Inland 360’s Cult Corner Columnist Will Thompson (you can call him Professor VHS, see below) and Moscow Film Society founder Devin Mendenhall combine their passion for and expertise about movies for a different kind of film event Friday, Sept. 9, at Moscow’s Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre. Horror fans can appreciate the lineup, “Creepshow” and “The Return of the Living Dead.” Purists will be happy to know they’re seeing the original versions. We asked Mendenall and Thompson to discuss this new event, presented by Inland 360, and answer the question: Why VHS?
How did this event come about?
Devin Mendenhall: Will. It was all Will. We actually just met and were talking, and Will mentioned this was something he was always interested in doing, so we just started planning from there. There is lots of love for physical media out there, and so we thought it would be a fun event to put on around that theme.
Will Thompson: I caught wind of Devin’s work with the Moscow Film Society screenings and was very impressed with his curation and execution of the films. We had lunch, and I mentioned the idea of screening movies on VHS. Devin latched on, and we went from there.
DM: Those are two films that are just synonymous with VHS. I think Will can speak to this more, but there are certain films that just thrived on VHS. Maybe because they were horror films that kids could now get their hands on or something along those lines. There are still many films or versions of films that are only available on VHS. So many people rely on digital or streaming, but those things can be taken away from you at any moment (or changed — thanks Disney). But if you own a physical thing, it is yours forever.
WT: Cult and horror movies thrived on VHS because those movies were no longer as hard to access as they once were. Before VHS, the only way to see movies was theatrical runs or on TV. Everything was locked in at specific times and, sometimes, specific locations. For example (and I can’t verify this, but I’m very willing to wager), say, David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” did not play in the Quad Cities within the first decade of its existence. The first time I saw that film was on a dubbed VHS copy that was given to me by a friend. VHS offered widespread access to the world of weird.
Cult and horror movies are also notable on VHS because of the box art. To stand out on the shelves, distribution companies doubled down on the gore and sex in the artwork. In a broad sense, an aesthetic style was born that is entrenched in horror history.
The movies we’ve chosen for this double feature are both from the VHS era and are pretty iconic for a number of reasons I’ll discuss in my introductions. In particular, “Return of the Living Dead” is notable on VHS because it’s the only way to see the movie with the original audio track. A few songs were later replaced because of rights issues, and some of the zombie voices were redubbed on subsequent home media versions. What you’ll see at our screening is 100% the original version of the film from the Thorn/EMI VHS edition.
Will there also be a discussion or presentation of some sort?
DM: All the Moscow Film Society screenings have an introduction and giveaways and all that kind of stuff. Will is going to do a short intro before about VHS and the films and possibly one in between the screenings as well. We are also giving away stickers, posters and are recreating a VHS store in the Kenworthy Lobby (as best as we can).
WT: I can confirm that I’m doing an intro to both films, which will include a little bit about the history of VHS and its relevance today, which was largely the subject of my doctoral work.
What's the story behind Professor VHS?
WT: I recently finished my Vhs.D, which is a doctorate of pop culture in physical media antiquities preservation, through the University of Maine at Castle Rock. Getting a job in academia is tough, especially when my degree is so highly specialized and considered by many as “not academically legitimate.” Rather than throw in the towel, I’ve opted to offer lectures on VHS and cult films as often as possible. Horror movie hosting dates back to the 1950s when TV stations wanted to make the late-night fare more palatable to audiences, so I imagine I’ll fit right in.
About how many tapes do you own, Professor?
WT: About a thousand, though I’m essentially out of space and trying to pare things down. I hate to get rid of anything, so I am currently raising funds to add the John Carpenter VHS Cryptorium to the University of Idaho library. They haven’t been too receptive, so I’m hoping Lewis-Clark State will be more interested. Preserving physical media access is so important because physical media production could largely cease within the decade, at which time we’d all be at the mercy of digital distribution, which gives the movie studios and digital distribution outlets all of the power.
The danger of digital distribution is that film companies could start to alter their products at any time, which is something we’ve already started to see a bit, not to mention films could start to disappear. There’s also something very special about having physical copies of movies, music, books, video games, etc. that you love. It allows you to interact with something that’s largely so intangible.
Do you anticipate more VHS screenings like this?
DM: It is up to the people. It costs money to license and screen films, but if people show they are excited and interested in these types of events by showing up, then we will definitely have more. The support for Moscow Film Society has been amazing so far, so we hope we can continue it with this unique screening event.
Stone (she/her) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: VHS Mania!
When: 7-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9.
Where: Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow.
Movies: Screenings of “Creepshow” and “The Return of the Living Dead,” both rated R. Presented by Moscow Film Society and Inland 360.
Cost: $10 at the door or at kenworthy.org.