DirectorDan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic
Release Date(s)2013 (August 29, 2023)
Studio(s)Romark Entertainment (VHShitfest/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector (2013) is a very entertaining and often perceptive documentary about unfailing advocates of VHS, the once-revolutionary home video format that pretty much went kaput in 2008 following the introduction of DVDs. The 84-minute film covers in detail a surprisingly broad range of topics well, many of which touch upon larger issues of collecting and preservation. Though chiefly about collectors of VHS tapes of obscure horror movies—many unavailable in any other home video format—its passionate interviewees could just as easily be CED or LaserDisc fans, hardcore DVD and Blu-ray buyers or, for that matter, collectors of vinyl LPs, antique televisions, candlestick telephones, or any number of things.
Its considerable value as an important documentary about home video and film preservation is undermined somewhat by sophomoric, snickering asides; clearly some of those interviewed lack social skills, live way outside the mainstream of society and/or are like teenagers that never grew up, yet it’s easy to relate to their passion for VHS. Much of the film has the interviewees discussing (sometimes perilous) rummaging through dead or dying Mom-and-Pop stores, video stores used as fronts for some other criminal enterprise, and flea markets with bedbug-crazy sellers. At times they’re like the characters in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where the quest is the thing, poring through 99% of total junk hoping to find that super-rare VHS tape almost no one has been able to find.
One particular film highlighted is a 1987 direct-to-video blaxploitation horror film inelegantly titled Tales from the QuadeaD Zone, for which only around 100 VHS copies were ever made. When a copy turns up on eBay, a bidding war erupts, the movie selling for $660, which looks about equal to the film’s entire budget. A later eBay auction netted $2,000. The ensuing media coverage helped legitimize old VHS tapes as bona fide collectibles.
One of the curious aspects of Adjust Your Tracking is that the majority of those interviewed seem to have been small children (or even younger) when the VHS format was peaking, and many discuss how their interest in graphic horror films began when a parent exposed them to such films at an early age. One even talks about watching Faces of Death when his babysitter brought over a VHS tape for them to watch!
Adjust Your Tracking does a fine job reminding viewers just how differently VHS tapes were marketed and distributed compared with later home video formats. Interviewees wax nostalgically about oversized VHS video cases, the kind used mainly for porno and far-out exploitation movies, their artwork often incredibly shoddy and misleading. This certainly brought back memories for me, having once driven a hundred miles or so after learning a video store had one of these oversized tapes of Body Snatchers from Hell, the then-rare American home video version of Goke—Body Snatcher from Hell (now a respectable Criterion release!). Or my bewilderment seeing another oversized VHS case for a James Stewart film I’d never heard of, The Green Horizon, with ol’ Jimmy decked out like Indiana Jones dangling from a cliffside. In those pre-internet days information on such obscurities was practically nonexistent, which only piqued my curiosity more. I still haven’t managed to see that one.
More importantly, the people interviewed persuasively argue that VHS was a home video format that leveled the playing field, a democratization of movie-watching. Not only could you watch uncut movies at home, but all kinds of movies that never played on commercial television or the local multiplex suddenly became available. Indeed, I recall one video store in my old Los Feliz neighborhood grouping outré titles by bizarre categories: “horny midgets,” “angry animals,” “hungry cannibals,” etc. Although Blu-ray is doing a decent job catching up, and technically delivers far better picture and sound—just as hardtops were technically superior to drive-ins, despite our nostalgia for the latter—VHS advocates rightly point to the (perhaps thousands of) titles, including many important mainstream films, on VHS but not on DVD or Blu-ray, let alone the far more restrictive streaming services.
Ironic for a super deluxe-O Blu-ray release, Adjust Your Tracking is presented as if it were itself a VHS tape, a 4:3 low-res presentation, complete with FBI warning, tracking issues, and other imperfections. (However, extended interviews and deleted scenes make clear it was originally shot in HD.) The cleverness of the filmmakers doesn’t end here; to raise funds to produce it they held a Kickstarter campaign, offering an “executive producer” credit to anyone donating $10 or more. There are a lot of executive producers on this film. In any case, the two-disc set is DTS-HD Master Audio (excellent 2.0 stereo), Region-Free and supported by optional English subtitles.
Extra features are practically endless. They include no less than three audio commentary tracks (one is new); extended interviews and deleted scenes (I was delighted to see my old pal, the late Ted Newsom, in 15 minutes of footage that didn’t make the final cut); a “new retrospective interview with the directors”; new updates with the collectors; behind-the-scenes footage, and short films. I didn’t add it all up, but there seems to be upwards of 10 hours-worth of supplementary material that will take fans days to go through, much of it worthwhile.
Adjust Your Tracking is a must-see for any serious film/video collector. Highly Recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV