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The American Genre Film Archive announces the next stage in its mission: VHS!

Image: Alamo Drafthouse

Longtime readers of The A.V. Club may already know that we’re fans of the American Genre Film Archive, the Austin-based organization that does the important work of rescuing the B-movies that other archives won’t touch and treating them like the unique and valuable cultural artifacts that they are. In the past, AGFA has concentrated on restoring 16mm and 35mm celluloid artifacts—like ‘60s true-crime sleazefest The Zodiac Killer, one of several films AGFA restored from the Something Weird archives back in 2016—but now the archive is embarking on a new chapter in its preservation mission: VHS.

Building on the robust market for VHS among libraries and private collectors (even Yale University has its own VHS collection), AGFA will be scanning and digitally archiving films that only exist on VHS, a first for any film archive. “While hundreds of thousands of movies have been made around the world over the last century or so, only a fraction of them have survived, much less been released on video or streaming,” AGFA Advisory Board Zack Carlson says in a press release. “In many cases, the original elements are completely gone, and VHS is the last and only stop for these titles that will otherwise vanish into total oblivion.” And with analog tape bound to degrade even under ideal storage conditions, digitally archiving the films is the only way to ensure that they’ll last another century.


AGFA has yet to release a full list of the “thousands” of VHS titles it plans to preserve in the coming months, but says that it will start with a collection of VHS masters acquired from Something Weird before moving on to tapes from the collections of Something Weird and SOV horror site Bleeding Skull!. AGFA director Joe Ziemba specifically cites the 1993 Mexican horror movie Herencia Diabolica, which he describes as “a Mexican Child’s Play rip-off that swaps out Chucky for a homicidal clown.” He adds, “this is especially important when we consider that the original film elements for this movie are lost.” (You can watch the first 15 minutes of that particular film, uploaded to YouTube by a user with the same archival spirit but not the same professional equipment as AGFA, below.)

This announcement comes shortly after the announcement of a new, VHS-themed Mondo board game, Video Vortex: Analog Apocalypse, described thusly in a press release:

Inspired by the Alamo’s long-running Video Vortex programming series and newly-launched in-theater video stores, it’s a competitive deck-building game for 2-4 players. Each player controls a gang of post-apocalyptic magnetic mutants pitted against other gangs in merciless combat. The last remaining player will become the Tapemaster General and control the remote forever.

It’s also the eve of the first ever VHStival, a two-day event featuring tape swaps, screenings of rare SOV films like the infamous Video Violence (1987), VHS-based comedy from the Found Footage Festival, and experimental VHS work from filmmaker Ross Sutherland. (His 2015 film Stand By For Tape Back-Up is on Vimeo and comes recommended). The full schedule for that event, which takes place this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, can be found here.


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