Sometime around 1983 my dad bought a Betamax player from Polk Brothers in Waukegan, Illinois. In 1984, that Betamax was stolen when our house was burgled. The Betamax was never recovered, but it was replaced shortly afterwards. I still watch all of my Betamax on this very player. To my dad it’s a sacred machine. He only just recently stopped telling me to “not fuck up his Betamax.”
After failing out of art school multiple times, I moved home and adopted the player as my own. Around the mid to late 90s, video rental stores had Betamax inventory sitting in discount bins for sale. It was a cheap way to grab good horror movies and I took full advantage. Later, eBay also helped my obsession.
Eventually I started a bullshit career in underground electronic music. I worked from manipulated movie samples and audio and made it my mission to find obscure audio sources. The Betamax movies proved to be the perfect treasure chest to pillage. I bought them, sampled them, used them in music, and forced friends to sit through countless drunken hours of misery.
But I ran into a problem: As the collection grew, I couldn’t remember what movie was what and needed some way to reference them. So around 2003 I started to work on a way to catalog them. The early chronology went as follows:
2003 — Handwritten checklist
2004 — Excel spreadsheet with director, actor, and three major subject categories
2005 — Small paragraph write-ups
Then in 2006 I put the writeups online and gave it a name. In 2007 I started to add photos. By 2010 I was doing extremely detailed synopsis, photos, music, and video.
Here’s a list of my favorite films I discovered while doing The Betamax Rundown. I spent the last two weeks re-watching the below films. Some of them have major flaws, but each remains enjoyable and reminded me of what I like best about doing this site. I included links to buy/stream but you can probably find them free on YouTube.
10. Testament (1983) The most realistic (and thereby dreariest) post-apocalyptic movie ever made. I had vague recollections of seeing it in grade school and when I watched the Betamax, tons of terrible sense memories came flooding back. It’s a great example of a studio movie with absolutely no sense of hope. It’s seriously bleak as fuck! Good direction, writing, and acting throughout. Available streaming on Amazon and iTunes.
09. Spiker (1984) Done with such sincerity and effort the movie becomes undeniable. Multiple montages, original songs, showdowns, buddy erotica — the list goes on and on. Yes, the movie is very much of the era, with lots of terrible 80s-isms, but it’s all 100% un-ironic authenticity, which is so fucking refreshing you might not be able to comprehend it. You’ll have to track down used tapes on eBay.
08. Marvin & Tige (1984) A touching movie with the added bonus of excellent work by a late-career Cassavetes. Family-friendly with a bit of urban grit. It’s somewhat cheesy sap, but even Cassavetes saw enough in the script to agree to do the movie. You’ll have to track down used tapes on eBay.
07. Defiance (1979) We’re drawn to unsung heroes on this site, and Jan-Michael Vincent is one of those. This is a late 70s revenge flick that has enough competent storytelling to last. Plenty of 70s-era New York scenery, excellent original music by Gerard McMahon, and Vincent as a quiet seamen trying to stay out of trouble and rallying an entire borough in the process. Available streaming on Amazon.
06. The Disappearance (1977) A slow portrait of an assassin’s emotional meltdown featuring incredible sets and good acting, but butchered by an overzealous studio. The movie has serious problems. The UK edit is different from the US version, and both of those are different from the original director’s cut, but even in such a poor condition it’s interesting. A difficult to procure Blu-ray was recently released that is supposed to remedy the problem.
05. Split Image (1982) Probably the most over-the-top cult movie from the 80s. Totally ridiculous, but somehow it fights through. Great performances from Dennehy, Woods, and Fonda. Woods in particular is completely out of his gourd. You’ll have to track down used tapes on eBay.
04. Savage Weekend (1980) One of the first Betamax I ever purchased. A misguided horror film that sat on a shelf until the 80s slasher-craze, Savage Weekend builds slowly and ends without much fanfare, but the action in between is where it’s at. Streaming on Amazon.
03. Torchlight (1985) You guys can’t even fuck with Steve Railsback. We don’t deserve him. He’s too much for this world, and in Torchlight he’s so incredible it’s too intense for everyone. Perhaps too specifically focused on freebasing to have mass appeal, Torchlight is the best fucking drug movie of all time. Watch Ian McShane smoke freebase and get sweaty as fuck over and over and over. Tapes on eBay.
02. A Night In Heaven (1983) It’s said best in the original post: “The most depressing movie about marriage you’ve ever seen masquerading as a super-cheesy male stripper movie.” The movie is far from perfect. The handling of stripping and “ladies night” culture circa 1981 is downright cartoonish. But it’s Whitney as the cuckold husband who seeks revenge that sends thing thing into orbit. Available on DVD via Amazon.
01. Mike’s Murder (1984) A quietly paced but disjointed tale of love and murder fatally marred by studio interference. Despite this, the film remains powerful. I’ve watched it many times since the initial viewing and my mind wanders trying to imagine the film in its original non-linear version. Beautifully shot, well acted, and with just a tinge of 80s cheese, Mike’s Murder deserves a better fate than it has received, but as I’ve said many times before … the world sucks now. Available on DVD via Amazon.
And with that, I close this piece looking forward to another 10+ years of this shitty fucking site!