If you missed our post about Video Store Day from earlier in this year’s Halloween Countdown, the event’s official Facebook page has all the information you need.
Although the improved image quality and scene selection abilities of DVD (and later Blu-Ray) helped sell the public on switching away from VHS, many people also note how special features helped convinced them to make the switch. But, depending on how one defines “special features,” it can be argued the concept originated on VHS!
While the first commentary track appeared on the Criterion Laserdisc release of King Kong in 1984, Warner Home Video unveiled a special line of VHS releases called “A Night At The Movies” in 1982. As noted on the packaging, the tape started with a cartoon, newsreel, and trailers (all of which had been released during the same year as the feature presentation). But it’s also possible the concept dates back even further! The VHS release of the 1979 obscurity Satan War includes a 15 minute bogus “documentary” on voodoo in order to make up for the short running time of the movie. However, the scarcity of information on the film prevents an exact determination of whether or not the film was released directly to VHS. If it wasn’t released that way on 1979, it’s even possible the “documentary” was included during its original release. Depending on which eBay listing you see it under, Video Gems’ VHS release of The Young Tiger was either released in 1980 or 1989. All that is known for sure this how a short featurette about Jackie Chan was included despite his not actually being the the movie (although he did have a minor role in a different film with the same name). Similarly, an 80’s release of The Terminator in Australia and New Zealand apparently included a behind-the-scenes look at Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. Numerous anime video releases in Japan included features like “clean openings” and music videos, but cataloging all of those would be an article in and of itself! The same goes for the countless bonus features on wrestling VHS tapes.
But let’s get back to a precise dates. 1985 saw the release of Prism Entertainment’s “Marvel Comics Video Library” line, which included two bonus cartoons in addition a cartoon featuring the super hero (or villain) depicted on the cover. That was a huge deal considering how many children’s entertainment releases, Marvel-related or not, were often limited to a single episode per tape. This even lasted into the 1990’s (but thankfully stopped). A Dokken music video was included on the 1987 video release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors and 1988 saw the inclusion of Thriller on the VHS release of Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s not too often you see what should have been the main event being included as a bonus feature! Especially when one considers how documentaries about the making of a film were usually sold separately. In 1989, Cabin Fever Entertainment’s release of Solarman included a bonus interview with Stan Lee.
The next year marked a major event in the world of special features. That’s when Charles Band included the short “No Strings Attached” documentary on the VHS for Puppet Master. It success immediately led to other Full Moon releases including a “VideoZone” segment. At least one other low budget horror label tried copying the concept years later. However this unique mix of a video magazine about the company combined with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film eventually became a simple behind-the-scenes featurette on Full Moon releases long after DVD replaced VHS as the format of choice. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child made its home video debut in 1990 and included a Whodini music video. Pizza Hut had an interesting promotion with the 90’s X-Men animated series where customers could purchase episodes of the show on VHS. These “Creator’s Choice” videos included a segment where various people associated with the comic book discussed the characters. Unsold copies later turned up at Kay Bee Toys! Both the British and American releases of the 1993 release The Stranger: In Memory Alone include a behind-the-scenes featurette and blooper reel. The Doctor Who serial Silver Nemesis received a special edition VHS release in 1994. Not only did it feature an extended cut of the story, but it also included a short film about the making of the serial! Speaking of Doctor Who videos, the spin-off Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans was also released that year by and also included a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film! The inclusion of such a documentary on the initial video releases was fairly common on future Doctor Who spin-off releases and was often necessary since the films themselves sometimes fell well under feature length. In fact, the back of the box would give the total running time of the film and documentary rather than just the film! Disney included a most unusual special feature on their 1995 release Gargoyles: The Movie, a VCR board game! Another animated children’s video, Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins included a special video game code and behind-the-scenes look at the live action Mortal Kombat movie.
Once DVD came onto the scene in 1996, things really picked up on VHS in the 90’s. Not only did more bonus cartoons start appearing on kids’ titles, but the “Special 30th Anniversary Collection” of the first few episodes Ultraman included several bonuses. Not only was there a subtitled interview with legendary kaiju suit performer Haruo Nakajima, but it also included a subtitled version of the original Japanese opening credits and the unaired alternate American opening sequence! A special widescreen VHS of The Usual Suspects also saw release with the director’s commentary playing over it. Unsurprisingly, this was sold as part of a set with the uninterrupted movie. This was also done with Scream the following year, which also saw the pilot animatic for Daria included as a bonus on a VHS compilation of episodes from the show and more bonus cartoons on Marvel releases! By 1999, Anchor Bay was including outtakes and the like after the movies on their tapes finished. It wasn’t unusual to see such features on indie obscurities like The Bag Witch Project, either. Even some bargain bin companies were including bonus features on VHS when 2003 rolled around. But once VHS finally gave up the ghost, the concept died. Now that the VHS revival has occurred, even new VHS releases of older titles include bonus features!
Please feel free to post about other examples in the comments, as there’s probably numerous ones that were not included above. But more importantly, be sure to go out and support your local video store!
Happy Video Store Day!
Special thanks to Eyesore Cinema for use of the image!