There are many reasons why some movies never make it past VHS format. Sometimes the filmmakers simply chose not to take that leap. It also happens that the film is able to release in other countries, but is not allowed to in the US for various legal reasons. Usually it is a rights issue as the title of ownership may not be clear, thus making it hard to tell who actually owns the movie. There are actor rights, music rights, and dozens of other legal pitfalls involved. And sometimes it is just not financially lucrative for a distribution company to go through all the costly measures of paying lawyers, creating art, printing discs, marketing, and shipping copies if the titles are not likely to be huge sellers.
Because of all these different factors, there are a large number of great horror movies that remain trapped in a VHS format, never receiving a DVD or Blu-ray release. Some of these films have DVD and Blu releases in other countries, but in the United States they are stuck on VHS. So how can you see these gems? Dust off that VHS player!
SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE (1987)
With a screenplay by the legendary Penelope Spheeris, one would think this would have made it out of “VHS hell” long ago. Nope, still only on tape. The film is a punk anarchistic modern day LORD OF THE FLIES, and it is a shame that so few folks have seen it. Set at a boys’ summer camp, the campers stage a revolt against the harsh counselors. The boys then expand their mutiny and take over a nearby girls’ camp causing things to further spiral out of control.
BLUE MONKEY (1987)
I used to love this flick when I was a kid, and I never understood how it didn’t get the same acclaim as many of the other 80s camp monster movies. A man touches an exotic plant and acquires a worm-like parasite that begins to fester in his body. Due to the growth hormones they’d been feeding the plants, the parasite grows to large proportions and causes terror in a hospital.
NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD (1993)(Cover photo)
A Lovecraft anthology, NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD features three short segments all based on Lovecraft works. And they are good! Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans, and Shusuke Kaneko all direct segments. Jeffery Combs stars (actually playing Lovecraft), and the epic Screaming Mad George does some stellar FX work! This one did get a DVD release overseas, but still has yet to receive such treatment here in the ‘States.
THE DAY OF THE BEAST (1999)
This actually may be my favorite horror-comedy ever, and though it has DVD releases in other regions, the USA is still forced to watch this gem on VHS. A priest, a magician and a metal head team up to fight Satan. It’s just genius.
THE KEEP (1983)
This film is epic for being trapped in a release limbo. Fans for years have rallied, trying to get it to Blu-ray or at least DVD, but no such luck. Directed by Michael Mann, World War II German soldiers unearth a supernatural being who is fuming about the treatment of the Jews and starts doling out revenge. THE KEEP has always been plagued with release issues. The director wanted a 3 hour cut which was chopped in half by Paramount leaving some frostiness there. Additionally, there are rumored to be some copyright issues with the awesome Tangerine Dream score. This one did make it to laserdisc, and it is occasionally released for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Though the quality is not so great (barely better than VHS), this may be the best we get for awhile.
BLOOD SALVAGE (1990)
BLOOD SALVAGE is a fun little flick about a family who kidnaps unaware motorists and then sells their body parts on the black market. It is a horror comedy which is kinda Full Moon-like in its presentation and humor. Plus, the box cover is awesome. For more on BLOOD SALVAGE, check out my longer article here.
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957)
This drive-in staple stars Michael Landon as a teen who, through a psycho-therapy session to release pent-up anger, is changed into a wild wolfman. Though it is considered to be a classic work of horror, the title has a nightmarish copyright tangle. It was originally made as a co-production between AIP and Filmways. Filmways was bought by Orion who then went bankrupt and sold the bulk of their library to Warner Brothers and MGM. So know owns it? Who knows!
BEN was the sequel to the original 1971 film, WILLARD, about a boy who befriends a group of rats that do his evil bidding. Most people know the theme song, “Ben,” which was preformed by a young Michael Jackson. The plot is similar to WILLARD, now about a different young boy who befriends a rat swarm. This film was paid for by Bing Crosby’s production company, and there are apparently some rights issues with the ownership of the film.
THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977)
Starring Mia Farrow and Keir Dullea, this movie is a slow burn, tension-filled delight. It is sometimes also known under the title FULL CIRCLE. I’ve heard rumors that it occasionally plays late night on various TV movie channels, but unless you happen upon it one evening, your best bet is a VHS tape.
GRIM PRAIRIE TALES (1990)
An anthology film, GRIM PRAIRIE TALES boasts some notable names in its cast, including Brad Dourif and James Earl Jones. As a group of pioneers gather around a campfire, they tell terror-filled tales that all take place in the “wild west”.
And for five more horror flicks that are only on VHS, check out our other list here!