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Houston VHS swap meet attracts fans of the old format

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HOUSTON (AP) - For Rick Carruth, it started with "Star Wars."
    
A lifelong fan of the franchise, he wanted to watch the original three films in their unaltered, theatrical versions. But those versions have never been released on DVD, so Carruth, 39, sought out what he wanted on VHS.
    
The Houston Chronicle reports the boxy black tapes brought back memories from his 1980s childhood, and soon he wanted more movies on VHS.
    
"I started falling in love with the format all over again," he said.
    
Carruth would find his tapes at resale shops and online, mostly secondhand and always at bargain-bin prices. A year later, he's now filled a closet with his VHS collection. "It's turning into an obsession," he confessed.
    
He was one of 21 sellers at a recent Houston VHS Swap. In the crowded, concrete-floored Insomnia Gallery in Houston's East End, he presided over a folding table full of used tapes - "Dazed and Confused," ''The Karate Kid," ''Halloween 4" - most of them priced between $1 and $3.
    
VHS tapes are not the most graceful technology. They're clunky and thick. Their plastic protector panels break off too easily. They have to be rewound.
    
And, perhaps most important, they're obsolete. According to Popular Mechanics, the last new VCR rolled off the assembly line two years ago.
    
Even so, a small but passionate group of collectors remains devoted to the VHS format. Dozens of them filtered through the swap meet, buying and selling VHS tapes for a few dollars each. They snapped up cartoons and classics, rare horror films and B movies that never made it to DVD.
    
"Bride of Chucky" and "Deliverance" were piled up next to "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead." ''The Blair Witch Project" bumped up against "Charlotte's Web."
    
The swap meet was organized by Jason Champion, a 37-year-old VHS enthusiast who last year opened a fully functional video store - Champion Video - in the garage of his Houston home.
    
Champion had seen swap meets in other cities, so earlier this year he decided to coordinate one in Houston.
    
"I really didn't think people would care or show up," he said. But the first meet in April attracted a few dozen sellers and buyers, and for the July 1 meet - the third - he had to turn vendors away because the gallery couldn't hold them all.
    
Many are in their 30s and 40s. They grew up in the 1980s and 1990s and remember life before digital media, when they rented VHS tapes in plastic boxes at Blockbuster.
    
"I guess it's what I grew up on," said Pete Adame, 44. He sells and trades retro toys and videos, and he likes to watch movies on the old TV/VCR combo he keeps in his Pasadena garage.
    
There are better ways to see a movie now, Adame acknowledged - the tapes don't hold up today's high-definition, giant-screen standards. But he doesn't mind. "To me, when these were made, that's the way they were meant to be watched," he said.
    
Tayvis Dunnahoe said he streams digital media just as much as the next guy, but he has a different set of expectations for a VHS film.
    
"For me, it's pure nostalgia," Dunnahoe said. "When I watch a tape, it's not always about just (watching) the best-quality version of the film. A lot of times it's just kind of going back to that root of how I saw it the first time I watched it."
    
Dunnahoe, who's known among VHS collectors as Benny Junko, is all about "keeping physical media alive." He and his wife, Nancy Agin Dunnahoe, operate the online shop Video Sanctum, which specializes in horror.
    
In fact, just about every vendor at this month's event had at least a small collection of horror films, from the rare to the classic to the campy.
    
"We're horror fanatics," said Debra Santos, 32. She and her husband, Nasario Santos Jr., bought a bag full of videos Sunday, from 1979's "Nosferatu the Vampyre" to "Cujo," based on the Stephen King novel.
    
"A lot of people who are into VHS are primarily horror collectors," said seller Ryan Allison. He said he recently paid a dollar at Half Price Books for a trashy horror thriller called "Slash Dance," then sold it to a collector for $150.
    
"No one here is necessarily banking big money off all these things," Allison said. Most of the tapes in his cardboard boxes were labeled $2, $3, or $4.
    
But that could change over time, he said. "Things get rarer the older they get," Allison said. Old VHS tapes get tossed into the trash every day, but that just makes the surviving copies more valuable.
    
Carruth, who got into VHS tapes through "Star Wars," went to the first swap meet just to shop. Now he's got a little side business called Rick's Picks, which allows him to trade and sell the movies he grew up with.
    
"I've just fallen in love with it," he said. "It was cool to be able to find those pieces of my childhood."
    
Carruth has even gotten his brother into VHS collecting - and his brother is sharing it with the next generation.
    
"He's showing stuff to his kids now" on VHS, Carruth said. "And they're kind of getting into it."

Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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