In the late '80s and early '90s if you wanted to find something that wasn't available on VHS yet you turned to the tape trading circuit. For me, living in a small town, my only source for movies were the theater, the local video stores, and cable. So, the tape trading circuit was a Godsend for me.
In certain magazines like Film Threat, or Factsheet 5, there would be classifieds by someone offering a list of their movies. You sent them a self-addressed stamped envelope, and they sent you a list of movies they had and the movies they wanted. If you had nothing to trade you could purchase videos with cash. Once you procured a decent collection, you could start trading. The movie I went searching for that introduced me to it all, my gateway drug, was HEAVY METAL.
HEAVY METAL took its sweet ass time being released on video. Released in 1981, it wouldn't see an official video release until fifteen years later due to music licensing issues. I saw it on its HBO run in 1982. Titties, gore, monsters, corvettes in space! In a cartoon? Fuck yes. My little mind was blown. As the years passed, I built this movie into epic proportions. When I finally got my hands on it, straight from my mailbox, it was a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I love HEAVY METAL, but it wasn't everything I had built it up as. I think this was my first lesson on being blinded by my nostalgia glasses. I still love it and watch it to this day, but honestly, the stories aren't that satisfying. (Except the B-17 bomber one.)
Most of the traded copies came with the old school HBO opening with the camera panning through city streets and up into the HBO logo in the sky.
There were quite a few nostalgic titles that never had a proper release, FUZZBUCKET, MR. BOOGEDY, BRIDE OF BOOGEDY, and THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL. (Everyone knew that one was bad, but wanted it to find out how bad.) One of my favorites though was this one:
THE BOOGENS (1981)
Just like HEAVY METAL, THE BOOGENS was released in 1981 but didn't get an official video release until 1997. And like HEAVY METAL I saw it on its HBO run in 1982.
Set in a Colorado mining town, two mining veterans take two recent college grads to blast open an abandoned silver mine. The two college guys just want to hurry up and get the job over with, they've got a couple of girls coming over and other caves they'd rather be in. But the blasting has awoken THE BOOGENS. Their horny girlfriends show up, with an annoying poodle (Boogen food), and soon they begin disappearing one by one.
THE BOOGENS is a throwback, to fun, monster movies. Hell, it was a throwback when it opened. At the time of its release, holiday-themed slasher films were all the rage. Just six months before it hit theaters, a slasher movie in a similar setting was released, (MY BLOODY VALENTINE). THE BOOGENS even follows the slasher movie template, except the killer turns out to be a little tentacled turtle monster with giant pointy teeth. Despite the plural title, there's only one Boogen, and the creature design and effects are great.
I don't know why THE BOOGENS took sixteen years to get an official release, but it deserved better. I honestly believe that if it were on video shelves during the mid-eighties video boom, it would've had a bigger cult following.
FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1971)
FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE didn't have an official North American video release until 2016 when it was finally available on Blu-ray. It was also a rare find on the trading circuit. This was the first movie I scored that I used for trading.
Two men are on the run from a black helicopter with their hands tied behind their backs. Why? That's never explained.
The two men are played by Malcolm McDowell and Robert Shaw. Malcolm McDowell's Ansell is a London ladies' man and a pacifist. Robert Shaw's MacConnachie is a family man who will destroy anyone who gets in his path to survival. As the movie progresses, McDowell begins having a breakdown, and Shaw goes into psycho mode swearing vengeance on the helicopter pilot.
I've read a few reviews for this movie, and the thing I like the most about it is what frustrates most others. It leaves a big chunk of story to your imagination. It drops you into the middle of a movie already in full swing, and never gives an answer as to why these characters are in this situation. One of the highlights of this movie is the interactions between the two main characters. It seems they've been acquainted, but basically complete strangers to each other. Shaw has a nickname for McDowell, and he calls him Billiards. Don't know why. Must've been from a story McDowell told to Shaw previously.
Of course, the acting is brilliant. Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell are both just a few years away from having their most iconic screen roles. This had to have been a physically demanding shoot. With several scenes of the actors running the length of a football field (at the least) in one take. It's an interesting action film, and much easier to find these days.
Sometimes filmmakers put their short films on the tape trading market when they couldn't self-distribute them for whatever legal reasons. SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY (1987) is one instance. A biopic of the Carpenters created using customized Barbie dolls. Which makes sense considering the film focuses on Karen Carpenter's battle with anorexia nervosa. That sounds horrible I know, but the film shows sympathy for her and the pressures she was under. The short was slapped with a cease and desist order from Richard Carpenter, Karen's older brother and immediately stopped from being distributed by the filmmakers. It found its way onto the tape trading circuit and became a cult favorite.
Same happened with HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT (1986).
In 1986 documentary filmmakers filmed a parking lot in Landover, Maryland before a Judas Priest concert on their Fuel For Life Tour with opening act Dokken. (In Canada their opening act was Bon Jovi.) Like a wildlife documentary, they caught metalheads interacting in their natural environment.
Because Judas Priest thought this was an insult to their fanbase, they wouldn't allow music rights. So this film was also put on the tape trading circuit where it gained cult status, and deservedly so. I was a metalhead in the '80s. I've seen Rob Halford onstage. He was in a band called Fight, and they were opening for one of my favorite band's Anthrax. I've never actually been in a HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT, I've been in a few heavy metal parking garages, and waited in my fair share of heavy metal lines in front of a venue. Due to the huge popularity, Judas Priest finally relented on the music rights, and it was given a DVD release in 2006.
I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT was the inspiration behind one of my favorite episodes of BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD. The episode titled, Take a Number, the boys are at a parking lot before a heavy metal show, they meet a couple of girls who look straight out of the documentary. They have to find tickets to meet up with the girls but end up stuck in line at the port-o-potties. The thing most people remember from that episode is the Rock and Roll Guy.
After watching this episode with my friends when it first aired, I remember saying, "I think Mike Judge has seen HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT." I couldn't prove it. But I would still be willing to put up money on it.
Videos were going viral on the tape trading circuit. They weren't called viral videos. Nobody called them anything. We just found random clips of something we liked and passed them around to each other.
And I doubt anyone will ever try to argue this with me, but the thing to get passed around and have the biggest success would be Trey Parker and Matt Stone's THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS (SANTA VS. JESUS).
So, this was passed around, and its' popularity would eventually get Parker and Stone a deal for a show we all know.
But there was another one. One they made when they were in film school. I didn't see this on the tape trading circuit (although it was there). I saw this years later on Austin Public Access. THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS (SANTA VS. FROSTY).
Mostly you could pay the guy you were buying or trading with a couple of extra bucks to throw one of these on your VHS movie. I used to send a note to specify I wanted it before the movie. Because who wants to fast forward through credits to find your extras?
Here are a few examples. You can find most of these on YouTube.
WINNEBAGO MAN: A grumpy man was having a hard day doing a promotional video. He reminds me of my Dad, and I wanna hug him.
APOCALYPSE POOH: A wonderful mash-up of APOCALYPSE NOW and WINNIE THE POOH. There's also a mash-up of the Archie cartoon band doing The Ramones, and God Save the Queen. Also, THE PEANUTS mashed with BLUE VELVET.
UNCLE GODDAMN: A terrible group of trailer park kids tormenting their drunken Uncle by spray painting his head silver, wrapping it in acrylic tape, and then pouring lighter fluid on his crotch, and setting it on fire.
THE GO-GO'S HOTEL VIDEO: I immediately got this one because it was called GO-GO'S BACKSTAGE SEX VIDEO. That's just blatant false advertising. What actually happens is, the band tries to get some random girl to have sex with one of their roadies. The guy is so wasted on quaaludes he can't get it up and passes out. One of the girls runs a lit flame across his ass. Then the cameraman, also a roadie, shoves a vibrator up his butt. From the band that brought us, Our Lips Are Sealed, comes a video about a guy who wishes his butthole was sealed.
REVEREND ROBERT TILTON FARTING: Robert Tilton was huge in the '90s. So was this video of fart effects edited into his preaching and funny faces. Funny for a second.
But my hands down favorite. Without a doubt. Underrated, but not to me. I still quote it to this day. "We can sing together, but we can't talk together." "What kinda bidness men yall is?" "Hey, take me to the movies." The man, the myth, the D-I-C-K-E-M-A-N.
LARRY "DICKEMAN" WILLIAMS GIVES DIRECTIONS
My guy in New York sent me this as a bonus on a video of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 that had all the deleted scenes edited back into the movie, including the UT parking lot massacre, and the Joe Bob Briggs murder scene. I think I watched the Dickeman more than Chainsaw.
I live on a small island that's almost impossible to get lost on. But if they came out with a Larry Williams GPS, I would get one immediately. Sure it would give complicated, impossible to follow directions, but after it was done it would offer to help you get some weed or some pussy.
The Dickeman was born into the wrong era. If this video came out today, he would become an overnight sensation and be the star of more memes than Alex Jones.
I wish the camera guys would have just followed Larry around for the rest of the day. Everything that comes out of his mouth is solid gold, and it can come 'round the clock.
So they're was also porn in tape trading. Not something I looked for, but the description of one movie caught my eye.
CAFE FLESH (1982)
Post apocalypse science fiction porn. Sold.
After a nuclear holocaust, humankind is divided into two groups. The negatives get repulsed and violently ill if they touch another, and the positives can touch and have sex. So the negatives have the positives go to Cafe Flesh and perform sex for them onstage. Nick and Lana are workers at the club, but he's a negative, and she's positive. Soon the stage starts calling for Lana. That sounds like a pretty solid idea for a porn.
The movie has a cerebral storyline, but unfortunately, nothing else in the movie can keep up. Of course, no actor in their right mind would want an adult film on their resume, so the acting is, of course, porn movie acting. Michelle Bauer (SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA) plays Lana. This was after her penthouse gig and before her acting career (her sex scenes were done by a body double). The emcee of Cafe Flesh is just dreadful, and he has most of the speaking lines in the movie. Comedian Richard Belzer, (pre Hulk Hogan slam), is in the film briefly as an uncredited audience member. I have a feeling he was meant to play the MC but opted out at the last second, and they replaced him with a pornstar.
And the movie is dark. I don't mean dark in tone, I mean dark as in I can't see shit. There are some interesting sets, but that doesn't matter if you can hardly see them.
It was filmed in the early eighties, so that means a lot of hair. Not just on their heads. Apparently, razors were hard to come by in the post-apocalyptic future.
If you would like to see Cafe Flesh, it's available to watch on a site that rhymes with CornRub.
The tape trading circuit eventually moved to disc. For a while, it co-existed with the internet. It was nice to have a physical copy of something you could take to a friend's house. But once the internet became just as easily mobile, it became a relic.
It's still around, mostly it is people trading physical copies of really old DOCTOR WHO episodes, and soap opera episodes. Nothing for me.
But I still miss the excitement of checking my mail and finding something I couldn't wait to get home and watch.
There is unfortunately not much information on this subject online. So, if you have some tales from the tape trading circuit, please share them in the talkback below.