It probably sounds like Hell to younger horror movie lovers, but it really wasn't. I loved the VHS era, and the joy of discovering editions of classic horror movies has been without parallel in my life.
You have to understand: Having movies at hand and being able to start and stop them at will was still a new and miraculous thing. It seemed too good to be true, and we loved it all. Yes, even the atrocious cropped pictures, the hideous pan-and-scan releases, the grotesque dubbing on Eurohorror opuses, unscrupulous distributors releases cut TV prints on tape, faded bootleg copies of movies. We endured movie retitlings, completely different movies than advertised on tape boxes, you name it.
The number one place to search for tapes was video stores. There was a time when rental shops were on damned near every corner, and serious movie fans belonged to as many as reasonably possible. You would rent something, and the cost was minimal, and if it turned out that you had landed on a gold mine, you'd make an illegal duplication. Heck, you probably would burn a copy anyway, just to have it. Shh...but then I guess the statute of limitations has long passed.
Then there were music shops, department stores, discount retailers. You could usually find videotapes there. Goodtimes Home Video, Video Treasures, International Home Video, Simitar Entertainment, and others specialized in Public Domain titles. Some good stuff was to be found there. And a whole lot of crap as well.
How could you keep track of it? Blowing ten or twenty bucks on a lousy or cut movie print hurt, and it was easy to go broke doing so. Well, there were places to help.
There was The Video Eye of Dr. Cyclops, from Fangoria Magazine. Chas Balun's Deep Red covered the gore scene. There were quite a few independently produced fanzines being published at any given time, and you could find ads for them in the bigger magazines.
None were as good as Video Watchdog. Tim Lucas began this venture as a column, which first began appearing in Video Times Magazine. This was back in a prehistoric time when Tim was actually reviewing Betamax tapes. I never saw any of those when they were new, but VW eventually found a home in Gorezone, which was a sister publication of Fangoria.
Lucas had a unique approach to reviewing. While he often did review the movie itself, he seemed to be more interested in discussing their home video releases. Video Watchdog became an invaluable guide to what to spend those hard-won dollars on, and what to avoid. Tim Lucas wrote with wit, knowledge, and passion for his subjects.
The success of the column led to the inception of Video Watchdog Magazine, a beautifully-constructed and informative showcase for every aspect of genre filmmaking, with particular emphasis on home video releases.
I was a VW subscriber, and when I couldn't afford to do that anymore, I would buy copies at a local comic shop. I always enjoyed reading it, and yet I eventually stopped. Why?
Well, raising a family made money scarce in some years. Then there was the abundance of information available for free on the internet. I became jaded, and I felt that I had all movie detail and trivia I could handle.
Too much of a good thing generally leads to ambivalence.
The fun, for me, was in the hunt. The thrill of entering a new video store and wondering what may lie on its shelves. The excitement of finding a cache of buck-ninety-nine tapes in a department store. It was fun and it kept me motivated.
Sure, it's great to land a copy of the latest pristine Steelbook release, or to get a new Blu of a beloved classic. On the other hand, as far as I am concerned a lot of these movies already had perfectly fine releases on Anchor Bay or Blue Underground DVDs.
Streaming really took the fun out of it for me, and I miss the collecting aspect of being a genre movie fanatic. I still collect, but on a very limited basis these days. I mostly do so with old DVDs that I find for a dollar or so in thrift stores.
Yesterday I dusted off my old copy of The Video Watchdog Book, and it took me back to those halcyon days of yore. It was a time of more innocence, if not really in the world, then in my own heart. It was so exciting to read the reviews by Tim Lucas, and I would make checklists of releases I would watch for.
Now all those tapes are gone. Probably buried in some lonely landfill, polluting the ground. Dreams and nightmares that brought so many thrills and so much joy...
Our most precious possessions are our memories, and I try to keep the joyful innocence alive in my heart. The Video Watchdog book is very helpful in that regard.
Sadly, Tim Lucas was forced to cease Video Watchdog publication in 2016. The Perfectionist's Guide To Fantastic Video no longer seemed to have a place in a world that has mostly turned to insubstantial electronic media.