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!