VHS Forever: The Return Of Shot-On-Video Horror

In the mid 80’s when the VHS boom was taking off, SOV horror titles started popping up on the shelves. With the cheaper accessibility to VCR’s came cheaper home camcorders, nearly anyone who “shot” a feature length horror film in the 80’s could have it pieced together and distributed. It didn’t matter, horror was selling and as long as the cover looked enticing who cares what was contained on the actual video tape because you already paid to rent it. With this “new” format the horror genre welcomed many new entries, from the somewhat well made to the downright amateur, all shot on vhs.

Poor editing, bad lighting, inaudible sound, amateur acting and cheap gore f/x were common in these types of films. Up-and-coming “filmmakers” finally had a chance to show off their “Directing” abilities. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere, and these lucky guys were able to even have them seen by the public. Movies like Blood Cult, Boardinghouse, 555 and Savage Vengeance were all SOV titles that eventually gained a cult audience. Due to the availability of the VHS format these Directors got to share their work and land jobs on bigger and better projects.

At the beginning of the new millennium, SOV horror had been long dead. However, a new format, Mini DV had hit the consumer market. Much like VHS Camcorders, you filmed on little “cassette tapes” and could transfer your footage over to an editing station. Thus the return of SOV horror had begun. College students and wannabe Directors alike
could once again cheaply “film” their movies. With this new technology it become common place to edit the film at home or in a small studio on a computer. You were now able to shoot, edit and burn off your movie at the cost of the tapes and a DVD or two. Low Budget Horror Distributors like Brain Damage Films were able to make a name for themselves releasing these low budget pieces with little to no money.

Within the last several years Mini DV has fazed out in place of full on HD. The price of a High Definition camera became slightly more affordable. Although the cameras allow for a more “cinematic” look, it’s really still just SOV when it boils down to it, only Memory Cards have replaced the cassette. Today, there has been a resurgence of true SOV horror. A VHS camcorder can be purchased at just about any Goodwill or garage sale for next to nothing. So not only is it totally affordable to shoot on, you now get a “retro VHS” look that wasn’t considered anything special at the time. Although the frame rate and colors on VHS are much different, it is arguable that VHS looks closer to old film that current HD does.

Newer indie horror films like Johnny Dickie’s Slaughter Tales, the August Underground series and my own Black Tree Forest III: The Cycle Continues have all utilized this vintage format for modern entertainment. Even the recent success of V/H/S was thanks to the appreciation the fans have for this format. Will it be here to stay…or is it simply another faze in the ever evolving “homemade horror” underground? And further more, will it ever come back again?

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2 Responses to VHS Forever: The Return Of Shot-On-Video Horror

  1. Duug says:

    Google ‘Cinegrain’. HD’s un-cinematic-ness can be covered up.

  2. glenn says:

    I think VHS has become a useful tool to separate independent Horror from the mainstream . It fits with the found footage idea and also the increased interest in the retro values found in films such as House of the Devil and The Sleeper, though neither are themselves VHS.
    The mumble-core movement also uses cheap cameras and this sometimes includes VHS

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