07th Jun2021

HORRHIFFIC 2021: ‘VHS Forever? Once Upon a Time in Camden’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Written and Directed by Mark Williams

There has been an explosion in recent years of documentaries taking a look back at VHS, mainly from an American perspective (and often focussing more on the current rarity of said tapes rather than the nostalgia factor) with films like Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking. However here in the UK most documentaries related to the VHS era have focussed more on the video nasties (think Jake West & Marc Morris’ two popular docs). However 2014’s VHS Forever? Psychotronic People took a fond look back on the early days of video from a very British perspective, including the underground videotape scene in the UK – in particular those folks connected to the Camden-based video store known as Psychotronic Video – and those who lived through that period of time, including the likes of Evil Dead artist Graham Humphreys, screenwriter David McGillivray, journalist Allan Bryce and director Norman J. Warren.

VHS Forever? Once Upon a Time in Camden follows on from the first, focussing totally on the Camden-based video store, Psychotronic Video. It’s been 25 years since the store opened and yes, the Psychotronic store does [sort of] live on at the Camden Film Fair – but this documentary focuses on the store at its peak(s), with stories of, and from, the customers that frequented the store in its various iterations over the years.

Originally opened as a basement shop in Camden by Bal Croce, Psychotronic Video actually hijacked its name from the US film magazine originally started by publisher/editor Michael J. Weldon. That fanzine dealt with the weird and wonderful end of cinema – as did the Psychotronic Video store. Though our Psychotronic store also did a wonderful sideline in dodgy third-generation bootleg tapes, selling films under the counter to a voracious, but select, group of punters. Well I say punters but the stories told in this documentary tell an interesting tale, one of a real sense of community, where customers become friends rather than punters. It’s the kind of community ethos that people THINK has only existed in the age of the internet… but it clearly hasn’t.

What Psychotronic Video has also done is had a hand in the industry we know today. A young David Gregory, now the owner of boutique Blu-ray label Severin Films, appears in this documentary telling his story of how he used to frequent the store as a doe-eyed 15 year old. Then there’s an appearance from legendary horror artist Graham Humphreys; the founder of Eastern Heroes magazine Ricky Baker; Paul Brown of Midnight Media and the Camden Film Fairs; and Scala Cinema programmer Jane Giles (who, along with the cinema, deserves to be the subject of a documentary herself).

Unfortunately there’s something sorely missing from VHS Forever? Once Upon a Time in Camden. Yes, we get people extolling the virtue of the store, we get “celebs” discussing its influence. But we don’t get anything from those that ran the store itself… It’s a shame but then when the documentary focusses on less-than-legal activities – no matter how punk and anti-establishment they may have been – you probably don’t want your face plastered across the screen, Even less so when some of the talking heads in this doc are stories of 15 year olds buying video nasties!

A great follow-up to the original, VHS Forever? Once Upon a Time in Camden screened on Saturday June 5th as part of the Romford Horror Film Festival.

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