Tag Archives: vhs

NOTTINGHAM 1993/94

Having spent many happy hours circa 1996 browsing the shelves of Rollersnakes as part of a regular retail wander that I could stretch over an entire day, I have some happy memories of that place. Back when the store was situated in Nottingham on the excellently-named Maid Marian Way, it had a solid mail order set up and, in a none-more-1993 move, they released a few VHS “catalogues” that included local footage from sponsored skaters, some sessions at local spots like Market Square, clips from the newest videos on sale and four minutes of staff posing in the latest clothing (plenty of Droors, Raggy and X-Large) and some shots of covetable decks, with a Zoo York Ryan Hickey or Girl Sean Sheffey running you 54 quid (decks might run you little more than a quid or so more 23 years later). Anyone in the market for Bitch slick? Rollersnakes upped the whole 1994 tape on their YouTube channel, but there’s some retail highlights in the video above and the entire 1993 volume one below. Rap with horns and big jeans aplenty.

ARCHIVES

Whenever I’m busy elsewhere, that’s when this blog degenerates into a load of late 1980’s or early 1990’s magazine content thefts to tide me over. This is no exception. I’ve been lost in the Thrasher archives, where covers between 1981 and 1988 seem to be accompanied by the actual content of the issue too. I took that as an opportunity to post every Stüssy ad I could. Then after stealing the images from the Thrasher.com site, I realised that the good folks of Skately.com had already done it for their tremendous ad archive, but I decided to throw them up here regardless. The Stüssy ads are something that had a huge effect on me growing up, depicting something different to the surf mag-centric ads that went before and introducing me to the brand through an aspirational existence rather than guiding my eyes towards any actual apparel. The marketing might have looked lo-fi, but it’s clear that Shawn Stüssy wasn’t just inspired by the logos of some high fashion empires, but studied the power of their marketing too. It might explain the homage to Bruce Weber – the man who defined both Ralph and Calvin’s idealised worldviews — in early 1990’s campaigns, and Juergen Teller’s involvement with the brand that decade assisted in bringing street and high fashion worlds together.

That self-assured aesthetic had me preoccupied in ‘Thrasher’s from 1987 to 1988 (the selection below ran between 1986 to 1988) when I used to get issues of that and ‘Transworld Skateboarding’ (inferior but way thicker during the skate boom) a month late for 75p in a St Neots skate shop/toy store. It didn’t matter that they were old, because it still felt progressive in my hometown. Those Metro Attitude Lows (there were a lot of adidas shoes in those shots) in the ads that I believe were shot by Shawn himself, with Ron Leighton shooting the 1986 images, felt naturalistic, whether it was some Laguna Beach looking individuals, the StüYork Tribe, with some familiar faces, or a cameo from Fishbone’s Chris Dowd. When I went to hunt it down round my way, I just found bootleg pendants alongside knockoff swoosh jewelry in a High Street store. That wasn’t even close to the magic realm those ads sold me. There’s too much in those ‘Thrasher’ back issues.

On early 1990’s trips to London I used to gaze at the mysterious Stüssy tape in stores like Bond. What was on it? Skate footage? I never had the money to pick it up and I had a concern that it might be one of those NTSC tapes that wouldn’t play on a UK player. Released in June 1992, Stüssy Vol #1 packaging promised “A Phat Phunky Loose collage of how we’re Livin’…C-Y-A” My fears about whether it would play were wrong – directed by the late, great James Lebon, it was pretty UK-centric down to the roll call of UK stockists at the end. Some are still going, while others are long gone. There’s plenty of pioneers in the building and it extended that desire to get that tribal existence into moving pictures. Profiling and posing to a Ronin records soundtrack in an assortment of hats looks appealing. Shouts to Roark74 for upping it onto YouTube.








On the mystery tape front, found footage flicks are usually an excuse for a Poundland budget and wooden attempts at acting natural. For every ‘Troll Hunter’ there’s a hundred post-‘Blair Witch Project’ trips to a murder house that’s not worth your energy. Even ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ — the daddy of them all — is barely watchable, despite being a cult favourite. Killing animals for shock factor is some low bahaviour. Still, at least that movie at least projected some doom. Lost tapes and faux haunting or exorcism documentations are a a curious phenomenon that are often much more cynical and pointless than that hated-on slew of post ‘Saw’ Achilles tendon slashers.

I’m interested in ‘V/H/S’ though, turning found footage into an anthology horror flick with a wraparound story. My love of Amicus productions, ‘Creepshow’ and ‘Grim Prairie Stories’ means I need to watch any multiple story horror, but the fact it’s helmed by young directors, including Joe Swanberg (and I have to concede that I haven’t enjoyed any of his films yet, despite their frequent sex scenes) and David Bruckner (whose ‘The Signal’ wasn’t as good as I expected it to be) gives it a contemporary point of difference. Despite my misgivings with the young directors and their earlier work, the time limitations of the anthology should minimise tedium, and I trust the critics who’ve been giving it a good buzz. Plus the promo posters (see below) were intriguing. With so much nostalgia in this blog entry it’s nice to report that one segment of the film is apparently entirely Skype conversation based and with BloodyDisgusting.com‘s Brad Miska as a producer, it’s evidently a very 21st century bunch of horror stories, despite the obsolete format it’s themed around.

I was slow with the ‘Thrasher’ archive and I was slow with the DJ History’s ‘Catch the Beat: The Best of Soul Underground 1987-91’ book. The culture of fanzine compilation is a beautiful thing — so much isn’t electronically retained and opinions then as opposed to today’s altered history as spread by nostalgia junkies like me and their second-hand smoke creates a culture of misinformation. It’s better to hear it from the paper sources for whom ad money loss wasn’t necessarily a concern. Tim Westwood in shades and the revelation that, “His favourite records are Rammel Zee, Be Bop (Sic) and Spoonie Gee, Spoonie’s Rap” is excellent, but there’s plenty more gold in those pages.

THE VHS & BETAMAX AESTHETIC

Horror film posts on this blog go triple plywood, but it’s Halloween, so something pertaining to scary movies is obligatory. The challenge is to create something obnoxious enough to alienate people I don’t want to communicate with, but to create content that at least five people might appreciate. That’s the mentality behind this site. I was going to talk about Jack Nicholson’s Margaret Howell jacket from ‘The Shining’ but its been covered elsewhere before to the point where it got a re-release in a slimmer cut. Film jackets alone could fuel a blog for years, as the Film Jackets forum proves. I like the blouson, windcheater style with the Harrington-style pockets in that plum coloured cord. Jack himself insisted on wearing the original, but with Stanley Kubrick insisting on eleven more reproductions, I’ve never known if they were made by Howell or by the wardrobe crew. Given Kubrick’s obsessiveness, I imagine the replicas were made to an equal standard and with a couple going up for auction over the years, does anybody own the original one that Jack himself favoured?

Having spent too long in video stores as a kid just before the Video Recordings Act made British tapes have to carry the same certificates as their cinematic brethren, the sight of a terrified Shelley Duvall on an oversized ‘The Shining’ box with a cracking plastic puffiness that indicated it had seen a fair few front rooms was just one of the few covers that’s etched into my consciousness. That, ‘The Incredible Melting Man’ and ‘The Beast Within’ were obsessions, but there was plenty more to pick from and some boxes promised so much carnage that they had a genuine menace about them.

This was when the British home video realm was like the Old West and nobody was policing content. Family friendly comedies, cheap actioners, splatter and porn alike all lacked formal certification, with warnings or ’18’s on tapes applied in an unofficial manner. Going to the home of friends with negligent or irresponsible parents could mean a screening of both ‘Condorman’ and ‘Nightmare In A Damaged Brain.’ Nobody seemed to care too much. Then the byproduct of the “Video Nasties” scare of 1982 kicked in and the fun was over.

I watched some of ‘The Human Centipede 2’ this weekend simply because of the BBFC’s daft decision to ban it. I imagine that I’m not alone and curiously, Google has reinstated that sense of old video store lawlessness again. Despite the film’s clever conceit, playing up to the allegations of moral rot from the first installment and getting all postmodern with it, the sweaty torture scene and scatological gross outs had me giving up after an hour. I don’t feel especially corrupted though. But that ban gave it an illicit feel that had me nervous from the start as to what lay ahead – the same way that those old VHS and Betamax horrors promised hell on earth to the point where just hitting play felt like the point of no return.

Of course, 98% of the time (the other two percent is mostly Lucio Fulci films and anything with Tom Savini on makeup), they delivered cheap, ponderous sights with periodic blasts of gore, yet the weird synthesised soundtracks and doomy film stocks gave them an effortlessness sense of dread that’s lost in the internet age. We get the dull lost tape documentary look or the stationary paranormal investigation video, the self-referential slashers and the CGI vampires. Then there’s the attempts to channel the early 1980s look and feel minus the menace.

Thank god that remakes are flopping this year though. ‘Hellraiser: Revelations’ is a whole new depth plumbed — even the Cenobites wouldn’t go down to those hellish depths and this was such a bad film that even the fictional Alan Smithee wouldn’t have wanted his name on it (though he got it on the not-nearly-as-awful, ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’) as proof that something’s gone horribly wrong. This witching season I’m appreciating the more accomplished horrors of the last decade — Frank Darabont’s fearless and peerless ‘The Mist,’ Alexandre Aja’s ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ remake and foreign language masterpieces like Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Devil’s Backbone,’ Alexandre Bustillo and Julieno Maury’s nightmarish ‘Inside’ and Muguel Angel Vivas’s ‘Kidnapped.’ Each is a lean, mean machine in the scare (and more often than not, the bloodshed) department with phenomenal technical ability too.

In the pre-cert world, the booming home video market put pound signs in the eyes of a generation of aspiring distributors. Before the film even began, the company identities would indicate that you were a long way from the big studios. Some British companies seemed based as part of grocery store chains, some were based in glamorous places like Dorset and others were European or Stateside operations. Some were set up just to feed the nation’s porn habit and some would focus on sports. Some would go on to be more famous than others- Vestron and the notorious VIPCO were bigger than the likes of Cyclo, Intermovie, Scorpio, Wizard and many more who’d welcome you to the show. But the identities were often non-static, with animation that made Dire Straits’s ‘Money For Nothing’ promo look like a Pixar production by comparison.

Some titles would be written with a Pepysian style disembodied hand while others would throw in a word like “Distinction” to look classy. They were an eclectic bunch that reek of Portakabins and industrial estates, but they really tried with their fonts and graphics, despite obvious limitations. Even if they were pirated, their name still spread. If I ever had a brand, this would make up much of an inaugural moodboard. It’s good to see that the first season of Sk8thing, Toby Feltwell and Hishi’s C.E. line went back to VHS Argento (primarily ‘Suspiria’) for the imagery, before the brand goes off in a completely different direction to shake off any sense of nostalgia.

For those odd enough to care, here’s 67 pre-cert video company identities culled from the excellent ‘Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide’ DVD extras:

'THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL' – MOVIE MARKETING DONE RIGHT

Seeing as the last two entries were Michigan-themed, there’s an overwhelming urge to tenuously link that region of America to this piece too. There’s a theme of VHS-era horror here, and none beat the daddy of them, matching scares with gore flawlessly – ‘The Evil Dead,’ mostly shot in Michigan, obviously. Micro budget is no excuse to bore the audience rigid, then deliver belated kill shots. Nope. Having grown up with bootleg copies of Raimi’s opus taking on a certain apocryphal nature with tales of elder sisters driven near-mad by what they saw during a collective screening. That tape-to-tape fuzz and sense of illegality while it was banned (finally released with tree rape and pencil stab cuts around 1990 on Palace in the UK) gave it that extra edge. How many scare flicks could live up to what Sam delivered in 1981? Very few. What a gore-hungry youngster got was less on marginally more of a budget – lurid covers promised the earth, but when it came down to it, for every ‘The Kindred,’ there were twenty films akin to the dreadful ‘The Bogey Man.’ Mr. Raimi, you really spoilt us.

And then there was ‘Faces Of Death’ – mostly faked, but feeling like the ultimate act of pre-teen subversion, for a ten year old, the promise of parachutists falling into crocodile pits and murders on films sounded hugely attractive, and again, the recording of a friend’s friend’s recording added an atmosphere, with the illicit sense that it could go anywhere, free of the restrictions of nasty old James Ferman and his BBFC. Even the distributor’s name and logo, Gorgon, indicated that this wasn’t going to be an easy ride. Despite the snake-maned similarity thematically, Gorgon had nothing to do with the UK’s Medusa, who put out some misleading trash as well as superior budget pieces like ‘Romper Stomper.’ You never forget your first viewing of ‘Faces Of Death’ – borderline quaint now, but without the internet to dispell it as hoax after hoax, a truly subversive experience.

On hearing the talk, you could expect Ti West’s ‘The House Of The Devil,’ made in 2008, to break out the cinematic Ouija board, and bring back the spirit of ’82 alongside the predictably dark forces. After a festival buzz, its natural home is in home entertainment, where so many lurid cheapies found their following. You see, Ti really had a go at raising the bar in the battle to bring back the early ’80s fright film. Rob Zombie gives it a go each time, but falls further into the mire of hillbilly haw-haw brutality and genre guest spots at the rate of one-a-minute with each studio release, ‘Grindhouse’ gave it a go, but it was left to Edgar Wright to nail it with the ‘Don’t’ mock-trailer. That was just two minutes though. Eli Roth, who let Ti helm ‘Cabin Fever 2’ played with throwback touches on the original ‘Cabin Fever,’ but it was still very much a knowing early ’00s motion picture experience. Trust Raimi to do it again by sticking a throwback Universal logo spot before ‘Drag Me To Hell’ too. He’s still got it.

‘The House…’ rolls with a standard premise of girl seemingly alone in a home environment in a babysitting mission gone more than a little askew. Speckled with a post-production application of proper film stock effect, as the antidote to speedy ‘Shield’ style ADD points of view or the RED’s democratic approach to digital clarity onscreen it certainly looks the part. Keen to stay in ’83 aesthetically, the proceedings don’t labour the point with BMXs or breakdancers, but telling Walkman shots and new breed of scream queen, Jocelin Donahue dancing to The Fixx’s ‘One Thing Leads To Another’ has shades of ‘Rain’ by The Cult in ‘Demons 2.’ A sparing use of familiar faces like ‘Cujo’s Dee Wallace and the reliably creepy Tom Noonan keeps things from marinating into a self-knowing sludge too. This is po-faced down to the wilfully stilted dialogue, curious flatness to the sound and infrequent bursts of violence beyond the quiet paranoia. It’s not actually a lot of fun, as was the case with the majority of rentals, pre cert or otherwise that promised to paint the screen red – this film is authentic in that respect.

That Joe Swanberg’s muse, Greta Gerwig gets the sassy friend role isn’t too strange either – she’s excellent here, but there’s shades of Swanberg’s ‘mumblecore’ movement here in the nonchalant pacing. In fact, lovers of the genre Cassavetes built should take a peek at another horror film – George Romero’s disturbing ‘Martin,’ shuffling along like ‘The House Of The Devil,’ even if the name of West’s effort evokes memories of Peter Fonda fleeing a cult in a Winnebago. From the yellow title screens to the original score, static screens and deliberate editing, it’s authentic, and a long way from word-of-mouth drivel like ‘Paranormal Activity’ but unless you yearn for the two night rental pick  that alludes to greatness but proves curiously uneventful, leave this one to the fanboys, as it’s ultimately Argento’s ‘Three Mothers’ output without the dizzying levels of flair at work.


So, wasting all those paragraphs to conclude with a mehhhhh verdict? There’s a positive. The marketing for ‘The House Of The Devil’ has been outstanding. Not in that weak viral witches in the wood way, but through a strong visual identity. No less than seven (one is omitted here for being weak) different posters have been in circulation, from a starker silhouette teaser, to scratchier, more lurid imagery. Fonts, and even the clawhammer subtlety present in the “Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch TV. Die…” tagline works. Retro production company logos? Present and correct. Six were designed by Kellerhouse Inc. who handle some of Criterion’s best sleeve creations, including the new ‘Paris,Texas’ remaster, with one by the Silent Giants.


That’s just the appetizer. Releasing the film on VHS in pan and scan format, West and friends have had a chance to truly go crazy – it’s even on the infamous (and recently resurrected for the ‘Faces Of Death’ DVD special edition) Gorgon imprint, down to that eerie sound and imagery preceding the main feature. The box is padded and appropriately oversized too. On the Mondo Tees blog they’ve taken a closer look at this extraordinary approach to promo collateral (pictures lifted from Dread Central) which also comes packaged with the US DVD release (but not the Blu-Ray) with the first run. That alone confers purchase here, and given that the movie itself is hardly extraordinary, it’s proof that the little extras in the merchandising of ‘The House Of The Devil’ genuinely made a difference, hitting the impulse buying nostalgic fan market like an unexpected bullet to the face.