Collectors of any kind know that scarcity is king, but that the loving eye of the beholder can also account for a lot; for example, a slice of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake recently sold for almost $3000, even though it was presumably pretty stale.
The same is true of VHS, a medium which, having only finally been retired by major studios in 2006, is still finding its groove with collectors in terms of what’s precious and what’s worthless. To wit: eBay sellers are currently hawking seemingly a million VHS copies of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for anywhere from $10 to $500.
Here are a few kinds of VHS tapes—including this year’s hot properties and some long-standing rare finds—that you might want to stop using to prop up the cat’s litter box.
1. HORROR FILMS: THE MORE ‘SCHLOCKY’ AND LOW-BUDGET, THE BETTER
While pristine "first edition" VHS copies of time-honored movies are always great, aficionados are especially interested in gathering and archiving movies that never made it to DVD or other digital formats (even Yale University is pitching in)—often because nobody ever bothered to preserve those particular flicks.
The result is that many of the rarest, most desirable VHS tapes contain films that are real clunkers. Tales from the Quadead Zone recently made a splash by fetching $700 (an amount that might double by the next time it’s resold) despite being a trainwreck of a movie. As TIME puts it, the horror film’s high resale value can be credited to the fact that “schlocky horror and exploitation films stand little chance of ever being transferred to DVD or Blu-ray, [meaning] VHS copies are often the last surviving evidence that the film existed.” So, for both fans and archivists, they’re priceless.
2. PRO WRESTLING
Both professional wrestling and VHS enjoyed their golden ages in the final two decades of the last millennium, and their combination makes for real heritage items among collectors. Got a copy of the 1994 WCW classic Halloween Havoc that’s still in the shrink wrap? Unless you’re (understandably) dying to watch it yourself, leave that plastic on—there’s one on eBay looking to fetch several hundred dollars. World Class Championship Wrestling Vol. 1-5 are also quite rare (and valued accordingly), while an opened copy of Bash at the Beach 2000 recently sold for $599.
3. FILM RELEASES FROM SECOND-RATE AND DEFUNCT DISTRIBUTORS
So the only thing about your tape that rings less of a bell than its goofy title is the pulled-a-name-out-of-a-hat company that produced and sold the tape? That’s a great sign.
During VHS’s heyday, small distribution companies picked up the cheap rights to all kinds of titles (especially B movies and public domain "classics"), letting them turn a quick profit by selling budget films on budget tapes. Some distributors produced tape boxes and sleeves that were absolute gems, while others absolutely did not, and both the highs and lows of small-time re-releases make a big splash among collectors.
For example, Donna Michelle Productions (no relation to classic Playboy Playmate-turned-actress Donna Michelle, as far as we know) released seven horror flicks between 1986 and 1990 that really strain the term “B movie” and drive VHS collectors wild. The 1987 rural horror film Splatter Farm—written and directed by John Polonia, Mark Polonia, and Todd Smith, and starring Marion Costly, John Polonia, Mark Polonia, and Todd Smith—is one of this prized batch, and almost impossible to find. It’s been released on DVD, too, but the format matters: To see every gruesome shot of farm butchery found in the original version, you have to watch the tape.
If you come across any Donna Michelle Productions releases—especially Rock and Roll Mobster Girls or Monsters and Maniacs—be sure to hang on to them, as they can fetch three-digit prices.
4. DISCONTINUED OR BANNED MOVIES
Regardless of which field they’re scouring, many collectors aim to scoop up those items that authority—or even society as a whole—has deemed unsuitable. Such is the case with Disney’s controversial 1947 musical film Song of the South, which had a few theatrical releases over the years, was then finally and summarily retired from Disney’s cache of offerings, and can fetch around $30 on tape.
It’d also be worth seeing if your garage has any titles found on the list of "video nasties" that were banned (or, at least, heavily scrutinized) by the British Board of Film Classification starting in the mid-‘80s. For several years, public discussion of these films linked them to rising violence among youths, while the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions argued they were in violation of the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. An original copy of 1979’s Delirium, aka Psycho Puppet, for example, can easily net between $100 and $150.
5. MUSIC MOVIES
Various music films found their final resting place on VHS tapes, too, including ones from the some of the world’s most famous bands. The documentary film Let it Be is a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process for the Beatles’ album of the same name; because it ended up capturing the very sour dynamics in the group right before the four split up for good, however, their production company elected to let VHS be the film’s final format. Only last month, too, was The Decline of Western Civilization, the renowned documentary about underground LA punk, released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time—having made it one of the most sought-after VHS titles for over 30 years.
6. COMPLETE TV SERIES RUNS (IN ALL THEIR SPACE-HOGGING GLORY)
If you’ve been dedicating, say, a quarter of your basement to storing VHS box sets of old primetime TV shows, you’ve made a wise choice: one asking price for 23 episodes of Star Trek is $345, while Set 3 of The Best of the Simpsons commands $45 on its own.
7. FOREIGN FILMS AND TV SHOWS
If interest in a particular film has dipped or vanished before a format changeover, there’s a fair chance that this title won’t make the cut of movies that receive the upgrade. When it comes to international and foreign language films, competition for next-generation format preservation by U.S. production companies is fierce, especially if a large number of fans haven’t been howling for it. Thus, in order to enjoy programming like Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals (among many other things), you gotta track it down on tape (and can expect to pay big bucks).
8. EXPLOITATION FILMS AND RELATED SUB-GENRES
From classic "exploitation" titles and Blaxploitation sagas to (mostly European) nunsploitation ones, the cult favorites in these over-the-top genres always get action from collectors. If you’re looking to buy, the film Sextette, starring Mae West, Timothy Dalton, and Dom DeLuise, will only cost around $15 or so all told, but even a former rental store copy of the Blaxploitation classic Brotherhood of Death could set you back $76—and that’s without an unaltered original case.
9. REALLY, ANYTHING WITH A WILD, CREATIVE, OR INACCURATE COVER
This point is likely old news to the record-collectors, but the cover art and packaging of many VHS tapes—whether it’s particularly great or awful, or somehow both—can carry a lot of weight in terms of their value; for example, you might want to drop $20 on a VHS copy of the mediocre movie Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars (which featured Supermarionation special effects) if you find yourself moved by its striking but awkward cover art.
On the other hand, if covers aren’t your thing, that same $20 could get you a copy of “How to Get a Record Deal”—featuring sage advice from Kenny Loggins, Phil Collins, and others—plus a pizza and/or a sixpack of beer to go with it (pizza rates may vary by location). Then again, you could keep it simple and just get enough $0.99-copies of the “Ab-Doer Back & Spine” exercise video to fill a bathtub. To each their own.