Forget 4K, VHS is Making a Comeback

Got any old, bulky tapes? They might be worth something.

The death of the VHS movie seemed justified enough.

While the model was popular in a time when people had no other options in consuming pop culture at their convenience, DVD spelled doom for the tapes collected and rented from brick and mortar stores over the years. With further advances like high-definition Blu-ray, streaming channels and Video on Demand, there would appear to be zero need for the VHS format today.

If you think that, you’d be surprisingly wrong. While studios aren’t putting money into formatting their latest releases for VHS, various communities have found value in secondhand, grainy VHS tapes of old movies.

The Yale University Library decided just last year to preserve nearly 3,000 movie titles only available on VHS. The films in question are mostly forgotten exploitation movies from the ’70s and ’80s with titles like “What the Swedish Butler Saw” and “Black Devil Doll From Hell.”

While some see the preservation of these titles as being unnecessary, the Yale Library has recognized these schlocky, only-available-on-VHS movies for their cultural and historical significance in pop culture.

Through the ’70s and ’80s, countless numbers of movies were produced to fill a void in content brought to light by the surging success of home video. Rental stores were built and soared, and many titles that were produced for home video consumption have since lost their importance and significance to mainstream audiences.

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Yale University isn’t the only one to see academic and historical value in VHS movies. Famed director and Grindhouse cinema lover Quentin Tarantino revealed recently, in an excerpt from the book “I Lost It At the Video Store” by Tom Roston, he purchased thousands of old video tapes when a rental store near him, Video Archives, shut down. The motivation was to preserve the movies. Tarantino also revealed he still prefers the grainy stock of VHS to anything found online, saying he unconventionally tapes what he wants to see on TV onto VHS tapes and adds them to his collection.


The revelation speaks to the larger market that is trending when it comes to VHS movies. It isn’t just famous directors and prestigious universities taking an academic or preservationist interest in the format. Many are actively seeking VHS as the primary way to enjoy movies.

Vulcan Video, a rental store still surviving in Austin, Texas, offers a large selection of video tapes. They recently got support at SXSW from fans cheering on the venture. Two of those fans included late night host Jimmy Kimmel and actor Matthew McConaughey, who made a string of commercials supporting the store.

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As for the people actually renting, buying and spending hard-earned dollars on these seemingly obsolete VHS tapes? Some are collectors; others like that it’s different from constant high-definition; and others prefer the cheap cost of secondhand video tapes at garage sales and in the back of any stores that are willing to accept the small, growing market’s existence.

Jack Stolz knows a thing or two about that market’s existence. He has sold plenty of VHS tapes himself through Bull Moose, a chain of New England stores that caters to entertainment audiences through books, movies and games. Bull Moose has been more than accommodating to those interested in nostalgic VHS movies as most of their stores carry a wide section of secondhand VHS tapes.

There’s definitely a market for VHS tapes. In a way it’s similar to the vinyl revival, but without the massive re-release catalogs,” Stolz tells LifeZette. And he describes the VHS fans as diehard. As for who exactly is helping this small, niche market to thrive, Stolz admits it’s many different types of consumers for many different reasons.

“Elderly people love VHS because they still have that hardware, and with all of the smart electronics featuring Wi-Fi connectivity and streaming services, it can get confusing for them. A VHS tape is easy. Pop it in and enjoy. Parents are also very interested in VHS for their small kids. It’s hard to break a VHS tape, and you can get all of the hard-to-find Disney titles that aren’t in production for very little money,” says Stolz.

The real heart of the VHS audience, however, seems to be the cinephiles interested in something different in the home video and digital markets today. Rare titles that are admittedly awful, such as “Tales From the Quadead Zone,” have sold online for as much as $700. The appeal? These are movies that will most likely never be available online or on DVD. They also capture a lot of the Grindhouse, schlocky appeal the VHS format seems to perfectly capture.

“The last of the VHS fans are people in their 20s who like rare horror and anime releases that haven’t been available on DVD. These people usually go searching a few times a week at all the usual used markets and are very dedicated to finding these rare gems,” Stolz says. 

VHS may be dead to most, but it has enough value to some to live forever. The beating heart of VHS will be preserved by academics and filmmakers while also providing a nearly forgotten market for the small community of film lovers just looking for something different.

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