Author: Noel Mellor
Date: March 23, 2016
Format / ISBN: 978-0-9575155-8-1
Genre: Home Video / Film History / VHS
From a rare 1980s photograph of his old corner video shop, author and podcaster Noel Mellor imposed a unique challenge on his viewing habits: find the actual VHS tapes in that photo of long-gone Video World, re-experience exploitation classics on a VCR and old tube TV, and review the films for an episodic podcast series that sometimes spawned interviews with filmmakers and personnel involved in the first batch of selected tapes.
Mellor tracked down rare tapes in thrift shops, swaps and online auctions, and the Royal Mail’s delivery of a new tape at his day job offered a special kind of thrill, plus the question of whether the movie would live up to its sleeve art and ad copy, maybe transcend it, or fall far, far below pubescent hopes and dreams. From his man cave (dubbed The Analogue Suite), Mellor plowed through each movie and after the first set of podcasts had been devoured by listeners, an opportunity to adapt the reviews for print came up, resulting in a fascinating book that also showcases the striking art which graced the sleeves of movies, including some video nasties.
Adventures in VHS is divided in four main sections: the intro material; reviews of the first 20 titles; reviews of an alternate 20 videos either previously seen, missed, or always on Mellor’s malleable hit list and adapted from a spin-off blog series called Rentals Revisited; and a wrap-up which weighs the value of nostalgia, the medium of tape-based formats, and how convenience ultimately helped knock down the usage of physical media for the general mass public.
In challenging himself to accept the limitations of his selected titles, one can argue Mellor had to discern a film’s genuine, unexpected or non-existent virtues that lay within the lo-fi sound and picture of VHS, as opposed to viewing the same titles in their original aspect ratios, with sound and picture restored and augmented for the contemporary home theatre experience. The medium’s limitations could be forgotten only if the content fulfilled the designs of its exploitation makers, and in most cases, they did so quite well.
From bizarre Israeli sex comedies (Private Popsicle), creepy thrillers (Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Asian-styled action (Karate Olympia / aka Kill or Be Killed), Roger Corman-produced shockers (Monster / aka Humanoids from the Deep), flying dinosaurs (The Winged Serpent / Q – The Winged Serpent), a viral-zombie hybrid (Mutant), horror spoofs (Saturday the 14th), CanCon classiques (the Toronto-set The Rats), cow mutilations (Endangered Species), and racist dogs (White Dog), his choices spanned U.S. and Brit-made shockers with fading stars, entrepreneurial martial artists, and more. Mellor’s prose is often deliciously witty, sometimes profane, but appreciative and perceptive of the guilty pleasures and nonsense within these modern genre classics.
His review of the 1982 Cannon Films idiocy Private Popsicle (seen in the doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films) evokes more than a bit of the Medved brothers florid jabs in describing the film’s Sergeant Major as “a drill instructor who looks like Borat, talks like Apu from The Simpsons, is responsible for the gang and reports to a brash and unnecessarily loud captain who looks like Peter Kray, sounds like Brian Glover and ironically suffers from tinnitus,” whereas The Howling II (1985), which he describes as “nothing short of a masterpiece,” is “a film that raises the bar set by its predecessor – then sets that bar on fire and throws it in the face of a child.”
The Rentals Revisited section is comprised of 20 titles more familiar to North American connoisseurs, including John Hughes’goofy Weird Science, the Ghoulies trilogy, The Howling trilogy (Mellor is nothing less than devoted and determined to follow through with his mandate), The Monster Squad, The Kindred, Society, and the Miami Vice pilot that was released as a standalone movie. Add some Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) and Lloyd Kaufman (Class of Nuke ‘Em High) who also penned the book’s intro, and you have a rich goulash / ‘ghoulash’ of schlock.
Like Peary, the Medveds, John Stanley, and Michael Weldon’s genre guidebooks, Mellor’s writing is concise, personable, and hits enough marks in spite of the fairly tight review lengths limited to each title. In some cases he draws from related interviews, of which a personal favourite is Xtro, Harry Bromley Davenport’s nutbar alien abduction incoherence that’s kind of magical for being a mess of producer interference, pothead ideas, and Maryam d’Abo’s breasts. And giant killer toys. And a child harlequin.
Readers will be compelled to seek out more than a few of these gems, and although a substantive amount have made their way to DVD, some of the British offerings and CanCon material will be tougher to track down, hence the book’s instant attraction to VHS fans looking for a gem amid the millions of tapes still floating around swap meets, flea markets, garage sales, online auctions, and other venues.
Adventures in VHS is available in hardcover (now sold out) and digital formats. The 20+ hours that make up the final roughly 20 episodes of Mellor’s original podcasts are also available for download.
© 2016 Mark R. Hasan
Category: BOOK REVIEWS