Interviews

Josh Schafer (LunchmeatVHS.com)

LunchmeatVHS.com is a website offering a wealth of information for VHS cultists. The site, and its contributors, celebrate the kind of obscure and left-of-center films that the general public doesn't even know exists. A love letter to the VHS format, LunchmeatVHS.com publishes reviews of hard-to-find VHS tapes, interviews and articles featuring actors, directors and other creative personalities, along with lots of bonus features related to cult cinema.

I spoke with LunchmeatVHS.com founder and Editor-in-Chief, Josh Schafer, to get the story behind the site, his VHS obsession and his various other projects.

First off, how would you describe LunchmeatVHS.com for someone who hasn't checked out the site yet?

Whoa, man, it's like the best site this side of the galaxy, don't you know? Nah, that very well may be, but for the newcomer, LunchmeatVHS.com is the hub for VHS love: a place that appreciates, celebrates and updates all of the VHS-obsessed culture that is currently thriving, along with a heaping helping of magnetic magic coverage from the vintage video era with reviews, interviews and anecdotal analog awesomeness. You can also access out-of-print material from past issues, learn how to clean your VCR, and grab some groovy LM goodies to help you fully engage in analog elation. There's a ton of stuff on there, so the best advice I have is clickity-click on over, explore fo' yo'self and bring a VCR.

When and why did you start the site?

Essentially, the site was created to supplement the print zine that had been circulating for a couple years already. I started the site a few years ago (around May 2011), and, at first, I really just wanted to have an internet presence and try to stay relevant in that sense. Since then, I've really had the opportunity to expand the coverage to the amazing amount of fresh VHS culture that's been happening over the past few years. There's been an avalanche of analog video releases from an army of new companies, as well as older titles from the O.G. video era that are receiving the analog treatment once again. All of this, as well as the proliferation of analog and video aesthetics bleeding into various art forms, and taking shape in a multitude of ways... these are the kinds of things I like to focus on with the blog.

It's also given me a platform to sell the LM wares and have that ability to return in search engines, advertise LM events, etc. You know, the kind of stuff that most people take for granted, but has become a snap with the power of the internet. I was hesitant at first (because I'm a bit of a luddite and for a while was reasonably anti-internet), but the world weird web has helped me spread the love of VHS the world over and to a massive audience, so that's pretty radical.

I'm 39, so I remember when the VHS format first became popular. All of a sudden, video stores popped up all over my neighborhood in New York City.

Oh, yeah, absolutely! I'm 29 now, and I think that's a huge part of it for me: nostalgia. I think that's a huge part of it for a lot of VHS collectors/watchers: they want to get back to something that makes them feel happy, comfortable, isn't so newfangled and hyper-paced like everything around them now, etc. Just that nostalgia is such a huge part of my love for the format.

My first memories of the format? Hmm... I recall watching The Land Before Time over and over and over again along with Little Giants and this 50 hour Cartoon Bonanza. My Dad used to film us with a VHS camcorder making airplanes out of toothpicks late night in our kitchen. I remember going to rental shops and having to pee real badly, but not going because I was that enamored with all of the amazing titles and cover art [laughs]. I was a weird kid; I suppose I still am?

I remember the first VHS tapes I bought with "my own money" were The Addams Family and Wayne's World. They were part of this promotion... if you bought a Big Mac or something or other, you got a groovy deal on these VHS tapes. I remember getting them in the back seat and being like, "Yes! These are mine!" [laughs] I think I was around 10 or so at the time, maybe even younger. I still watch those tapes all the time.

Were your parents weirded out by your love for horror films?

Nah, not at all. They embraced it. I think they saw that it made me happy (and scared!) and they knew they were just movies, so they pretty much let me rent whatever I wanted. My Mom wasn't too into horror/sci-fi/weird movies, but my Dad and I would watch the shit out of those tapes, man. It was like a family thing on the weekend: we'd get some pizzas or takeout and rent 4 or 5 movies and just watch 'em all weekend. We usually got like three scary ones, a comedy and then a "Mom" movie... whatever she wanted, usually a tearjerker or some incarnation of a rom com [laughs]. My parents have always been extremely supportive of me and the things I'm passionate about. I'm really lucky like that.

I'm a big slasher fan. I also loved the campier, so bad that it's good stuff when I was younger, but I can't roll with those kind of movies these days. What are your thoughts on that distinction? Do you lean in either direction?

Oh, man, the weirder, the better! If it's awful, but I'm interested. If it's legendary, I'm interested. I mean, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I've sat through entire movies that could kill a camel, but I really do love bad movies. And I love good movies, too. I love weird movies, slow movies, badly edited movies, Bergman flicks, animated full-lengths, alien documentaries, wrestling tapes, '50s sci-fi, '80s horror, Hitchcock, musicals, supernatural thrillers, 80s sex comedies, SOV insanity... I really just love watching stuff, and if it can keep my attention, I'm into it. I don't really have concrete parameters as far as genre or year or anything like that. Like I said, I love weird stuff, dark stuff, funny stuff, heady, cerebral stuff, and just plain trash. I can watch The Seventh Seal and Video Violence back to back and not even flinch.

But, all that said, I do have a bunch of movies that I loved as a kid and just didn't hold up e.g. Garbage Pail Kids, Howard the Duck. Actually, you know what? I still like Howard the Duck. There. I said it.

There was a point in the '90s when Blockbuster pretty much wiped out all of the mom and pop stores that had sprung up the decade before. I imagine VHS collectors like yourself made out pretty well when those stores had all of their going out of business sales.

Oh, yeah, for sure. That's a really bittersweet thought, and you're dead on. I mean, BB just decimated the indie Mom and Pop shops; there was no competing with them. And the only thing those Mom and Pop shops could do to fend off the imminent demise was stock their shelves with the with the weirdo stuff Blockbuster wouldn't really touch e.g. super-weird SOV gore, low-budget schlock and porn. So, when the walls come tumblin' down at a lot of indie rental shops, there was this plethora of fringe cinema on VHS on the chopping block, and all the Videovores out there scooped up these strange titles, saving them from disuse and eventual oblivion.

I usually share this story in one form or another in interviews, and it seems appropriate here: when my local video shop turned over (R.I.P. Video Vision!), I got to roam the aisles (behind the counter, too, which was freaky deaky 'cause you just never think you'd get back there, right?) and grabbed a bunch of titles from my rental years. I still have a bunch of tapes with the Video Vision rental sticker on 'em. Those are great pieces of personal history for me, and though I was sad when they shut down, I'm happy to have tapes in my collection from that store. I honestly would have taken home more, but I recall them being a little expensive. I got all I could!

How do you feel about the conventions?

I love the conventions! Man, they're just amazing, really they are. I mean, think about it: now there are conventions solely based on VHS collecting! That's something special, and indeed a sign of the ever-growing fan base. The Severed Short Film Night and VHS Convention is coming up soon (in May) and I'm really looking forward to that. I think that's the big one for me. Earl Kess does a great job with it. So many amazing analog obsessed friends show up and it's just a party, dude. Tons of tapes, trading, beers, hangin'.... It's just fantastic... and all in the name of VHS! Tape Eaters is in a few months, too, out in Michigan. I've never been, but the brochure looks nice, and my good pal Nate Higley runs it, and he knows how to kick it, so I'm excited for that.

Are conventions the best place to score your VHS stuff?

I score VHS tapes everywhere, man. Everywhere. I feel like the go-to spots are Goodwill, Salvation Army stores, flea markets, dirt malls, estate sales, CraigsList ads, etc. Entities like that are great because you just never know what you're going to find; and being a guy that's collected for over ten years in the new era of VHS collecting, I feel like it has to be said that there's nothing quite like digging through a grimy pile of commons and crap to find that one gem that you never knew existed. It'll probably only cost you a couple quarters, and it's like uncovering a lost treasure. It's that kind of feeling that really makes VHS collecting super fun.

But, hey, if you gotta, eBay is a fine place to find those extreme rarities (just be sure to fire up that Paypal, 'cause you're apt to lay down a pretty penny most of the time), and even better, get on Facebook and check out Horror VHS Collectors Unite!, Horror VHS Trading Center, Horror VHS Selling Center, and the perpetually growing list of other VHS-oriented forums and groups on there. If you're looking for something, post about it. Eventually, someone will have it, or at least help you track it down. Though there are some rough patches, the overall online VHS collecting community is a radical pack of folks that just wanna watch VHS, communally bask in the analog glory, and help you find your most wanted magnetic magic.

In the hardcore scene, it's the Chung King Can Suck It record from Judge. In classic rock, it's the Beatles' Yesterday and Today cover with the band covered in blood. In the VHS world, what's the Holy Grail for collectors?

It's different for everyone. I always say that. But, before Louis [Justin, Massacre Video] re-issued Black Devil Doll from Hell and Tales from the Quadead Zone, they were it. Those were the most elusive and most wanted tapes out there. They still are, I suppose, but with their re-release, I think it's died down a little... but maybe not. Those are two titles that will always hold a place in the annals of rare VHS history.

Now, I would say stuff like Cards of Death and WCW: Bash at the Beach 2000 are highly sought after. They're very rare tapes, with very high prices. But, I don't necessarily associate high prices with holy grails. It's funny, some tapes are so rare, no one really even knows about them, and since no one really knows about them, you can get it for like a couple bucks, or a dollar or even less. So, you find this tape that no one seems to know about, but it totally kicks ass and you love the movie and you're the only person that has it... does it become your holy grail in this strange inverted way? I don't know. Like I said, it's different for everyone. And I can dig it.

What's your rarest VHS? What's the most you've spent on one tape?

My copy of America's Deadliest Home Videos. It's a film from 1993 that was independently shot and released on home video. I found it at Vineland U-Sell Flea Market for 50 cents, and after watching it was totally blown away. I researched it and saw it got some air in Film Threat back in the day, and a little in Fangoria, but that's it. It vanished. It was a movie a lot people wanted to see, but it slipped through the cracks. I ended up showing the film in NY, and got the attention of the director, Jack Perez. He thanked me and was so thrilled about me showing the film that I decided to dig deeper and ask all the details, etc. Turns out, there are only 200 or so copies in actual circulation. That's at least 800 less than Black Devil Doll from Hell or Tales from the Quadead Zone. And you never see a copy turn up, and when you do, it's usually not more than $100, but only because there is no way to gauge the price because there aren't any other copies out there to compare! So, yeah, I'd say that's probably the rarest tape I have.

I spent $40 on The Killing of Satan and $80 on The Witch Who Came from the Sea, but the $80 was in trade, so I guess that doesn't count. I don't do that often, though. I like to pay $1 - $10 for a tape. Not much more than that. I also try to trade whenever possible!

Is there anything you'd like to plug?

Well, as I just mentioned, I am a big fan of America's Deadliest Home Videos and got in touch with the director, so I'll be re-releasing this movie on VHS and for the first time on DVD with Camp Motion Pictures sometime this summer. It's really exciting, man. I mean, this movie is rare, and it's kick-ass and in the SOV arena... it doesn't have the hype that BDDFH and TftQZ had, but I'm hoping to change that. This movie is significant to both SOV and VHS culture, and I'm glad it's finally going to see the light of day. I hope a lot of people enjoy it.

I have a really cool limited edition VHS of the throwback slasher, Easter Bunny Bloodbath, coming out on Easter Sunday in association with Briarwood Entertainment. That is planned to come packed in green Easter grass with an array of colored "easter egg" tape shells, so that's gonna be a lot of fun. I just finished up the art for that, so it should actually ship a little earlier so it can hop on into your mailbox before Easter!

I'll be at the Brooklyn Zine Fest on April 26th with some Lunchmeat Leftovers and some all the other groovy LM stuff, hanging with my main man Matt D. of Horror Boobs/Blood Video. So, if you're in the Brooklyn area, come on out and hang with us!

I had the honor of creating the artwork for Andrew Hawnt's new book, VHS Ate My Brain, so be sure to check that out on Amazon as it's the first book all about the VHS culture and it totally rules.

And so much more stuff, man, it's hard to think of it all! Go visit Horror VHS Collectors Unite! on Facebook, check out Horror Boobs, Briarwood, Massacre Video, Secret Lair, The Video Pharmacy and all the amazing fresh VHS companies doing amazing projects on the VHS format.

And, as always, please stay tuned to the website for all the analog-obsessed updates and magnetic musings any Videovore could ever want!

Thanks for the interview, Carlos. These are really fun for me. And thanks to everyone who's ever browsed the site, bought a mag, stuck a sticker or rocked a shirt. I couldn't do this without that support, and I'm eternally analog grateful.

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