It’s easy to have a lot of fun thinking back to the early days of home video. Even though I couldn’t afford tons of movies I still rented and copied films off TV like crazy.
It was a big milestone when VHS officially died in 2006, although I still own a VCR and have plenty of videotapes. Funny enough, my current VCR, which I got over ten years ago, has already outlasted one DVD player.
Since I’m feeling nostalgic about the early days of home video, I figured it would be fun to go around to several friends and colleagues and ask if they recall the first movie they ever bought on video.
Mick Garris, the director of the Stephen King mini-series The Stand, says “I remember the first video tape I ever bought was Psycho… It was $60, but I had a new job and I could afford it!”
Tim Lucas, founder of Video Watchdog magazine, recalls the first movie he ever bought on VHS was Mill of the Stone Women, an obscure Italian horror film from 1960. In addition to founding Video Watchdog, Lucas is also the biographer of Mario Bava, the Italian master of horror who directed Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace, and many other stylish tales of terror.
“I had read in a magazine that it was going to be released, so I called my local video store and asked if they would be ordering a copy for rental. They replied in the negative, so I paid $59.98 just to see it. I was pleased with the movie, but not so pleased with my video store. They took my order as a sign of interest and went ahead and ordered a rental copy for the store, after all.”
Paul Gaita, a fellow film writer and friend, recalls, “I think the first movie I ever owned on VHS was a ratty, public domain copy of Night of the Living Dead – it came in one of those oversized boxes. But the first movie I bought? Not sure. VHS were still pretty expensive when we got a VCR, which I wanna say was around 1981-1982 – I think a new VHS tape went for $79.99 or the like. I probably didn’t buy an actual film on tape until I was in college or afterwards – I taped EVERYTHING from television, and I had a friend who had two decks, so he dubbed a lot of stuff for me.”
Gaita continues, “I remember the first movie I watched on VHS – my dad, who worked for the Boston Globe, brought home a Donna Summer concert (!) to try out the VCR. I sat through the whole thing sheerly because of the novelty. ‘Oh, I can rewind this part?’ And the first thing I ever recorded on that VCR was Ice Station Zebra.”
And my friend Raymond Lee Christian tells me, “I remember EXACTLY the first movie I bought on video, but it wasn’t VHS; my family started out with a Betamax machine. My first pre-recorded tape was Night of the Living Dead from Media Home Entertainment. The list price on it was $39.95 as I recall. It wasn’t of Superman or Alien caliber which retailed around $59.95 at the time, so it didn’t carry as hefty of a price. I even remember where I bought it and the moment I bought it; The Video Station of Iowa.”
While I can’t recall the first movie I ever bought, I do remember my father did hunker down and buy some movies around Christmas of 1981 for the house including American Graffiti, The Jerk, Sunset Boulevard (which he got from Fotomat when Paramount was releasing movies through them), and Chinatown, which was two hours and ten minutes long, but was then released on two tapes. I can’t recall the first movie I ever bought on VHS, though I remember two of the three movies I bought the day I got a DVD player: Brian DePalma’s Obsession, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
And for the metal readers on TG, especially if you dug our Big Four coverage, you’ll probably get a kick out of this. In 1985, Venom, Slayer and Exodus all toured together, and the New York concert was at Studio 54. (Yes, THAT Studio 54, it was right before it closed for good).
They videotaped the show, released it on home video as “The Ultimate Revenge,” and I saved up my change for a whole summer to buy it at Moby Disc, a now defunct independent record store. Think it cost about $30, and it’s been bootlegged on DVD. Clips of it are on YouTube as well, but I still have my copy to this day.