Ultra-rare Horror VHS in mint condition, only $16.80…!?!?

Ultra-rare Horror VHS in mint condition, only $16.80…!?!?

If you’ve ever walked into a sizable antique mall, you’re probably well aware of the plethora of price guides available. You know, that corner by the restrooms with a long wooden rack of collector’s guides dedicated to every hobby imaginable aside from the ho-hum of comic books, stamps, and coins. Everything esoteric from playing cards, Nazi militaria, hot sauces, and even Horror genre collectibles. Although what about us lonely analog video collectors?

Scott Aaron Stine and Michael von Sacher-Masoch aimed to fill the void with The Trashfiend’s Guide to Collecting Videotapes published in 2003. From the makers of the defunct Trashfiend magazine, this 80-page guide was and still is the first of its kind to compile market values of over 1,400 horror, sci-fi, exploitation, and cult titles on North American tape from the ’70s and ’80s. Stine provides a brief history of the videocassette imbued with his own reasoning behind being a video junkie. Popular market trends from seven years, value information regarding more esoteric tapes (like screeners, sell-through, and Betamax), and good preservation/restoration tips (like not immediately rewinding a just watched tape due to heat stretch) for one’s collection are also included.

Being a child of the VHS format’s earliest days through the rental boom; it’s obvious Stine, the mind behind Trashfiend: Disposable Horror Culture of the 1960s & 1970s, is a true devotee of the home video format born in 1976. In the introduction, Stine speaks of how collecting tapes fueled his passion that initially led to self-publishing a fanzine before several fleshed-out genre magazines and books. He astutely points that being a video junkie not only indicates a love of film, especially horror and exploitation, but also for archiving releases as beloved relics of the past.

It’s notable that in the publication year of this guide, 2003, the independent DVD distributor scene was still very much thriving. As such, Stine’s preamble writing before the meats n’ potatoes of the price guide has a sedateness about it. One gets the impression that most collectors looked to DVD as the answer for all their needs. Or were simply waiting until obscurities saw the digital light instead of opting to track down and pay exorbitant amounts for original tapes.

Things have certainly changed with many homebrew studios either disappearing or pulling way back on their output due to economic conditions, the ever-losing battle for retail shelf space, and the question of Blu-ray. Interest in videotapes seems to have come back around because of this downshift with different trends than what Stine points out. An example being Thriller Video’s “Elvira Presents” big boxes of the Hammer House of Horrors series. With the release of the episodes on DVD, the interest in these has dropped considerably since and you can find them all over eBay. Stine is ultimately rather wishy-washy on the topic of market trends, stating value is based mostly on a title’s availability, and this highlights The Trashfiend’s Guide to Collecting Videotapes biggest sticking point.

It’s hard as hell to truly “peg” nearly anything this guide attempts to apply to videotapes. I mean, who in their right mind would collect tapes? People will collect anything and everything, but collecting tapes is more of a unique phenomenon. Generally, most “collectibles” have an assumed desirability even by those who aren’t collectors of a particular item. Like if someone saw a stack of old comics in great shape or box of vintage G.I. Joe figures at a yard sale, they might be inclined to pick them up even if they know nothing about them. Videotapes are different. They’re mostly viewed as a space-hogging nuance while being ignored on spindly tables bowing from their weight at swap meets. No one appears to care with those that do being old guys who haven’t bought into that newfangled DVD thing.

Advantage us, right? Yet who are “us”? We can be found online foraging through auctions both online and in-person, hunched over cardboard boxes at flea markets, precariously reaching for that one big box high on a thrift shop’s wall, geeking out over recent finds on specialized forums, and blogging about our passion. Essentially stealing hunks of plastic riches from the unknowing in-the-wild or frantically clicking through eBay’s bidding conformation screens. We are the same in the same situation regardless of our geographical location. People don’t care and we’re there to capitalize as on-lookers wonder why we’re walking away with Hefty bags of cassettes. At the same time, we’re incestuous, organizing backroom deals and trades. Tapes are played forward from collector-to-collector; ensuring their longevity. Either from profit, nostalgia, or a bit of both; we’re on a mission from the video gods.

But given the insular nature of such a hobby, what drives prices? Getting back to Stine’s guide, he states it’s dependent upon factors such as age, availability, quality of print, packaging, and demand. All good points, but the author brings up grossly inflated eBay prices, saying that just because you see a tape go for forty dollars at auction doesn’t mean it’s actually worth that. Another valid point, buyer beware, yet Stine stops short of required further explaination besides thinking very few tapes are worth $40. Sometimes a greedy seller gets one over on a hapless buyer and crazed bidding wars that push prices far beyond sanity occur. Although this doesn’t account for certain tapes seemingly always sparking interest and commanding general median prices tipping well passed the forty buck mark.

Throw up one of the rarer Unicorn Video clamshells on eBay and see it ride to $40-50+. Midnight Video’s big boxes consistently hold strong. Video City Production’s Naziploitation clamshells rake in the cash and recently their release of Paul Naschy’s Inquisition drove to $192. Sun Video’s Last House on Dead End Street seems to default north of two hundred dollars. There’s always dumb luck, but certain tapes just HAVE to be worth certain amounts based on these trends. I can’t imagine the situation being that much different back in ’03, but maybe it was? This price game is where Collecting Videotapes drives off a cliff.

Here’s an example of how a title is listed in the price guide portion:

Last House on Dead End Street (1981)
Sun Video Distribution Company; 90(76)m; R; #SVC234 [SS]
FR $1.08/$2.52 FN $2.70/$6.30 EX $5.40/$12.60
Originally released as The Funhouse (1977)
Today Productions Inc. [US] 78m; R
Directed by Roger Watkins (aka Victor Janos)

Notice anything odd? Even in perfect factory sealed “EX” condition, we’re only talking $12.60. Now, granted, Barrel Entertainment’s fantastic 2-DVD Special Edition had just been released a year before this guide’s publication, but c’mon. Sun Video’s Dead End Street is one of, if not thee, most highly prized North American tapes ever released. Even with the now out-of-print DVD’s release, the VHS and Betamax editions command rates that surpass the market value of said disc. It goes without saying the Sun release, which is actually floating around in four different unlabeled versions, was even more sought after before Barrel saved the day.

In fact, the highest “like new” condition value in this guide for any title is $16.80. I wasn’t collecting tapes in 2003, but I find it hard to swallow valued tapes hovered that low back then. To the guide’s credit, the titles that have higher values are still the more desirable selections collected today. So in that respect, a novice can get a feel for what’s crap and what’s the cream of the crop, just don’t follow the pricing. Or perhaps a novice who wants to sell should, they’d make a collector’s year snagging Unicorn Video’s Die Screaming Marianne or VCII’s Mardi Gras Massarce in great shape for seven bucks a pop. Seasoned video collectors would gain more from some of the collection care tips, cover photos, and release checklist from eighteen of the more infamous distributors of the era (i.e. – Wizard, Comet, Mogul, Super Video).

Otherwise, the cost of The Trashfiend’s Guide to Collecting Videotapes is better invested in actually collecting videotapes. The bulk of the contents are either woefully outdated, grossly inaccurate originally, or mostly known by real tapeheads. Not to mention any book that badmouths the Betamax is no friend of mine. We can only hope someone with a huge collection rusting in their basement happens upon its pages and starts slapping such ridiculously low prices on them. Happy hunting!

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4 Responses to “Ultra-rare Horror VHS in mint condition, only $16.80…!?!?”

  1. What a great article! I’ve never seen that price guide, but as a VHS collector, I’ve definitely come up against the wildly varying prices due to their “collectible” nature. Though most of the time that is me hunched over that cardboard box. Thanks for this article about this overlooked portion of VHS collection.

  2. “Seasoned video collectors would gain more from [the] release checklist from eighteen of the more infamous distributors of the era (i.e. – Wizard, Comet, Mogul, Super Video).”

    Haha, those lists mostly came from my personal collection. I’ve actually managed to fill in a lot of the holes since original publication, but it amazes me that after all these years there are still so many unknowns out there. I just found out last year that Mogul subsidiary All American released THE WARRIOR AND THE NINJA, and I collect both Mogul tapes *and* Indonesian flicks!

  3. Ever read his magazine GiCK? The one I have has a hilarious tale of Ebay woe (ca. ’99 or ’00) regarding a GROOVIE GOOLIES tape. Never heard about this guide, I want one now!

  4. Jayson,

    First, I wanted to take the time to thank you for reviewing this book, which my friend Michael and I published almost eight years hence. I also want to give you credit for writing about the subject with as much passion as you did; I have been a hardcore video collector for the better part of thirty years, and am always comforted to know that I have not been alone, as it is a niche market indeed. With that said, I just want to clarify or expound on a few points you made.

    Although a labor of love, The Trashfiend’s Guide to Collecting Videotapes is, I admit, flawed, and now extremely outdated. Michael and I had two primary goals when we began working on this book: First, to start a published index of genre video releases, and, two, to give some credibility to the whole of collecting OOP videocassettes. The idea was to update it annually, making improvements as things progressed, but unfortunately, all that saw the light was this initial attempt, warts and all.

    I haven’t kept up with price tends in recent years as much as I’d like, but I have noticed—in general—the difference in values is far greater than it was eight years ago. When we compiled the book (circa 2000-2002), mom’n’pop video stores carrying our precious analog recordings had yet to be killed off in many areas across the country, so availability wasn’t limited to online auction houses or collector trading circles as it is now. Occasionally, some titles would bring a high price tag on eBay—usually the result of a bidding war between two desperate collectors who had been unable to track down their prized grail locally—but if you knew where to look and were willing to spend a little gas money, you could still find display box/clamshell horror fare for a pittance, especially in the early 2000s when stores were dumping their VHS stock for next to nothing. Ebay helped in determining the demand of some tapes, but was not the final word in current market value; what sold for $50.00 one week could be had for five dollars the next. As with any other price guide, the highest price something might sell for on the open market did not ultimately decide “book” value, only influenced the average rate a particular piece might sell for. This is pretty much the same with most collectibles and their respective markets—whether they be books, comics, magazines, records, film memorabilia, vintage toys, etc—all of which (and more) I have been well-versed in over the last thirty+plus years as both a collector and a dealer. I purchased countless videos—hundreds of high-grade Wizards, Unicorns, Midnights, Continentals, et al.–through eBay alone between 1998 and 2005, and most I won for ten dollars or less. (I did splurge and pay around twenty for my Gorgon clamshell release of Bay of Blood, and about the same for several upgrades of the Midnight Video Andy Milligan releases, but I also bought—during the same time—several thousand OOP horror and exploitation films from local video stores, swap meets, thrift stores and video brokers for five dollars or less, so plunking down a day’s wage for one film was unthinkable to me and the majority of my collector friends unless it was something we didn’t want to wait for.)

    Unfortunately, all of these avenues are gone, so it is no surprise that these same videos are now garnering five, even ten times the price they are listed for in the guide. I still feel that the book was fairly accurate for the time, but is now pretty much useless as a means of determining value expect as a gauge. So, yes, the market is vastly different now than it was eight years ago.

    A couple of other things that need clarification. You seem to have misunderstood the pricing system as it was presented in the book, not surprising in that the format could have used a lot of tweaking. Each entry includes two prices per grade, one for the videocassette itself and one for the box/packaging. Thus, the average price for a universally higher grade piece in high demand was closer to $24.00, which—at the time—was still a reasonable average. As for Last House on Dead End Street, I saw a few Sun releases go for more, but I also saw the prices drop considerably once the DVD release made the original all but obsolete. (Prior to that, bootlegs—some of which were almost indistinguishable from the original low-rent Sun release—could be had for as low as ten dollars from countless bootleggers, so at it’s peak, I would argue that the average market price of an original would have been much more than the price listed just prior to Barrel’s definitive digital release. It doesn’t surprise me that it has since jumped up, especially in light of the DVD going OOP.) So, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to state that the prices listed when the book was released are unreasonably, especially if you weren’t involved in the market at the time.

    And, as a last quibble, you won’t find a more Beta-friendly collector than me, as I grew up with the format (which I still prefer over VHS) and have a collection of Beta films which may even surpass your own. I did have to take an objective stance when it came to the demand and value of Betas at the time the book saw print, as video collectors like myself who collected both formats were in the obvious minority, but that shouldn’t be misread as a hatred for them. It was nigh impossible to get anything for Betas at the time because VHS tapes were far more common, having nationally dominated the market by the mid-1990s, but now that VHS copies for the same films are getting just as hard to find, it would surprise me little if Beta releases are now starting to fetch as much as their VHS equivalents. Hell, I thought they should have been worth the same all along, but it would have been irresponsible to let my fondness for the format affect my reporting when the market at the time said otherwise.

    Anywho, I hope my points were well stated, and I hope I didn’t ruffle any feathers. The book has problems, no debate there, but hopefully you can understand that—as far as pricing goes—it was not as far off the mark as think it was. Thanks for listening, and for helping to keep our love for all things video pertinent.

    P.S. Yes, indeed, Mr. Holecheck (Hi, Bruce!) was a major help when it came to the distributor checklist, and I’d hate to think how inadequate a few of these would have been without his assistance in cataloging our favorite labels.

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