Interview with Josh Schafer of Lunchmeat VHS zine!
Videonomicon recently spoke with Josh Schafer, the main brain/publisher/editor-in-chief of Lunchmeat, one of the premiere VHS zines/blogs in the United States. Since 2008 they’ve been seeking out all sorts of analog excitement, so let’s hit play!
Videonomicon: Lunchmeat has been kicking around for a fair bit of time, can you give a brief history of the zine/website? And for those uninitiated, what exactly is Lunchmeat?
Josh Schafer: Holy chit, man, it has! Time seems to fly! Short and sweet, a friend of mine [Ted Gilbert] and I worked at a metal mail-order/label, and we both shared a love for weird horror/sci-fi/thriller/action/weirdo flicks on VHS. We both actively collected, watched, etc., and we would talk about the flicks non-stop. We were both fond of writing, and at the time we were writing for the label’s resource catalog, reviewing the fringe DVD titles we carried in the mail order and doing interviews with the in-house bands. So, since we were having a groovy time doing the articles and stuff in the catalog, we decided to take a shot at creating a fanzine dedicated to VHS-only flicks. We pressed up the first issue in 2008, and it’s been going ever since.
The website came later, a little over two years ago now. At first, I just wanted to have an online presence to keep up with the times, etc., but the blog has become a great way to keep all the Videovores out there informed on all the analog excitement that’s been going on in the past couple years.
Ultimately, LUNCHMEAT is a love letter to the video era and all the fantastic flicks and groovy goodies that represent that time. I’d like LM to be a beacon for obscure and amazing flicks and all the other insane entertainments that are only on the VHS format… as well as a place to keep up with all of the fresh VHS culture that’s blossoming around the world. I still work a day job and everything, so LM is my way to stay creative and foster a community that I truly cherish while keeping all of these esoteric cinema flames burning for folks that dig that sort of thing.
VN: What is a Videovore?
JS: LOL Well, Videovore is a term I coined one day just foolin’ around, having fun… essentially it just means someone who is crazy about VHS tapes: someone who collects, hoards, stacks, watches, rewinds and preserves VHS tapes daily, always “consuming” various media on tape. I’m a big fan of FAMOUS MONSTERS, and I just felt like creating that word was akin to something fun Forry might do… I’m glad people are intrigued by it, and it’s catching on a little. I made the mascot for LM be the Videovore, too, just for funzo. Basically, it’s just a term that identifies someone who is crazy about magnetic magic, man!
VN: How has the evolution of home video from the video store days to horror VHS collector groups online and DIY releasing outfits influenced, or even changed the direction, for Lunchmeat?
JS: It’s interesting, because before the huge explosion on the internet (which is in big part to Horror VHS Collectors Unite!) there was very little about rare VHS tapes on the world weird web. There was CritConOnline.com and BleedingSkull.com, but that was really all I found that focused on these flicks. Now, with the advent of all the sites, blogs and other VHS-crazed entities, it’s given me a way to see what a lot of people are going for, e.g. what kinds of flicks, which labels, directors, etc. interest them. It’s really expanded my whole interest, too, of course! I mean, there’s just so much more stuff surfacing out there, and you see amazing tapes daily. And, ultimately, with LM, that helps me see more stuff to seek out and watch and write about. And I really try to go for stuff that I don’t think will get coverage anywhere else, stuff that most people wouldn’t think to cover, but totally rules. It’s made me dig deeper for sure… to try and find the weirdest, most fun, most insane shit out there.
And, of course, with all of the new entities doing analog-inclined stuff, I want to cover it, and show other folks who aren’t necessarily involved with this particular world what’s happening, what’s going on, and that people are really passionate about this stuff. I want to document all of the VHS culture that’s happening because I think it’s interesting and fun and important. There are so many people pouring their heart and soul and VCRs into what they are doing with VHS now, and I think it would be a shame to see that work go unnoticed. I want to share out what these amazing folks are doing.
VN: Aside from the zine/blog, Lunchmeat has also presented VHS screenings, as well as some releases (Video Violence Diehard Videovore Edition). What drives you to get these out, and have people see these movies?
JS: Because I love this stuff! Man, if you were to tell 21-year-old me I would be producing the Diehard Videovore Editon for VIDEO VIOLENCE… shit, man, I don’t even know! LOL But, really, I do it because I love it. Because I think these films are truly awesome. I want to get these flicks in front of people so they can enjoy them, and possibly use them as a springboard to delve even deeper into video era and cult film obscurity. I’ve also always loved making cool packages / products. I mean, I’m a collector myself, and there’s just nothing like having a kick-ass package for your favorite movie or record or what have you. I love well-put-together, thoughtful, creative stuff, and in turn, I want to make groovy packages to share with likeminded individuals who will love it just like I do. All in all, I just want to spread the love, man.
VN: Are there any video stores still kicking around where you are? And which video stores shaped you as you grew up?
JS: There is! A most excellent video store resides in Ardmore, PA called Viva Video run by the most excellent dude Miguel Gomez. They still rent VHS, too – and have A TON of super-rare, VHS only stuff for rent. Amazing stuff like BLOOD LAKE, BAD RONALD, NEKROMANTIK, etc. It’s a fantastic little place, and Miguel is such rad person. I actually just did a screening of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL there, and we re-created the Emergo effect with the skeleton gliding above the crowd. It was a ton of fun!
My video store growing up? Video Vision in Bridgeton, NJ. Man, I just loved that place. It was like a ritual: every Friday night when I was a kid, my parents would pick up a pizza or some burgers or cheesesteaks and they’d let me rent a couple movies and maybe video game. I still remember being in those stacks just enamored with all of the movie boxes. Some were dingy and kinda grimy, rough around the edges… MAUSOLEUM, MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE, the PLAY DEAD big box… they were just so mesmerizing… and I just wanted to take them home SO BAD. I got to take home the movies for a little bit, though, and watch the shit out of them, which helped shape the Videvore I am today! And kind of bittersweet story, but when they were closing down in the early 2000s I was able to go there and grab a bunch of titles from their shelves. I feel like it’s really rad to have a bunch of tapes on my shelf with the Video Vision void sticker on ‘em. Just can’t put a price on that kind of magnetic magic.
VN: How will the loss of physical media affect future generations?
JS: Well, if you’ll allow me to make a goofy metaphor, it’s sort of like cooking a turkey in the microwave. It’s just not really how it’s supposed to be done. Sure, you can still process and consume it that way, but all the nuances of the action, all the things that make it real, make it human, more organic in a sense… they’re just removed.
It just seems like future generations and even to an extent my generation is more concerned with convenience over substance. And with that, you lose experiences. Experiences that become important memories. Like for me, the experience of rummaging through rental aisles as a kid, and now scouring through dirt malls and other wacky secondhand outlets, or holding a tape (or a record or a book) in your hand and being ensnared with the artwork. Even on to the sounds of the VCR, and the distinct aesthetics of a VHS tape, or a vinyl record’s amazing sound, or even the sound of a page being turned intermittently among a serene silence. That last one’s a bit romantic, but the idea is there’s something natural and warm about physical media.
And moreover on experiences, think about a kid that swiped his or her Dad’s R-rated slasher flick after he’s fast asleep, and then they crept down to the living room and watched the tape on mute in order to be completely surreptitious, and crossing their fingers while rewinding hoping that the churning of the VCR wouldn’t wake anyone. That’s the kind of memories people would be missing out on. Now kids can sit on their laptop with headphones and watch virtually whatever you want, and just close it up should your parents walk in. It’s just not daring. There’s no adventure. Not like there is with physical media and all the things that come along with it.
VN: Why VHS? And what does it hold for you?
JS: Well, all the things I mentioned and more. The nostalgia is huge for me. VHS is how I grew up watching movies, and it just comforts me in way, to watch flicks on video. Everything from pulling it from the shelf, slipping it from the case and feeding it to the VCR. The blue screen, the wonky tracking shifts in the beginning… just everything. It’s like second-nature for me. I enjoy the look of VHS, with the grainy, dingy picture… it’s just an aesthetic I enjoy. I know a lot of people are into hi-def, super- bright and clear picture nowadays, but for a lot of video era flicks, especially in the horror genre, that distinct look of VHS just adds to it somehow. It’s like magic. Yeah, man. Magnetic magic, you know?
And beyond all that, the VHS format preserves so many movies. Movies that will never make it to any other format. And I can count on VHS to have a virtually endless supply of insane content from feature length films, to wrestling, cartoons, Grave Digger clip tapes, weird cooking shows, nature documentaries, UFO sightings… man, you name it, and it’s on VHS. That notion of an endless ocean of diverse and sometimes unbelievable entertainment is one of the essential reasons why I love VHS.
VN: What is your “Holy Grail” VHS tape?
JS: Right now, it’s INQUISITION on City Lights / Chop ‘EM Ups Video. Damn, that tape is SO SWEET. The price tag on that one is a bit prohibitive, unfortunately, but I’m constantly on the hunt for a good deal, haha. The Catalina gatefold boxes are awesome. I’d like to have some of those. CARDS OF DEATH is high on the list. And I collect Star Classics illustrated covers… stuff like BLOOD LEGACY and PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK. I love all those. I’m up to about 25 now, and just nabbed PSYCHOMANIA and LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS which are both stellar. I’d like to have all the cult/horror/weird illustrated covers on Star Classics one day. But, yeah, right now, I REALLY want that INQUISITION. Anybody out there willing to let it go for a groovy price or even groovier trade, let a fellow Videovore know!
Interview conducted by Tyler Baptist. All contents copyright 2013 Videonomicon.