This lively documentary explores the rise and fall of physical media and its effect on Independent and cult films. Ranging from the origin of home movies through the video store era, it’s sure to entertain. With icons like Joe Bob Briggs (MonsterVision), Lloyd Kaufman (Toxic Avenger), Greg Sestero (The Room), Debbie Rochon (Return to Nuke ‘Em High), Deborah Reed (Troll 2), Mark Frazer (Samurai Cop), James Nguyen (Birdemic) and many others.
What We Thought:
VHS Massacre tugged on my heartstrings which is surprising because I didn’t know I had any. It tackles a subject that is my life in many ways.
Besides watching and writing about movies, I also work in film. I’ve done some studio work, but also independent movies. Over the past decade, I’ve personally seen drastic changes in the indie world both positive and negative.
At its core, the documentary is about the disappearance of physical media especially VHS. Having grown up in the 1980s and 90s, I know exactly what they talk about in the movie. We had a small Mom & Pop run video store in my neighborhood and you spent way too much time looking at the titles and cover art before deciding what to rent. It was your baptismal into movies both good and bad (and some for adults only). Trying a movie out that looked cool was like flipping a coin, you never knew what to expect. There was no IMDB. No Rotten Tomatoes. You went on the description, the cover art and what people around you said about it. It was social media before social media existed.
Then the big chains like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and the like came in. They destroyed smaller, privately owned stores. The big chains had dozens and dozens of copies where small stores couldn’t afford to have more than a few. You didn’t have to wait to get the latest release and small stores couldn’t compete against that.
What also killed VHS was DVD. DVD looked better and was cheaper for the stores. Sure you saw a similar change in music going from vinyl & cassette to CD over the decades, but DVD hurt indie film distribution. Technological changes in the music industry didn‘t necessarily hinder the distribution of physical music at stores right away (it would later though). Mom & Pop stores were where us weird kids found odd movies, indie movies, off beat horror and realized there are thousands of movies out there that weren’t at the theater. Straight to Video was a huge market at one point, but mainstream rental franchises wouldn’t carry those films and that meant fewer eyes on a lesser known title. Studios might not admit it, but there was definitely something sketchy going on when a Blockbuster would have a wall of just one major title and smaller films never got displayed.
Streaming sites like Netflix and illegal downloads eventually killed the franchises and now you can’t find movie rental stores anywhere. It sucks! The general public streams a movie that has a good rating among general audiences and smaller films get ignored. And now people watch movies on their phone. Their F’ing phone!
The documentary is full of independent filmmakers, distributors, and people who just love movies. Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman talks about his hatred for Blockbuster and Netflix and how he’s adapted to keep Troma running for 40 years. Other personal favorite distributors/filmmakers of mine like Full Moon and SRS Cinema make appearances or get talked about.
Technology has made filmmaking easier. Now people shoot full movies on their iPhones and edit them on their laptops. That’s the positive side of technology, want to shoot something? Just go do it with the technology in your pocket. The negative is, it’s a lot harder to get people to PAY to watch your movie. It’s a lot harder to find an audience in general because there’s a lot more films being made and less places to find them unless you have a million dollars to spend on marketing. You can’t go to a small store and barter with the owner to put your movie on the shelf. There aren’t any shelves now.
VHS Massacre is a must watch for movie fans. I mean real movie fans. The ending was cool because a bunch of the guys went out and bought random VHS tapes they found in different places and had a contest to see which one was the weirdest. It also shows that VHS has made a small niche comeback. There are VHS collectors now and some films to this day still can’t be seen in any other format either physical or digital. And some distributors have even started offering their movies on VHS again. I really liked the documentary and because of that, it is…
VHS Massacre is available to stream on TROMA Now (watch.troma.com) for SVOD streaming. And yes I see the irony in a film about the decline in physical media being available online!
Cast & Crew:
- Lloyd Kaufman
- Joe Bob Briggs
- Cult Actors & Filmmakers
Recommended If You Like:
- Official Rejection
- Documentaries about movies
Follow me @murraymaker