Books on Tape: Noel Mellor’s “Adventures in VHS”

Manchester, UK author Noel Mellor has been working on a book about his experiences with home video for several years now.  In 2012, he began a podcast called “Adventures in VHS” that would serve as both an opportunity to share his enthusiasm for the VHS era and to begin building an audience for his writing project. The book, also titled “Adventures in VHS”, is currently going through revisions and being prepared for publishing. You can pre-order your copy now and get your name in the back of the book. Additionally, all contributions placed prior to publishing will contribute to making the book itself a higher quality product. Head over to the official website to get a copy, then enjoy our interview with Noel.

Noel is under attack!

Noel is under attack!

When did a VCR enter your home and what was the initial impact?

Back in the early 80s, VCRs were pretty expensive and you had to have quite a bit of cash to get hold of one. The JVC HR-3300EK was, I believe, the first one to come to Britain and it had an initial price tag of £799.99 (about $1,275), so even by today’s standards it was pricey. Anyway, by about 1983 there were electrical stores on the high street that were renting VCRs out and my uncle Jimmy was pretty quick to snap one up. I have very early memories of wandering into the living room at his house and seeing quick flashes of what would clearly have been labeled ‘video nasties’ at the time before he leapt up to switch them off. I’d have been about five years old when my mum and dad finally parted with the princely sum of £100 to take that player off his hands. Of course, there was the thrill of being able to rent movies of all sorts in the years that followed, but initially it was the notion of being able to leave the house and record television to watch when we got home that was the real novelty. It’s difficult for a lot of people to imagine today, but that was really, really mind blowing to us. 

An ad for the JVC HR-3300 EK machine. The first to be found in the Mellor household.

An ad for the JVC HR-3300 EK machine.

What did the video store mean to you when you were younger? Has your relationship with the video store changed over time?

The video store was so much more to us than what it ended up being when Blockbuster rolled into town and put the independent shops out of business. One of the things I talk about in the book is how after the Video Recordings Act of 1984 (which introduced cinema-style classification on tapes in the UK for the first time after the nasties outcry), really didn’t affect me. A guy called John ran our local store and it was he, not the BBFC, who decided what I was and wasn’t able to take home and watch when visiting without my parents. I had a pretty liberal upbringing when it came to home entertainment, with a mum and dad who accepted my interest in genre film from an early age, but there were still some things that weren’t allowed. As such, there was an unspoken agreement between John and our family that allowed him to act as a kind of moral gatekeeper. I’ve really come to appreciate that relationship more over the years. I mean, can you imagine a parent walking into a Blockbuster in the 90s and trying make a deal with some acne-riddled muppet behind the counter to keep an eye on their child’s future rentals? They’d think you were nuts! So I guess, if there’s a hero to be found within the pages of “Adventures in VHS”, it’s most certainly John. 

How would you describe your book to someone who isn’t already aware of it?

Well, the intention is for it to be as immersive an experience as possible. I want people to feel like they’re right back in the mid to late 80s with me, browsing through the dusty old shelves of ‘Video World’ and taking home something like From Beyond, Death Wish or The Howling and sitting cross-legged on the carpet eating sweets. So the book starts off with a few chapters looking at my personal love affair with VHS, its more public history in the UK and then the fun I had getting the whole “Adventures in VHS” project off the ground. After that, I look at 60 different movies from the shelves of that store that I either have a personal connection to or have discovered along the way. I’ve tried to make these ‘reviews’ more anecdotal than critical, and there’s a full page, full colour, front-and-back image of the big-box VHS tape I tracked down for the article for each.

The UK release of Stuart Gordon's FROM BEYOND.

The UK release of Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND.

Do you think there is a fundamental difference in how the home video generation experiences movies when compared to previous generations?

Absolutely. I think those of us who grew up with home video as a new technology have a deeper appreciation of what it means to sit down and watch a movie than maybe a lot of younger audiences today. That’s not to tar everyone with the same brush of course; there are many young movie fans out there as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about film as we ever were. But go to any chain multiplex nowadays and you’ll find yourself surrounded by teens with no interest in sitting and being absorbed by a film… they just need a place to hang out with their friends and play with their phone. I think over time, audiences have come to treat movies as more disposable than ever and Hollywood has been happy to serve that attitude. The slate of films that are churned out for a week at a time now is massive and its rare you get to see anything more than once in theatres. For many of us though, there will be memories of going back two, three, four or more times for certain releases. It’s no surprise really that this translated to the home when VHS arrived – even if it was just rewatching certain scenes over and over. I’m not sure so many people do that now.

How do you feel about VHS now? What makes your connection to the format so powerful?

I make a point of explaining to people that my own affection for VHS is a personal one. As important to our cultural history as the format is, it’s incomparable to the wealth of fantastic format options we have today. So, if you’re struggling to decide whether or not to watch Suspiria on VHS or on Blu-ray, I’d say you have a serious problem. That said, I can appreciate there are other titles out there (Cannibal Holocaust is a good example) where there’s a certain aesthetic value to watching it on tape. For me though, that value lies more in re-experiencing the films of my most formative years in the same way I watched them back then. And it’s not just the films, its the box art, the trailers, everything. 

Infamous "Video Nasty" Cannibal Holocaust.

Infamous “Video Nasty” CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

How far into the process of writing the book are you at the moment?

The first draft of the book is done. I’ve taken a bit of time away from it in the last couple of months to get the publishing off the ground, but I’m now embarking on that vital second draft. There are a few essential films I left out originally because I was worried they may not be seen as ‘cult’ enough, but then one day I just realised I was kind of cheating myself with that attitude. The purpose of the book isn’t to prove I’m some sort of oracle of knowledge on films no-one has ever heard of, because I’m not. I have no interest in trying to impress anyone and in all honestly, I don’t know who would want to read that book! The idea has always been - and I know how corny this sounds – for “Adventures in VHS” to be a bit of a journey. I wanted to cover a wide range of movies, some familiar and some not so familiar, but the important thing was making sure I’m bringing the reader along for the ride. That’s what this second draft is all about, making sure this is something people can connect with rather than just being a list of obscure reviews. 

Brian Yuzna's Society.

Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the experience of reading your book?

I know there’s a renewed interest in VHS nowadays and jumping on the back of that isn’t really my intention (I’ve been working on this for a few years now), all I really want people to do is have fun reading it and ‘renting’ these films with me. Like I say, there’s a personal experience at the heart of this, but its about the movies too. My real hope for the book is that people will be able to sit back with it and get a kick out of the words, while also gazing upon the beautiful VHS artwork within its pages with the same level of wonder that I do! If “Adventures in VHS” allows some to relive the days they spent cruising the aisles of their local video store – or gives those who never did an opportunity to get a taste of it – I’ll have done what I set out to do.

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