Remember VHS? I always get the sense that I came to the party slightly too late: by the time I got to rent my own movies the dreaded Video Recordings Act had already consigned a load of the most interesting movies to the furnaces and James "Scissorhands" Ferman and the BBFC (make up your own acronym) had embarked on the entirely irrational campaign of hacking junk movies to ribbons, ostensibly to make them suitable for adults but actually rendering them even less watchable than they already were by taking all the best bits out. By then the DPP had done their work and - sarcastic hurrah - removed Night Of The Bloody Apes, Alien Contamination and Unhinged from rental shops and off-licenses across the UK so we could all sleep easier.
The foaming-at-the-mouth insanity of the pre-cert days has already been covered, particularly in Jake West's marvellous Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship And Videotape; this is more of a disorganised grab-bag of reminiscences from critics, journalists, tape dealers, distributors and the occasional stars and directors. Covering everything from first rentals, the Video Nasty list of 39 formally banned titles, the back room of the Psychotronic Video shop in a Camden basement (I remember buying a few titles there) and police raids on video collectors' homes through to the lousy picture quality, the collectible tapes under the tables at film fairs and lucky finds at car boot sales, it does at least recapture the spirit of the age and almost makes me want to dig out the VHS player from the spare room and put on one of my few remaining tapes on.
The bafflingly-titled VHS Forever? Psychotronic People also allows Caroline Munro to reminisce about the guerrilla film-making of The Last Horror Film at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival: always interesting, but out of place in a documentary that's nominally about the early days of VHS. No other film gets specifically discussed to that extent, not even the far more controversial Maniac. Sadly, it also allows sewage merchant Lloyd Kaufman to ramble nonsensically to camera as though he's on Just A Minute with the topic Incoherent Bullshit, throwing together the MPAA, the McCarthy blacklists and Mary Whitehouse (referred to as Mary Blowjob, presumably for reasons of comedy) in one facepalming rant. Incidentally: say what you like about Mary Whitehouse: she may have been as comprehensively wrong-headed as it's possible for a human to be, but at least she believed absolutely in what she was doing, which is more than you can say for any of Troma's artless sludge.
It's an interesting topic and an interesting era, on which I was on the distant fringes: I had boxes of pre-cert tapes but eventually gave them away when reality intruded and I realised I was probably never going to watch them ever again. Many of them are available on DVD or BluRay, in better quality, uncut and in the correct ratio, and I'm not nostalgic enough for the Vertical Helical Scan format to fire up my old mint condition cassette of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue even though I have the Anchor Bay disc on the shelf. But the technical quality isn't that great: for a film that's shot (or at least copyrighted) in 2014, the 4:3 ratio suggests an attempt to emulate the look of full-screen video, and some external scenes are plagued by wind noise into the camera microphone. It's a pity, because I could listen to some of these guys (and it is mostly guys) talking about old trash movies for hours: Norman J Warren, Allan Bryce, David McGillivray, Graham Humphreys, Marc Morris, David Kerekes....Incredibly, Kim Newman is only in it for maybe two minutes cumulatively! Overall it's a fascinating subject in which I would normally immerse myself for days at a time - nerding about movies is What I Do given half a chance - but sadly it doesn't really come off.