Adjust Your Tracking, a documentary on the history and appreciation of VHS and the people who collect them, is set to play this Monday at PhilaMOCA to kick off its North American tour. Co-director Dan Kinem was kind enough to stop by to talk a little about the documentary with us.
Lucas Mangum: This is a crazy week for me to get asked to do this interview. I just sold 60 of my VHS’s on Monday.
Dan Kinem: Oh did you really? That’s hilarious.
LM: Tell me a little about Adjust Your Tracking.
DK: Adjust Your Tracking is a documentary directed by me and co-directed by Levi Peretic. We started it about two years ago and it’s a documentary that goes deep into the subculture of VHS collectors. The film explores why people still collect VHS, why some collectors care about something that most people will just throw away or use as a doorstop, and why they think VHS is worth talking about, archiving and cherishing. We talk to various collectors, some who have been doing it forever and others who are new to it, as well as video distributors, because now there are people releasing movies on VHS and re-releasing movies on VHS. We kind of wanted to get an overall picture of this whole movement because we thought it was important but also entertaining enough to document for both collectors who actually are in this subculture and people who are on the outside looking in.
LM: I remember House of the Devil was released on VHS, in a clamshell, and that was only 4 years ago.
DK: Yeah, that was one of the earliest films to do that actually. It was one of the early points where you could see the format making a comeback. More followed, like I know Harmony Korine did that with Trash Humpers and there’s also Massacre Video, they did 555, Demon Queen, and all these low-budget horror movies. And Troma. Troma just did Toxic Avenger in a big box VHS. It’s caught on and more companies are getting into this and realizing there’s this market for limited edition VHS copies of movies.
LM: As you were looking for and interviewing people, what were some of the most prized titles among collectors? Was there a consensus on a few?
DK: Yeah, actually in the movie we talk heavily about this auction that happened maybe two years ago. It was for a film called Tales From the Quadead Zone a film from the director of Black Devil Doll From Hell which is a rare shot-on-video movie that’s only on VHS. A lot of people think it sums up why they collect and what’s great about VHS, because here’s this guy that took a VCR camcorder, made a movie and distributed it himself. It’s super-obscure and nobody knows the exact number of copies that got out there, but judging by how many pop up online and how many people find them, I’m guessing not too many. This auction ended, I think, at $660 on eBay. That really shows how far people will go for this. This was a VHS tape that someone found in a bargain bin somewhere and it sold for that much money. So that’s one of the highest collectible tapes. Now, since the subculture keeps growing and growing there are tapes that were $10 or $30 when I first got into it that are now $100. If that tape popped up on eBay again, it would probably go for well over $1000, if not $2000.
DK: Yeah. I don’t have it, so I know I’ll be in that bidding war. It’s definitely one of those movies I need. It’s just so insane, so cool. Besides that, there are a few other movies, like I mentioned Black Devil Doll From Hell that I think could actually beat Quadead’s price. It went for like $656.75. And there’s Demon Queen, that just came out on DVD, but the original copy, because that’s the collector mentality they want the original copy of the movie. If it showed up on eBay, it’d be quite sought after. It’s a lot of these movies that were shot-on-video and distributed in low numbers on VHS that kind of reach you.
LM: So those are probably the rarest, those three?
DK: There are some others like Spine, Lunchmeat, 555. That’s probably a good range of movies that would be on the checklist of ones to get.
LM: It sounds like a lot of these titles are in the horror/SF/cult films. Do you think most of the people in this subculture are fans of these types of movies?
DK: Yeah, I think people are nostalgic for VHS because of the horror genre. It really lends itself to gory, graphic cover art that stood out on the shelves. The video film market opened up for movies being shot-on-video or direct to video or these drive-in movies. That VHS aesthetic, the grainy, dark images that are hard to make out made movies scarier and they stood out more to people. But if you see my film you’ll notice there are people who collect anything from 80s wrestling, to cartoons, to workout tapes, to horror, and mainstream films that for whatever reason haven’t made it to DVD. There’s Last Movie, the Dennis Hopper film, and Wild Life, the movie Cameron Crowe did after Fast Times. I don’t know why they haven’t made it to DVD, but because they aren’t available on anything but VHS people go after those titles. They want to see those movies because that’s the only way you can really see them.
LM: How’s the response to the documentary been so far?
DK: Amazing. We’ve had a lot of sold out shows and everyone who’s seen it really seems to love it. We had this thing in New York that sold out and when the screening let out there were maybe 5 or 8 people who didn’t buy a VHS. The rest of the audience all bought tapes or brought tapes to the show to sell. It’s crazy. We’ve gotten into a lot of festivals and a lot of showings around the country and around the world. We didn’t have a festival budget, so all these festivals have all been people who reached out to us, interested in showing the movie, which is amazing to me. I was completely nervous after finishing the film, like I had no idea where to show it, but it just keeps growing. More and more people are messaging me, emailing me wanting to see the movie, liking us on Facebook.
LM: So, way better than you’d expected?
DK: Oh, yeah, definitely. At first I think people thought that it wouldn’t be interesting if they didn’t collect VHS but we wanted to make the movie reach a wide audience and have a wide appeal to that collector mentality. Whether you collect bottle caps, or stamps, or DVD, or VHS, or whatever, you can understand these people’s obsession. Watching people talk about something they love, I think that has a wide reach for people. People show up, like teenagers in high school who were barely alive when VHS was popular. The response to the movie has been great.
LM: How many titles do you own?
DK: I don’t know the exact number, but roughly I have about 8000 and in fact, I just had to move into a new apartment and that was hell moving all those tapes as well as the other things I collect. I’m definitely considering downsizing a bit but, yeah, about 8000.
LM: So your own enthusiasm for collecting fueled the desire to document all of this.
DK: Oh yeah. Once I got more and more into collecting and this group of other collectors, I started realizing that these people and this resurgence are well worth documenting. I start seeing entertaining, knowledgeable, enthusiastic people that have great opinions about this important part of film history that when DVD came out people just forgot about it. So it just clicked one day. I was like, “this needs to be done,” and being in that culture I figured I was perfect to do it.
LM: What are some of your favorite titles?
DK: My favorite titles are always tough. I love a movie called Hellroller, which is going to screen after my film on Monday. It has a special place in my heart because there is no DVD and I found it in-person at a store in my town. When I popped it in, I could not believe it. It’s about this wheelchair-bound killer that goes around Los Angeles killing off prostitutes and stuff like that. It was insane. I didn’t know anyone else that’d seen it. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of VHS and hunting down VHS. Here was this movie that I didn’t know anyone had seen, never heard of it, couldn’t find any information online. It even took me a year to find out the director had died but there was no information anywhere. I like Elvira Naked. I’m a huge Elvira fan, so when I found it I was like, what is this? What could be on this tape? It’s actually a copy of a movie she did before she was Elvira called Working Girls and she’s barely in the movie. She is naked in the movie, but it’s like 15 seconds worth of nudity and this company decided to package the whole movie as “Elvira naked.” I actually took it to Cassandra Peterson at a convention and she refused to sign it. She was suing the company because they illegally released it or something. That’s like too funny, which is why that’s a favorite. Then I have a lot of recorded tapes, like I loved Nickelodeon… lots of Double Dare and Are You Afraid of the Dark with the commercials intact. I really like watching those.
LM: So you do actually watch a lot of them? It’s not just a collectible thing for you?
DK: Definitely. I try to watch as many as I can. It’s becoming overwhelming. Anytime I get a new one that looks great I’ll watch it and anytime I’m bored I’ll reach back on the shelf and try to find something I haven’t seen yet.
LM: Adjust Your Tracking is touring the U.S., isn’t it?
DK: Oh yes. It’s touring the U.S. and Canada. It’s actually playing all over the world, but we’re taking the movie out with us and doing a North American tour with it and the first date is August 5th in Philadelphia.
For more information on the project visit the official site, and make sure you don’t miss the special screening of Adjust Your Tracking at PhilaMOCA on Monday, August 5th!