Entertainment

26 Hard-To-Find Movies That Remind Us Why VHS, DVD, And LaserDisc Still Matter

The world shouldn’t have to go without 1986 BMX racing drama Rad.

Columbia Tristar / Via the-lfb.com

Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and VOD give us the impression that there are a lot of movies at our fingertips available to rent or stream, but the truth is there are plenty more that aren’t. Every time we make a leap in technology, from film reels to VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to digital, there are titles that get left behind, and even when they do get a re-release, there’s no guarantee they’ll stay in print. Which is one of the reasons Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, home to the world’s single largest collection of VHS tapes, LaserDiscs, VCDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, is looking for a second life as a nonprofit.

As the end of the Blockbuster Era taught us late in 2013, times are tough for video stores, so Scarecrow is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to preserve its much-loved massive library and reopen as a nonprofit collective and archive for preserving film history. The Scarecrow Project provides an essential reminder of how many rare titles are still only available as physical media thanks to market forces, rights issues, corporate wrangling, and other reasons.

Here are 26 rare or out-of-print titles from the collection that Scarecrow is trying to keep available to the public — because the world shouldn’t have to go without 1986 BMX racing drama Rad.

1. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

Scarecrow Video
Scarecrow Video

These legendary documentaries from Penelope Spheeris (who’d go on to direct Wayne’s World) are still only available on VHS. The first covers the Los Angeles punk scene, featuring interviews with and concert footage from (among others) Black Flag, X, and Germs, whose lead singer Darby Crash committed suicide just before the film was released. The second Decline of Western Civilization focuses on heavy metal and hair metal, and features the famous sequence in which Ozzy Osbourne cooks bacon and eggs in a kitchen, while talking about the music business.

2. Killer Shark (1950)

Scarecrow Video

You’d think a movie called Killer Shark really sells itself, but this 1950 thriller is very difficult to find and was only released on VHS. The movie, which stars Roddy McDowall as a college student dealing with sharks and smugglers, was directed by Budd Boetticher, who’s best know for making Westerns.

3. Begotten (1990)

Scarecrow Video

E. Elias Merhige directed Willem Dafoe in an Oscar-nominated performance in 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire, but the filmmaker’s debut, Begotten — a strange, dialogue-free, totally disturbing reimagining of Genesis creation story — has long been out of print on DVD.

4. Rad (1986)

Scarecrow Video

Hal Needham’s terminally ’80s cult classic about BMX racing has yet to get a DVD release. Bill Allen plays a small-town guy named Cru Jones trying to make it in the cutthroat world of competitive BMX racing, while Full House’s own Lori Loughlin plays his love interest — they fall in love doing bike tricks at a school dance.

5. Let It Be (1970)

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Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 doc, which features footage of The Beatles’ final public performance on a rooftop and contains insight into why the group broke up, is infamously difficult to see. Reportedly, the surviving Beatles have blocked attempts to release the film on DVD because it features footage from such a dark time in the band’s history — until then, copies only survive on VHS (pictured here) and LaserDisc.

6. The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987)

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This video combines orchestral pieces from Frank Zappa with underground animator Bruce Bickford’s surreal stop-motion work. It’s only ever been released on VHS.

7. Song of the South (1946)

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Aside from the Splash Mountain ride and the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” Disney has pretty much suppressed all traces of its live-action/animated musical based on the Uncle Remus stories, which is notorious for its depictions of race. The film did get two official releases, on Japanese LaserDisc and European VHS (pictured above), though it’s now no longer legitimately available anywhere in the world.

8. The Big Crimewave (1985)

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This little-known black comedy is beloved by those who’ve seen it, but it’s only available on VHS. It was written, directed, and produced by Canadian filmmaker John Paizs, who also stars as a would-be filmmaker whose attempts to write a film are hampered by the fact that he can only manage to come up with beginnings and endings, but nothing in between.

9. Big Black: The Last Blast (1987)

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Released by Black Label Records, this video recording of the farewell show from influential punk band Big Black (founded by Steve Albini) in Seattle on Aug. 9, 1987, is only available on VHS.

10. Creating Rem Lezar (1989)

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The kind of creepy/fascinating artifact you wonder if you actually saw as a kid or just imagined, this very strange VHS-only direct-to-video movie is centered on two school children who dream of a superhero named Rem Lezar. They manage to create him by dressing a mannequin as Rem Lezar, then taking a nap with him, at which point he comes to life. There’s also a rapper!

11. Dr. Caligari (1989)

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What better way to show your appreciation of Robert Wiene’s 1920 expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari than by remaking it as a sexploitation film? This one’s also only available on VHS.

12. Figures in a Landscape (1969)

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Though it stars Robert Shaw (who played, among many other roles, Quint in Jaws), and is directed by Joseph Losey (who was blacklisted in Hollywood), this chase film never received a home video release in the U.S., and is available only as an import DVD.

13. Furious (1984)

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As a visual effects artist and compositor, Seattle filmmaker Tim Everitt has worked on blockbusters like 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and 2005’s Into the Blue. But his own movies can be much tougher to find — like his debut Furious, which, as promised, is about how “mystic aliens fight karate heroes for control of the universe,” and which was donated on DVD-R to Scarecrow by the director himself.

14. Hollywood (1980)

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For anyone interested in learning about the early days of the movie industry, this 1980 doc series, produced by Thames Television and written and directed by film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, is invaluable. It traces the development of the studio system and features interviews with directors Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, and Allan Dwan, actors Mary Astor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Wayne, and many others. But, although it was released on VHS and LaserDisc in the U.S., rights issues involving the many clips and participants means it’ll likely never come out on DVD.

15. In the Land of the War Canoes (1914)

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This 1914 silent film, which was the first to feature a cast made up entirely of Native Americans, is set in the world of the Kwakwaka’wakw people in British Columbia. The DVD has long been out of print, though Milestone Films has planned a restored re-release.

16. Sidewalk Stories (1989)

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Charles Lane’s 1989 indie homage to silent comedies, particularly Chaplin’s The Kid, received acclaim and attention when it first hit theaters. But it never received a release on home video in the U.S., leading to it remaining relatively unknown and hard to see, unless you have access to an import LaserDisc (pictured) or VHS. It’s finally getting a DVD release in October.

17. The Marathon Family (1982)

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It’s a cult classic in Serbia, but, like many foreign language films released on VHS in the U.S. in the ’80s and ’90s, Slobodan Šijan’s 1982 comedy about a family of undertakers is unlikely to ever get a digital release.

18. Napoleon (1927)

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Due to rights and financial issues, Abel Gance’s 1927 groundbreaking epic about Napoleon Bonaparte has remained very difficult to see, despite being considered a masterpiece of the silent film era. Francis Ford Coppola’s 223-minute version, with a score by Carmine Coppola, was given a U.S. release on VHS and LaserDisc, but was only released on DVD internationally.

19. Streetwise (1984)

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Directed by Martin Bell, who’s currently shooting a follow-up, this documentary about the lives of teenagers living on the streets of Seattle was actually nominated for an Academy Award. But it only received a VHS release, making it very difficult to see, despite the acclaim it earned.

20. Sleuth (1972)

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Jude Law and Michael Caine starred in a remake directed by Kenneth Branagh in 2007, but the original 1972 Sleuth, in which Caine acted alongside Lawrence Olivier, has long been out of print on DVD. The story centers on a deadly duel of wits between a detective novelist and the younger man who’s been having an affair with his wife — Caine switched roles in the remake.

21. Popcorn (1969)

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An “audio/visual rock thing” (how very ’60s!) directed by The Song Remains the Same’s Peter Clifton, this film includes live performances and interviews with people like Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and Joe Cocker, as well as a Twiggy fashion show. It’s only on VHS.

22. The Compleat Tex Avery (1993)

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Tex Avery created Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other iconic Warner Bros. characters before moving on to MGM in the ’40s and ’50s to work on shorts featuring Droopy the dog and some more suggestive pieces. While some of those films have been released in different collections, the only way to see all of them is on the LaserDisc set (pictured) or import DVD release.

23. Thundercrack! (1975)

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There haven’t been a lot of movies that have tried to combine hardcore pornography and an old-school creepy mansion mystery, so Thundercrack! deserves credit for uniqueness first and foremost. Co-written by underground legend George Kuchar, the film features gay and straight sex, corny jokes, and an enraged gorilla, and has only been released on VHS and import DVD.

24. Vandemonium Plus (1987)

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New York underground actress, musician, and performer Ann Magnuson plays multiple characters in this Cinemax special, including biker chick Sweet Pea, Shirley Maclaine, and Stevie Nicks. It also features appearances from Eric Bogosian and Meat Loaf, but was never released on DVD.

25. The War Game (1965)

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Peter Watkins’ 1965 mockumentary imagining a third World War actually won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1967. It was produced for the BBC, but wasn’t broadcast until 1985, because it was originally decided that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.”

26. The Last Roman (1968)

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Filmmaker Robert Siodmak, well-known for noirs like The Killers and Criss Cross, directed a cast that included Laurence Harvey, Orson Wells, and Honor Blackman in the historical epic that was his final feature. This English-language version of the movie, which was shot in Germany, is only available on VHS.

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