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Today the VHS format turned 33! I was only four years old when VHS was introduced to the world in 1977. We wouldn't have one for about five more years, but I remember when we first got a VHS VCR in my house, we hooked it up and one of my sisters had rented an American Werewolf in London.
It must have been 1982, I was only 9 at the time, but I remember watching that movie with my family, all the nudity, and violence intact from the theatrical release. I was used to watching movies that had been cut to pieces, edited for content and length and appearing on network television. We did not have cable so we had to drive 20 miles from Selden to Oberlin, Kansas to rent movies. I don't remember too many of the films we rented, but I recall seeing Trading Places, one or two of the Friday the 13th films, and 16 Candles. I specifically remember watching the George Romero/Stephen King comedy-horror masterpiece, Creepshow while a friend was over for a sleepover, and that we stayed up pretty much most of the night scared out of our young minds!
We didn't rent a whole lot in those days due to the distance involved in obtaining and returning videos, but mostly used the VCR for it's most revolutionary aspect, time shifting television, and allowing us to record one channel while watching another. It's sometimes difficult to remember what a life-changing concept this was in the 1980s given the current age of DVRs and streaming web video.
As the youngest child of four it became very apparent that this was a tool designed for me. I was often low man on the totem pole when it came to choosing viewing material, so the VCR guaranteed I'd never miss Automan, Misfits of Science, or Manimal, shows that my Knots Landing, Dallas loving sisters despised.
Once we moved to Oberlin in 1986 I had my first crack at Cable TV, and the VHS once again proved to be a world changer for me. For whatever reason when we got cable we were not given a cable box for the channels beyond 13, but I quickly discovered the tuner in our VCR went up to 188, so all those upper tier channels became available. I found the Discovery Channel (16) and Nickelodeon (33, I think). Nickelodeon at the time featured the awesome, You Can't Do That on Television (check out the Pythonesque intro), Mr. Wizards World, and the surreal animated French adventure show Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea. I wish they'd release that one in an English language DVD set, but alas, no. Check out the awesome opening credits:
Check out some Spartakus episodes HERE!
I also remember using the VCR to record NBC's Friday Night Videos, and Night Flight on USA Network. We didn't have MTV in my home town (not even on the upper channels) so those two shows were my only real outlet to view music videos. Here's some Night Flight video about the movie Krull if you've forgotten this awesome 80s show:
Night Flight featured all kinds of video weirdness aside from music, and was my first exposure to the Church of the Subgenius.
I used the VCR to sample and save all kinds of shows and movies and I still have a collection of movies on tape, as well as three working VHS players (one is a DVD combo). Somewhere in my stacks of old tapes I still have the pilot episode of Twin Peaks from the night it premiered, commercials and all.
VHS tape is truly a buyers market these days. Thrift stores often have movies on videocassette for as little as $1 each, not just junk either, but major releases. There is also a lot of stuff that was released on VHS that hasn't made the jump to DVD, so visit those thrift stores. You can probably pick up a standard definition TV and VCR while you're there.
Last year the awesome website/podcast The Retroist did a great show on the VCR. You can listen to that show HERE.
Happy Birthday VHS, I'll never forget you!
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