delicious?

9. Prophecy: The Monster Movie

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: It’s queer to reminisce on why I never spent quality time with this one. As a child, the cover always seemed a bit too adult for my taste. Might’ve been that tagline that did it, which I’ve chosen to include in the title here. It seemed more ominous than, say, Jaws in terms of Monster Terror. I avoided it. Then as a pre-teen and teenager, it became more about confrontational cinema: what could I challenge myself with? Prophecy: The Monster Movie took a backseat to more potent films, which we all know and though may not necessarily “love”, that were analyzed in genre-related books I used to check out from the local library. Yeah, I was a bookworm – I knew all about Deodato before I could even find a place to rent his wicked shit. But that artwork above has always haunted me…

Trailer Review: The most sophisticated trailer thus far, and don’t think it’s lost on me that Alien’s mannerly trailer debuted the same year. This one could’ve gone the exploitation route, but we’re treated to three disturbing images accompanied by a voiceover. It’s frightening and intriguing. In a word, “successsssssssssful.”

10. Screamers

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

Cover Art Review: Just about all of the evidence I’ve examined over the years has led me to understand that this film is, without a doubt, a pooper. Know somethin’? I don’t give a fat rabbit’s ass if there isn’t even a single visible frame of film on the tape. That cover is just one of many rays of sunshine in my life. Loved it when I was a kid, love it now that I’m an adult. Why didn’t I ever rent it? I…don’t…know. Everything else around it just seemed so much more pressing. I always knew that Screamers would be there, until one Friday night when it wasn’t. Now we shall finally be together.

Frankly, I can’t quite tell what I love more about that illustration: the hideous creature who wants to force me to buckle his pants or help take them completely off, or that majestically golden Embassy Home Entertainment logo.

Trailer Review:

This one… This one I’d like to keep closer to the chest. I realize this is a cheat, but trying to find a trailer for this thing proved somewhat aggravating, and frankly, I don’t want to see a trailer for it. So much for objective journalism, eh?

11. The Prize Fighter

Uh, yeah. Bought this, too.

Chris Haberman's VHS Misadventures

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14 Comments

  1. I’ve see Prophecy and it’s a moderately entertaining monster movie if your expectations aren’t too high.

    Seeing the boxes for Cassandra and Demonoid have reminded me that I’ve seen neither. I’d vote for either of those.

  2. I’d go for Prophecy, you can never go wrong with a hilariously misguided environmental horror movie with a huge mutant killing people. I’d avoid Screamers though, the box is the only interesting part from what I’ve read.

    • I’m 94% certain that I always avoided Screamers as a kid because I feared the film could never live up to that artwork. If the votes here don’t lead me to finally watch it, I never may. Which both disturbs and intrigues me. Why the hell am I so weird?

    • Howdy folks! Looks like Prophecy has won and you, Genrewriter, kind of caught me with the “hilariously misguided” remark. For your efforts, I’d like to send you a weird lil’ “prize” that you can most certainly regift at any given birthday party. Should you feel safe in emailing me your mailing address, I’ll happily send this item to you. I’m at chris_haberman@yahoo.com. The rest of you guys feel free to contact me with any other suggestions/recommendations. Stick around – after I knock out the Prophecy review, we’ll do this again! Thanks to everyone for their votes!

  3. the Screamers VHS cover intrigued and scared me soo much when I was little, thanks for the memories Chris

    P.S. does the movies “Night of the Scarecrow” and “Necronomicon:Book of the Dead” ring a bell to you?

    • Gah! Yes, they ring a bell, sir. As you can see from this article, I have a hard time making time to watch the insane amount of films I relentlessly hoard. Gonna have to include those on the next one.

  4. ‘Prophecy’ – you can’t go wrong with a mutant bear attack.

    ‘Bloody Birthday’, on the other hand, is a terrible piece of shit.

  5. Bloody Birthday is on dvd and it’s decent. I’d suggest watching one that isn’t on the dvd format. I’d suggest Demonoid for that. But man, that Elvira looks gorgeous…

    Anyways, I envy you on this find, and PLEASE make this a regular column because I’ll check back daily for it. And I haven’t been to this site daily in months!

    • Thanks a bunch! As I have at least two unseen movies on each of my library’s many shelves, there very well could be a sequel to this. And that Demonoid artwork is so heavy…kinda want a poster of it.

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