Jul 14, 2023

Tapes And Treasures

The Mahoning Drive-In Theater became a treasure trove of vintage movies and movie memorabilia during VHS Fest VII.  If I went into this with an unlimited budget, I could have easily filled the back of a pick up truck with things that I would have loved to have in my collection, but I'm not a rich dude so it's important to go into events like this with a strict cap on how much I'm going to spend.  That being the case, I had a decision to make pretty early on:  Was I going to blow my budget on one or two rare tapes that I may never see again, or would it be better to spread it around a little on things that aren't quite so rare and valuable, but that bring me just as much happiness?  I opted for the latter, and I have no regrets.

My favorite thing that I picked up at VHS Fest VII wasn't a VHS tape at all, but it brought back memories of renting movies in the 80's and 90's all the same.

Judge me if you want to for what I'm about to say, because I don't care.  I am a huge fan of Pauly Shore.  His rise to stardom began when I was about 10 years old, and I couldn't get enough of the guy when I was in middle school.  I loved his movies, his albums, stand-up comedy, his show on MTV, and everything about his surfer stoner with a heart of gold character.  The Weasel was happy, relaxed, funny, and accepting of pretty much everything that comes his way.  This character never conformed to society, but he adapted to it on his own terms and made the situation his own.  It's pretty much who I wished I could be when I was a teenager - not the popular guy or the sports hero, but the weirdo who marched to the beat of his own drummer, but who was loved and accepted anyway.

It's difficult to explain the Pauly Shore phenomenon to folks who weren't there.  Kevin Smith touched upon this during a 2001 Q&A at Cornell University that was released on An Evening With Kevin Smith.  At the time, Mr. Smith was saying that Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back would be the last appearance of the characters of Jay and Silent Bob in a movie.  That didn't end up being the case, but here was his answer when he was asked why he was retiring the characters:

This may sound harsh, but he's not wrong.  Pauly Shore was a massive pop culture phenomenon from the summer of 1989 until sometime in the mid 90's when it seemed like the entire world just decided to bail on him all at the same time.  He wasn't involved in any controversies or anything like that.  It seemed like everybody got tired of him all at the same time, and actors like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler rose to the top of Hollywood's summer comedy flicks while Pauly Shore faded away.  It's a bummer because he's a fun and talented dude who had a lot more to offer.

One of my favorite movies of his that was released at the height of his stardom is the 1993 comedy Son In Law, which just turned 30 years old on July 2nd of this year.  I'm pretty sure that my stepsister and I saw this in theaters and I know that we rented it on home video a few times after it was released.  It's a fun, family-friendly comedy that makes a great double feature with Planes, Trains and Automobiles to put on the living room tv on Thanksgiving night.

A vendor at VHS Fest had a pile of cardboard stand-up displays from the early 90's that advertised the release of movies on videocassette and laserdisc, and one of them was for Son In Law.  Just a few minutes before seeing this, I was at a different vendor who was selling a cardboard stand-up of the 1990 sci-fi family comedy Spaced Invaders for $80.  That one was way out of my budget so I almost didn't ask how much the other vendor wanted for the Son In Law stand-up, but I did anyway and I was extremely happy when they said that they were asking for ten bucks.  I'm in the process of remodeling my basement into a combination home arcade and movie room, and I was looking for something exactly like this to go next to the VHS tape shelves.  This thing makes me smile every time I look at it!

My second favorite purchase was a gift for my wife.  She has recently been reading a lot of novelizations of movies that she enjoys, and there are few movies that she loves more than Spaceballs.  It's one of my favorites too, so I'm not going to pretend that I won't be spending some time reading it as well, but she was pretty psyched when I gave it to her.

One fun side note about this book is its author, Jovial Bob Stine.  This is one of the pen names that was used in the 80's by Goosebumps and Fear Street author RL Stine.

Two more movie-related books that I picked up from the same seller were the novelization of my favorite Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and a Choose Your Own Adventure style book called Indiana Jones and the Eye Of The Fates.  I read all of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles when I was a kid, but I didn't know about these "Find Your Fate Adventures" books back then.  If I did, they definitely would have been on my Christmas wish list.

One of the vendor tents near the Godzilla statue (yes, it's still there) belonged to a very nice dude named Justin Lutz.  He was selling a variety of tapes and books, including these three that his work appears in.  The first one is called Hold My Hand And Hope For Heaven, which is a collaboration between he and photographer David Catalano.  The other two are compilations of short stories from four horror authors that his work was included in: Teenage Grave and Isolation Is Safety.  It's been a busy week so I haven't had a quiet moment to read them yet, but they're on the top of my pile for this weekend.

The last book I bought was a notebook that I fell in love with as soon as I saw it.  It was made from an upcycled box from a blank VHS tape, so I'm going to use it as a catalog of some of the tapes in my collection.  This, and other notebooks like it, were available for sale from Chris Severn at the Spiral Rewind table.  They make a lot of the Mahoning Drive-In Theater merchandise that I've picked up over the years.  He's the same artist who created a very cool piece of VHS art that I bought on the lot a couple of years ago.

The last non-VHS thing that I picked up at VHS Fest may end up being one of the best deals that I've ever gotten.  One of the vendors that I visited had a little section of their table dedicated to video games.  Nothing crazy... just a few loose SNES and Genesis cartridges with nothing that stood out to me too much.  There was also a little Legend Of Zelda toy in a Ziploc bag that was being sold for a dollar.  The guy who I bought it from told me he didn't know what it was, but I was pretty sure that it was a prize from a box of Nintendo Cereal.

When I got home, I did a little searching and saw that I was right.  It's a Nintendo Mini-Pinball Game that was included free inside of a box of Nintendo Cereal System back in 1989.  I was obsessed with the NES when I was a kid, so I definitely had tried the cereal when it was in stores.  It was a unique idea because each box contained two tall, thin bags with different flavors.  The bag on the left was fruit flavored for Super Mario Bros while the bag on the right was berry flavored for The Legend Of  Zelda.  The box and the toy were definitely the selling point because both flavors of the cereal itself were pretty terrible.

I'm not sure if I ever had one of these toys when I was a kid because they changed the free toy surprise a few times throughout the product run.  The box mentions that there is a Mario or Link Mini-Pinball Game inside, but there's only a picture of the Mario one, so I headed over to eBay... not to look up how much it might be worth, but to confirm that my new Legend Of Zelda toy was the one from this promotion, and maybe to see if any other variations were produced over the years.  As soon as the results loaded, my jaw hit the floor.

What the hell!!!?

I love vintage toys and 80's Nintendo memorabilia as much as anyone.  That's why I bought it... but I paid a buck for it.  I might have paid two or three bucks tops.  If they were asking five dollars for it, I would have left it right where I found it.  There's no way in hell that this thing is worth over a grand... is it?  I'm not going to try to sell it because I don't believe that anyone would really pay these prices for a little plastic toy, but if you're interested, I'll gladly part with it for a fraction of the prices that eBay sellers are asking for.

Now... onto the tapes.

The first VHS tape that I bought is a wrestling video that I have a very happy memory of.  It's called Coliseum Video Presents The WWF's Most Unusual Matches.  It was released in 1985 and contains a compilation of wrestling matches from the early 80's that had unusual stipulations, all of which are introduced by Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

I rented this tape from Heights Terrace Video when I was a teenager.  My dad and I watched it together because it featured a lot of the wrestlers that he used to watch when he was my age (at the time), including Superfly Jimmy Snuka and Chief Jay Strongbow.  We had a good time watching it, but the memory that sticks out in my head was Jesse Ventura's introduction of the Texas Tornado tag team match between the team of Jimmy Snuka and the Junk Yard Dog against Rowdy Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob OrtonVentura's voice as he explained the reason for the stipulation was deep and serious, as if he was a judge handing down a life sentence to a convict who has just been found guilty.  He explained that previous tag team matches between these competitors had gotten out of control and led to a disqualification.  He then rhetorically asked if the could have sent more referees out to officiate the match, but then dismisses the idea because it would be too risky to the safety of the officials.  He then asked "How about a steel cage match?" and then answered his own question by saying "No", with a long pause afterwards, as if he wasn't going to offer any reason why not.  I can't explain to you why either my dad or I found that to be so funny, but something about Ventura's tone of voice and the long pause caused Dad and I to laugh our asses off.

The other wrestling tape that I bought was the Coliseum Home Video release of the 1990 Survivor Series.  I've been a fan of pro wrestling for as long as I can remember, but my family didn't have the kind of money where they could order the pay-per-view events when I was a kid.  That's why I always kept my eyes peeled for the newest pay-per-view to be released on VHS at our local video rental shops.  They usually didn't come out until several months after the show aired, so I pretty much always knew who won and lost before I ever got to see the show, but it was still a big deal for me to get to see these matches.  There weren't too many of these tapes that felt like a bigger deal than this one though.

For those of you who don't follow wrestling, the Survivor Series was an annual event that took place or or around Thanksgiving.  Each of the matches during this show were four-on-four, single elimination tag team matches.  In other words, a team of four guys would go up against another team of four guys, but the match didn't end if one person was defeated.  That one person who either got pinned, submitted, disqualified or counted out would be eliminated from the match, and the match continued until all members from a single team were eliminated.  The most common gimmick at these events was that a fan favorite would find himself on a team in which most or all of his partners were eliminated, which set him up to make a valiant comeback even though he was outnumbered.  WWE has kept this event going every year since 1987, but the four-on-four matches have all but disappeared over the years.  These days, it's just like any other major event with perhaps one or two "traditional Survivor Series matches" thrown onto the card for aging Gen X'ers like me.

The front of the box shows two teams that were captained by the most popular WWF wrestlers in 1990: Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.  Fans today probably wouldn't be able to tell you what happened in either of their matches because there was one wrestler that appeared on the undercard who made an immediate impact, and whose 30 year career left a mark on professional wrestling that few other performers could match.

One of the "bad guy" teams was captained by "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase.  His team members included a tag team that went by the name of Rhythm & Blues, which was made up of The Honky Tonk Man, and an absolutely ridiculous looking Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, who was nearing the end of his career and given a terrible gimmick on his way out the door.  The final member of this team was a mystery that fans only learned about when the match was about to begin.

This was the first televised appearance of The Undertaker.  I was in the fifth grade when this happened and my friends and I talked about this dude in school practically every day for the rest of the school year.  Thirty years later, despite a global pandemic changing life and the world as we knew it, wrestling fans still couldn't stop talking about this guy and the incredible performance that he put on for Wrestlemania 36 before his retirement from the ring.  There are few performers in any walk of life that can match what this dude brought to his craft.

Another thing that caught my eye about this tape was the Blockbuster Video rental sticker.  The style of their security sticker changed over the years, but this is how I remember it from when I was growing up.  This sticker became a theme across many of the tapes that I bought at VHS Fest.  Almost every vendor table that I went to had at least ten or twenty tapes that I liked enough to purchase and that was within my budget, so this sticker ended up being the deciding factor on several of the other tapes that I picked up, including these three 80's sci-fi flicks:

The three movies that I picked up which began their life on a Blockbuster Video store shelf were the infamous 1980 sci-fi flop Saturn 3, the 1989 James Cameron classic The Abyss, and the poorly-timed 1986 family film, SpaceCamp, which had the unfortunate luck of wrapping up its production just a few months before the space shuttle Challenger exploded which led to its failure at the box office.  I've watched each of these movies at different points in my life, but I'm not especially familiar with any of them.  I'm looking forward to having a Blockbuster night this winter with these.

I also picked up a copy of the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis horror classic, Prom Night.  It's one of my favorite horror flicks of the early 80's that I somehow never managed to own a copy of before.  I was also hoping to find a copy of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, which I love even more than the first film, but I had no luck in finding it.  Three different vendors that I visited each had Prom Night 1, 3 and 4 for sale on their tables, but none of them had what is in my opinion the best one of the series.  It'll be something to hunt for next year.

The Quiet Earth is one of my favorite apocalyptic movies ever made.  It a New Zealand sci-fi film from 1985 that follows a man who survives a man-made disaster that wipes out nearly every man, woman, and child on the planet.  After a period of time in which he believes that he is the last man on earth, he finds that a woman has also survived.  Predictably, the two hook up, but they discover a younger and more handsome man a short time later and a love triangle develops.  It's one of the most haunting and realistic-feeling movies about the end of the world that I've ever seen, and I'm very glad to add it to my collection.

Rob had a table set up in the concession building, which is where I found the Molly Stewart Trilogy: Angel, Avenging Angel and Angel III: The Final Chapter.  These tend to get classified as exploitation flicks, but I've always thought of them more as an action/crime drama.  There is very little nudity (especially in the second and third films), and with the exception of that, the plot isn't any more controversial than you'd find in many episodes of Law & Order: SVU.  They're not my absolute favorite examples of the genre, but the three of them tell a solid story that is definitely worth seeing.  These three tapes were also sealed in their original shrink wrap and the price I paid for them was too good to pass up.

These are three films that I recently saw at the Mahoning, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy a VHS copy of each of them on the lot.  Poltergeist II: The Other Side was the final film shown at the Haunted House Party weekend earlier this year.  Penitentiary III is an absolutely bonkers movie that closed out the AGFA Triple Ripper last season.  Finally... due to the super secret Drive-Insiders oath that they totally do not make us take, I am unable to confirm or deny if Hunk was shown at a recent Patreon screening.  I did say that I saw it on the lot, but I could be referring to a friend of mine who popped the DVD into their laptop on the trunk of their car before the sun went down.  You don't know.

There were two purchases that I regret making upon further examination, but this is in no way a critique of either film.  They are the 1983 3-D sci-fi flick Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone and the 1965 Mario Bava sci-fi/horror Planet Of The Vampires.  I've heard of both of these movies but never got around to watching them and figured that this would be a good opportunity to do so.  It was only after I got home that night that I took a closer look and discovered a horror that's more frightening than anything that's likely to appear in either film.

I became very familiar with Goodtimes Home Video when I worked in the electronics department at my local K-Mart when I was a teenager (I was actually the department manager for a very brief time, but that's a long story).  We had an endcap dedicated to videos released by Goodtimes, and I would estimate that about 30% of the tapes that we sold in my time working there were brought back to the store as returns.  Their tapes were produced in LP, so the picture quality was pretty terrible, and they seemed to get chewed up by VCRs faster than any other tape I've ever seen.  My heart sank when I saw their logo on the back of my newly purchased copy of Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone.  Maybe I'll luck out and it'll be ok, but tapes from this company looked pretty crappy when they were brand new in the 90's, let alone after a quarter century of being played, stored, and swapped at tables in hot and humid flea markets and events like VHS Fest before finding their way to my collection.

My memory of Orion Home Video tapes is much more positive, but it isn't enough to make me overlook the fact that this tape was produced in EP Mode.  If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, a standard blank tape that you'd buy at the store in the 1980's could be recorded in three different modes.  You could either record two hours in SP, four hours in LP, or six hours in EP (also known as SLP).  Recording in SP gave you less time on each tape, but a far superior picture and sound quality compared to LP or EP, which is why the overwhelming majority of commercially-sold home videos were produced in SP.  Most of the non-SP tapes that I saw back in the 80's and 90's were the kind of things that you'd find for sale at the drug store for a dollar - public domain cartoons, off-brand exercise videos, and other random oddities that looked terrible even when they were fresh out of the factory.

I'm hoping that these have at least one good play left in them so that I can digitize them.  After that, they're pretty much going to be shelf decoration.

It's no exaggeration to say that there were tens of thousands of tapes available on the lot during VHS Fest.  Many of them were ones that I remember seeing when I was a kid.  Others, like this copy of Laserblast, The Gates Of Hell and a Japanese video of Terry Funk, are rare oddities that I've never seen in person before.  The vendor who was selling these three tapes was kind enough to let me take a photo for the blog to show some of the awesome tapes that were available, but unfortunately out of my price range.  Still, it was a blast to get to see them, and to talk to folks who are just as nerdy as I am about this sort of thing, and of course to add a few new pieces to my collection.  I'm already looking forward to VHS Fest 8 in 2024.