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9 Rare and Expensive Types of VHS Tapes

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Collectors of any kind know that scarcity is king, but that the loving eye of the beholder can also account for a lot; for example, a slice of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake recently sold for almost $3000, even though it was presumably pretty stale.

The same is true of VHS, a medium which, having only finally been retired by major studios in 2006, is still finding its groove with collectors in terms of what’s precious and what’s worthless. To wit: eBay sellers are currently hawking seemingly a million VHS copies of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for anywhere from $10 to $500.

Here are a few kinds of VHS tapes—including this year’s hot properties and some long-standing rare finds—that you might want to stop using to prop up the cat’s litter box.

1. HORROR FILMS: THE MORE ‘SCHLOCKY’ AND LOW-BUDGET, THE BETTER

While pristine "first edition" VHS copies of time-honored movies are always great, aficionados are especially interested in gathering and archiving movies that never made it to DVD or other digital formats (even Yale University is pitching in)—often because nobody ever bothered to preserve those particular flicks.

The result is that many of the rarest, most desirable VHS tapes contain films that are real clunkers. Tales from the Quadead Zone recently made a splash by fetching $700 (an amount that might double by the next time it’s resold) despite being a trainwreck of a movie. As TIME puts it, the horror film’s high resale value can be credited to the fact that “schlocky horror and exploitation films stand little chance of ever being transferred to DVD or Blu-ray, [meaning] VHS copies are often the last surviving evidence that the film existed.” So, for both fans and archivists, they’re priceless.

2. PRO WRESTLING

Both professional wrestling and VHS enjoyed their golden ages in the final two decades of the last millennium, and their combination makes for real heritage items among collectors. Got a copy of the 1994 WCW classic Halloween Havoc that’s still in the shrink wrap? Unless you’re (understandably) dying to watch it yourself, leave that plastic on—there’s one on eBay looking to fetch several hundred dollars. World Class Championship Wrestling Vol. 1-5 are also quite rare (and valued accordingly), while an opened copy of Bash at the Beach 2000 recently sold for $599.

3. FILM RELEASES FROM SECOND-RATE AND DEFUNCT DISTRIBUTORS

So the only thing about your tape that rings less of a bell than its goofy title is the pulled-a-name-out-of-a-hat company that produced and sold the tape? That’s a great sign.

During VHS’s heyday, small distribution companies picked up the cheap rights to all kinds of titles (especially B movies and public domain "classics"), letting them turn a quick profit by selling budget films on budget tapes. Some distributors produced tape boxes and sleeves that were absolute gems, while others absolutely did not, and both the highs and lows of small-time re-releases make a big splash among collectors.

For example, Donna Michelle Productions (no relation to classic Playboy Playmate-turned-actress Donna Michelle, as far as we know) released seven horror flicks between 1986 and 1990 that really strain the term “B movie” and drive VHS collectors wild. The 1987 rural horror film Splatter Farm—written and directed by John Polonia, Mark Polonia, and Todd Smith, and starring Marion Costly, John Polonia, Mark Polonia, and Todd Smith—is one of this prized batch, and almost impossible to find. It’s been released on DVD, too, but the format matters: To see every gruesome shot of farm butchery found in the original version, you have to watch the tape.

If you come across any Donna Michelle Productions releases—especially Rock and Roll Mobster Girls or Monsters and Maniacs—be sure to hang on to them, as they can fetch three-digit prices.

4. DISCONTINUED OR BANNED MOVIES

Regardless of which field they’re scouring, many collectors aim to scoop up those items that authority—or even society as a whole—has deemed unsuitable. Such is the case with Disney’s controversial 1947 musical film Song of the South, which had a few theatrical releases over the years, was then finally and summarily retired from Disney’s cache of offerings, and can fetch around $30 on tape.

It’d also be worth seeing if your garage has any titles found on the list of "video nasties" that were banned (or, at least, heavily scrutinized) by the British Board of Film Classification starting in the mid-‘80s. For several years, public discussion of these films linked them to rising violence among youths, while the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions argued they were in violation of the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. An original copy of 1979’s Delirium, aka Psycho Puppet, for example, can easily net between $100 and $150.

5. MUSIC MOVIES

Various music films found their final resting place on VHS tapes, too, including ones from the some of the world’s most famous bands. The documentary film Let it Be is a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process for the Beatles’ album of the same name; because it ended up capturing the very sour dynamics in the group right before the four split up for good, however, their production company elected to let VHS be the film’s final format. Only last month, too, was The Decline of Western Civilization, the renowned documentary about underground LA punk, released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time—having made it one of the most sought-after VHS titles for over 30 years.

6. COMPLETE TV SERIES RUNS (IN ALL THEIR SPACE-HOGGING GLORY)

If you’ve been dedicating, say, a quarter of your basement to storing VHS box sets of old primetime TV shows, you’ve made a wise choice: one asking price for 23 episodes of Star Trek is $345, while Set 3 of The Best of the Simpsons commands $45 on its own.

7. FOREIGN FILMS AND TV SHOWS

If interest in a particular film has dipped or vanished before a format changeover, there’s a fair chance that this title won’t make the cut of movies that receive the upgrade. When it comes to international and foreign language films, competition for next-generation format preservation by U.S. production companies is fierce, especially if a large number of fans haven’t been howling for it. Thus, in order to enjoy programming like Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals (among many other things), you gotta track it down on tape (and can expect to pay big bucks).

8. EXPLOITATION FILMS AND RELATED SUB-GENRES

From classic "exploitation" titles and Blaxploitation sagas to (mostly European) nunsploitation ones, the cult favorites in these over-the-top genres always get action from collectors. If you’re looking to buy, the film Sextette, starring Mae West, Timothy Dalton, and Dom DeLuise, will only cost around $15 or so all told, but even a former rental store copy of the Blaxploitation classic Brotherhood of Death could set you back $76—and that’s without an unaltered original case.

9. REALLY, ANYTHING WITH A WILD, CREATIVE, OR INACCURATE COVER

This point is likely old news to the record-collectors, but the cover art and packaging of many VHS tapes—whether it’s particularly great or awful, or somehow both—can carry a lot of weight in terms of their value; for example, you might want to drop $20 on a VHS copy of the mediocre movie Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars (which featured Supermarionation special effects) if you find yourself moved by its striking but awkward cover art.

On the other hand, if covers aren’t your thing, that same $20 could get you a copy of “How to Get a Record Deal”—featuring sage advice from Kenny Loggins, Phil Collins, and others—plus a pizza and/or a sixpack of beer to go with it (pizza rates may vary by location). Then again, you could keep it simple and just get enough $0.99-copies of the “Ab-Doer Back & Spine” exercise video to fill a bathtub. To each their own.

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14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
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From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.

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10 Things We Learned From Vanilla Ice's 1991 Autobiography, Ice by Ice
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Vanilla Ice turns 50 on October 31, which will either make you feel very old or compelled to ask a nearby senior who Vanilla Ice is. The hip-hop artist was best known for To the Extreme, his 1990 album that sold 7 million copies, and its breakout single, “Ice, Ice Baby.” He also had a notable turn as himself in 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze before attempting to reinvigorate his career as a Rasta-infused rapper with dreadlocks after his initial novelty wore off.

Before that happened, Ice (a.k.a. Robert Van Winkle) penned Ice by Ice, a 1991 “autobiography” that has no co-author byline but was probably written by a man named Randi Reisfeld, who is thanked by the rapper in the foreword for “putting my thoughts together.” At an economical 164 pages, it’s essential reading for anyone who wanted to know the name of Ice's signature hairstyle (“the beak”) or how women can grab his attention ("dressing super-sexy”). Here are 10 things we learned about the Iceman in this revealing paperback cash grab.

1. HE CUT HIS OWN HAIR.

Even at the height of his fame, Vanilla Ice wouldn’t trust just anyone to get near his trademark pompadour that he dubbed “the beak,” with lines shaved into the sides and a light stripe whooshing through the front. To maintain the look, Ice preferred a DIY approach. “I sit where there’s a mirror behind me and hold another mirror in front of me,” he writes. “That way I can see my whole head.”

Ice was so demanding of his follicles than anything less than perfection would be met with self-banishment. “I don’t like to be photographed unless my hair is perfect—that’s why you’ll see pictures of me in baseball caps a lot.”

2. HE DOESN’T CRY.

“I don’t cry and I don’t know why,” Ice explains. Even when he shattered his ankle as a teenager in a motorcycle accident, Ice didn’t get weepy. The only time he confesses to feeling even a passing sensation of tears is when he was handed plaques for having a platinum record. “My eyes got watery … it’s as close to crying as I’ve ever come.”

3. HE GOT STABBED IN THE BUTT AND LOST FOUR PINTS OF BLOOD.

Vanilla Ice in a Miami Football T
Scott Harrison/Getty Images

As Ice’s popularity grew, much was made of his claims that he grew up in rough parts of Miami and Dallas, where he joined a street gang after his stepfather relocated his family for a job opportunity. Some observers accused him of embellishing his background in order to appear more like a hardcore street urchin. Ice bemoans the fact that he’s felt compelled to pull down his pants to show off the scar on his butt from a knife attack at age 18. According to the rapper, a street fight turned ugly when an attacker pulled a knife and sliced open his thigh and buttocks, requiring an extended hospital stay after he lost four pints of blood. “What they did was put this thing that looked like a Q-tip with alcohol on it down inside my leg to plug up the artery,” he writes. (He didn’t cry, though.)

4. HE WORE MISMATCHED SNEAKERS TO SCHOOL.

Growing up, Ice bounced from school to school, admitting he wasn’t very interested in formal education and jarred by having to be the new kid on a regular basis. To offset that sense of isolation, he began showing up in increasingly outlandish outfits, including wearing mismatched shoes. “I’d wear a boot on one foot and a tennis shoe on the other,” he writes, “wear blue jeans with one leg long, the other leg cut off, stuff like that.”

5. IF HE HAD A PROBLEM, HE REALLY WOULD SOLVE IT.

Ice maintains that he was never comfortable sharing his feelings with others. His mother, who was single until marrying his stepfather when Ice was eight years old, tried to put him into therapy to address his troublemaking ways at school; Ice refused to talk. “I never needed to talk to anyone to solve my problems,” he writes. “A lot of people need someone to talk to, but I’ve never been able to open up and do that. Never could, never will. That’s just the way I am. And that’s just exactly where the ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ hook came from—‘If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.’”

6. HE WOULD SOMETIMES USE DIRTY WORDS.

Jana Birchum/Getty Images

Engaging in rap battles growing up, Ice would occasionally deploy some profanity—not because he necessarily wanted to, but because his competitors had started it and he needed to keep up. “The thing is, I wouldn’t do it unless some other rapper started cursing and dissin’ me and the crowd started liking it,” he writes. "'Cause if the crowd starts liking the cursing part, that means to win you’re going to have to curse back at them.” Ice maintains in the book that his raps were clean on his records because “I don’t need to put in dirty words to express myself.”

7. HE WAS ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS VANILLA M.C.

Ice got his start performing at City Lights, a dance club in Dallas owned by future manager Tommy Quon. With “Robert Van Winkle” not having a ton of appeal on a marquee, Ice decided to take the nickname given to him as a teenager when he was beatboxing and rapping in his neighborhood (“Vanilla M.C.”). But Quon pointed out that there were already a lot of “MCs” in the music business, including M.C. Hammer and Young M.C. “You know, your raps, your rhythms are really smooth, smooth as Ice, in fact,” Quon told him. Writing that “it sounded okay to me,” Vanilla M.C. became Vanilla Ice.

8. HE WAS DRAWN TO WOMEN FOR THEIR LOOKS.

Not one to sanitize his image for the masses, Ice admits that his primary concern when dealing with the opposite sex is whether he finds them attractive or not. “My first impression of a girl, whether I’m going to be drawn to her or not, is based on her looks. I know it’s not fair, but then I see what her personality is like.”

Once Ice establishes a woman could engage him intellectually while still “dressing super-sexy,” he enjoys entertaining them at fine dining establishments. But not too fine. “I like candlelit romantic restaurants, but not those where the menu is so fancy that I don’t know what I’m ordering.”

9. HE GOT AN OFFER TO APPEAR IN A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET SEQUEL.

Vanilla Ice and Kristin Minter star in 'Cool as Ice' (1991).
Universal Home Video

Ice’s career could have gone in multiple directions following the success of To the Extreme. He filmed a cameo in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel and had his own starring vehicle in 1991’s Cool as Ice. In between those projects, Ice was offered a small role in a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, presumably to be murdered by Freddy Krueger, “but I didn’t have room in my schedule to take time off for it.” 

10. HE WAS STALKED BY A SATANIST.

We’re cheating slightly, since Ice doesn’t disclose this fact in his book, but it’s still worth noting. At height of Ice mania in the 1990s, the rapper told Rolling Stone that a woman began following him around in an attempt to convert him to Satanism. Ice first noticed the woman at Wembley Stadium when she flashed him in a trench coat. (See: number 8.) Later, the same woman followed him to Japan and left a book under his hotel door: a Satanic Bible, with a personal message to join the flock. Why? Because his birthday falls on Halloween.

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