As a horror fan born in the late ’80s, it’s easy to get nostalgic about VHS tapes. Despite the convenience afforded to us by modern technology, I long for the days of browsing the local video store in search of hidden gems. You could get lost in the aisles of creative and deceptive cover art – which, more often than not, was better than the movie it housed.
With Netflix, Redbox, VOD and pirating as the new norm, those days are long behind us. Alas, I cannot force myself to get rid of my dusty VHS collection. If you’re in the same boat, find solace in the fact that you are not alone. As the new documentary Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector reveals, there are plenty of proud, dedicated VHS loyalists out there.
Not to be confused with the similarly-themed Rewind This! that was also released last year, Adjust Your Tracking was lovingly created for fans and by fans. This is evident from the opening seconds of the film: the word “Play” appears in the upper left corner of the blue A/V screen, followed by a vintage FBI warning. It’s a familiar sight to anyone who grew up on VHS.
The only “big” names that appear in the film are Troma president Lloyd Kaufman and former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, and their input is fairly minimal. (In fact, Kaufman admits that he doesn’t understand the VHS movement, preferring the superior quality and bonus features offered by newer formats.) Other journalists, filmmakers and video store owners are also interviewed, but the heart of film – as the subtitle indicates – is the collectors.
Many of these people have amassed thousands of old tapes. They primarily focus on horror, with many titles that to this day have not been released on DVD. They’re far from high art, but VHS tapes and the fans who continue to buy them preserve these films that time forgot.
The interviewees are a cast of characters. Bradley Creanzo, for example, runs a modern VHS video store out of his basement. His impressive rental collection of grainy tapes is arranged by genre on old school shelves. The set-up also includes Betamax tapes, a behind-the-counter selection of porn, a computer from 1990 and a genuine gumball machine from Blockbuster.
Some of the collectors border on obsessive. Destroy All Movies! author Zack Carlson confesses, “I would rather die than sell off my VHS collection;” his unfaltering tone ensures he’s not kidding. Among the rare tapes, there’s the infamous story of Tales from the Quadead Zone – a cheesy 1987 flick that’s extremely hard to find – that sold for nearly $700 on eBay.
Blockbuster is, of course, portrayed as the evil villain who brought down the mom and pop shops – which is entirely accurate, no doubt, but the chain doesn’t look so bad now that it has suffered the same fate. Similarly, stores unceremoniously dumped VHS tapes in favor of DVDs in the late ’90s/early ’00s. As these stores unloaded and went out of business, these VHS enthusiasts would buy up their leftover stock by the carload.
The most endearing aspect of Adjust Your Tracking is the sense of community it portrays. The majority of the people interviewed know one another, be it through the internet or in real real. By bonding over their affinity for VHS, they have forged lifelong friendships. There’s a surprisingly popular Facebook group, Horror VHS Collectors Unite, through which they communicate and show off their latest scores, which even spawned a mini-convention.
The documentary lacks focus at times, but overall it’s an interesting and engaging look at a subculture most people have no idea exists. Sure, the quality, particularly the audio, leaves a bit to be desired, but no VHS fan should have any complaints about that. More important than structure or technical aspects, co-directors Dan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic successfully portray the passion of the fans.
With some modern films being put on VHS (including this documentary!) and retro titles still being re-released on the format, the VHS nostalgia does not seem to be dying down any time soon. Like those durable hunks of plastic we love, VHS collectors have stood the test of time. Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector is a loving tribute to their enduring culture.