The Horror

without VHS tapes and HBO, my childhood would have been a lot less traumatic

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

For a moment, allow yourself to consider the noble VHS tape – the bygone ruler of home entertainment. The (almost always) black plastic exterior of this rectangular icon has housed a collective eon of visual delight in the form of major motion pictures and the occasional Denise Austin workout series. Throughout the 80s and 90s, VHS tapes delivered joy to millions of people while simultaneously dismantling the American leisure paradigm.

     Or some crap like that.

     I believe we’ve reached a point in time (or possibly just zipped past it) where VHS tapes are watched with ironic glee by snidely snorting hipsters in the same way Atari video games were played in the early 2000s (also by snidely snorting hipsters). Once the cornerstone of my Friday (and Saturday) night festivities, VHS tapes have been flung to the roadside on our never-ending journey toward home-based cinematic bliss. Today, the oversized cartridges seem dull and crude in both form and function. For the love of god, they’ve got rolls of tape inside them.

     But back in 1986, VHS tapes were the shiz, Memorex was king, and a humble collection of home-recorded videos changed my life forever. Probably for the worse.

     I was 10 years old in October of 1986, and my family was preparing to celebrate my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary. A huge party was planned and a special spot on the guest list was reserved for my “cousins from Virginia” – an awesome group of people who drive all the way to Wisconsin pretty much every summer to hang out and catch up. In 1986, many of them were teenagers. And back in Virginia, they had HBO.

     These Virginians were pretty fun all on their own, with their southern accents and all that, but this year they had brought along stack of videos – HBO movies they’d taped on VHS. My grandma had recently gotten a top-loading VCR, and this was one of my first experiences with unedited, commercial-free movies in the living room. And this was the first time I’d ever seen an R-rated horror movie.

     The scariness of these movies was legend among my older cousins – and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. But even though we screened the videos in broad daylight, I couldn’t watch beyond the first half hour of Nightmare on Elm Street. And while my cousins loved it, I could barely stand any of Friday the 13th. I remember feeling disappointed in myself for being so scared. I couldn’t talk about how super freaky Freddy and Jason were. I couldn’t share the experience of watching them to the end.