Online auctions are a many splendid thing. A continual source for the avid tape collector to supplement their collection. Not so much a place to actually build a large collection, usual prices when combined with shipping often get insane quickly, but a place to dig and sometimes fight for rarer desired acquisitions. Be it obscure Japanese pre-records (the cool cat way of saying “tape”), Hong Kong Category III nasties on Ocean Shores Video, or impossible-to-find tapes from South America. It can be hellishly frustrating trying to stop the blitz bidders who attempt to blow away your highest bid in the last seconds of an auction. Some get so flustered they give up on bidding on anything all together. The key is to have cunning in your searches to locate hidden treasures. Practices like linking keywords together, searching descriptions, misspelling words, and testing extremely broad to extremely concise terms are ways of “deep searching” auctions.
Here’s where the gamble comes in. You might find a certain tape that looks interesting, usually in a lot sale of several tapes, but sometimes the provided picture sucks. Maybe the lighting is bad, the angle weird, too blurry, or the particular tape you’re interested in is concealed in the picture somehow. Sure, you can ask the seller for more details, but that’s risky. If you do, nothing may happen, but you might show your cards too much. The seller could catch on that they have something of greater value than they originally thought. After that all bets are off and you’ll be lucky to pry it from the seller’s grubby hands. If the auction is cheap enough, you might as well grow the proverbial nards and take the potential bullet in bidding or buying. Although if the price is more mid-range, you’re going to have a dilemma.
This was the situation I had several weeks ago upon running across a lot of eight Betamax tapes on eBay. Seven of the tapes I didn’t really care for, the price was okay, and worst of all the only picture was of just the (clean looking) spines with the item condition marked as an ambiguous “Used”. So I threw it on the watch list and forgot about the listing–for a few weeks. That combination of issues might have saved Video Gems’s rare clamshell of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (Flesh for Frankenstein) (1973) from being plucked sooner by another buyer. I eventually threw caution to the wind and decided to snag the bundle for $25–figuring it would either be an expensive lesson or a pleasant surprise on what had the potential of being a mint condition tape.
Finally, a big, taped up Ritz Crackers bulk box arrived from the other side of the United States with the Betas of Outland (1981), Tightrope (1984), Never Say Never Again (1983), Purple Hearts (1984), The Getaway (1972), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Hearts and Armour (1983), and at the bottom Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Much like the picture of the spines “kinda” indicated, my hunch payed off and all eight were in like new condition. Of course, you win and lose some, and I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of failed auction gambles. Even some that appear to be sure things can turn sour, like a $10 copy of the rare Swingers Massacre (1975) with a near perfect cover–until I discovered some dumbass scribbled his name in chicken scratch across the tape’s label. This part of the fun of being a tape collector and something to take in stride.
This Video Gems release is especially nice to find in such great shape. The studio was predominately known for horror and cult titles in big cardboard boxes (a.k.a. “porno boxes”) , but their Warhol Frankenstein and Dracula releases broke this norm by being in a segmented clamshell case. The front, back, and spine paper art was sliced into three pieces and completely sealed behind the clear plastic sheets of the case. Basically if the case gets damaged, there’s not even a chance of slipping the art out to place in a new clamshell. Also it’s not uncommon to find these with the plastic yellowed and rippled from heat. This edition is the full 95 Minute “Rated X” cut of Paul Morrissey’s feature. This was definitely one roll of the dice that paid off.