I was at the library the other day picking up a VHS copy of 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers. I had seen the 2004 Coen Brothers film, which I thought was just fine. It was savaged by the critics, however. And I noticed something about it: most of the complaints were more about it not being as “Whatever!” (each critic had their own thing) that the original had. So I thought it would be interesting to write something about the two films. But when I picked it up, the librarian asked, “Do you have a VCR?!”
I’m sure this is a common occurrence. The library catalog is not that clear. It’s happened to me too: coming into the library thinking I’m going to pick up a DVD and finding that it’s a VHS. But it’s never been that big a deal because I do have a VCR. And for very good reason: a lot of great movies have never been released on DVD. In some cases, it’s shocking. As I write this, The Amazing Colossal Man is not available on DVD in the United States. (There is a Portuguese double feature DVD O Incrível Homem Colossal and A Volta do Homem Colossal. But I assume it is a DVD-R, as it comes only from one seller and is $42.99.) If you want it, you can get it on VHS for $56.99 new (or $19.99 and up, used).
If You Love Film, You Need a VCR
This is hardly the only film in this category. I’ve been waiting for decades for Medicine River to be released on DVD. It’s a very funny film starring Graham Greene and Tom Jackson. It’s the kind of film that you love and then feel that you absolutely must share it with your parents. There are few films that fall into that category! And that makes its absence on DVD all the more remarkable. It is available on VHS right now for $69.99 new and $47.96 used.
Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a number of films finally make it to DVD. One Trick Pony took until 2009 to find its way to DVD. And there are many more, but I don’t know them off the top of my head. But the truth is that some films will never make it to DVD. And it seems strange, because it is very cheap to release a film on DVD-R. It’s just a question whoever has the rights doing it.
Not Even VHS
There are, of course, lots of films that your VCR will never help you with because the films were never seen as worthy of release on VHS. Now, just because something isn’t on VHS doesn’t mean it won’t be on DVD. As I noted, it’s cheaper to put something out on DVD than VHS. Indeed, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was never released on VHS. This may have something to do with its mastermind, George Barry. (For more on the film, see our page Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.)
To give you an example of how crazy this all this, consider the great sculptor Fredric Hobbs. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he made four feature films. His first two, Troika (1969) and Roseland (1970), have never been released in any form that I know of. So your VCR won’t help you there.
His next film, Alabama’s Ghost (1972), has been released on VHS. Although strangely, there is currently only one copy for sale at Amazon, and the description states, “**DVDR DISC WITH NO ART** super rare movie. I bought this at a convention quality is a 7ish out of 10 looks like a vhs tape.” I assume that someone somewhere made an illegal DVD-R copy. So even though this film is on VHS, it seems incredibly rare in that form.
The takeaway from all of this is that you really have to hang on to your VCR. A lot of films will never be released on DVD. And even when little known films are released on DVD, they are often no better than they were on VHS. In many cases, they simply transferred from VHS. They rarely have any extras, and often aren’t letterboxed. So hang on to your VCR. You won’t need it a lot. And as time goes on, you should need it less. But you will need it.