Rewind revival 

VHS and Chill events make nostalgic movies on tape cool.

click to enlarge The Peels’ tape collection - VHS AND CHILL/PROVIDED
  • VHS and Chill/provided
  • The Peels’ tape collection

In the beginning, there was RoboCop, a VHS copy in a cardboard box full of old movies and episodes of Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer taped from television. For “like $10,” Sean Peel, founder of VHS and Chill and theater manager at soon-to-open Rodeo Cinema, bought an old VCR/TV combo from a thrift store to watch these artifacts from his youth. Seeing RoboCop again and the bank of TVs in antagonist Dick Jones’ office gave Peel a bigger idea.

“I figured, ‘Hey, it’s 2016,’” Peel said. “‘That can’t be that much, to get a bunch of old TVs together and build a TV wall.’ So I hit up a bunch of thrift shops and pawn shops, and for five-to-10 bucks a pop bought, I think it started with nine CRT TVs and just in my garage built a TV wall, wired them all together with coax cables and splitters, hooked it up to a VCR. That was the birth of it, building that TV wall in my garage. After that, we just started having what we called VHS and Chill parties, where we’d have a couple of friends over and I’d have a couple of VHS tapes that I’d scrounged around and gotten a hold of.”

Peel’s collection expanded exponentially when he saw a Craigslist ad selling “a garage full” of VHS tapes — Peel estimates between 1,100 and 1,200 — and bought the entire lot for $100. He sold a few valuable rarities (Blockbuster exclusives, an original first printing of Labyrinth) and installed shelving in his own garage for the rest of the collection. Meanwhile VHS and Chill events were becoming more popular.

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger and people kept coming to my parties,” Peel said. “Then my friends started wanting to invite other people, and they were bringing friends that they knew that we didn’t know. ... We’d have people sitting out in the driveway on folding chairs and stuff, just doing showings. It was pretty much just like, ‘OK, now there’s too many people in the house, people you don’t know. It’s getting too big.’ So the wife is like, ‘You’ve got to take this out somewhere,’ and we did just try to find some shows around town, publicly.”

click to enlarge Sean Peel’s TV wall - VHS AND CHILL/PROVIDED
  • VHS and Chill/provided
  • Sean Peel’s TV wall

Roll it back

At the request of his wife, Jessica, Peel started an LLC under the VHS and Chill name and began hosting public screenings in August 2017, beginning with a Jeff Goldblum double feature (1984’sThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and 1988’s Vibes) at IAO Gallery and followed by screenings at 51st Street Speakeasy. Even after the popularity of his house parties, Peel said he was surprised at the response the public VHS and Chill screenings had.

“I was amazed at all the other tape heads I ran into in Oklahoma City — like there was other people out here doing this — and connecting with them and helping them and trading tapes with other cats,” Peel said. “Anything old like that people really dig. Just for one of my shows, I’ve brought a completely unopened sealed tape and people want to be the first one to open it, something that’s been sealed since it was first printed.”

Peel said watching old VHS tapes takes him back to the earliest days of his film fandom.

“I was born early ’80s, grew up in the ’90s and I’ve been a big movie kid since I think ’93 when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time,” Peel recalled. “When I saw that, it was over. I wanted to watch every movie ever made. I ended up working at video stores, Blockbusters, Video Update, Movie Gallery, Hollywood [Video]. I worked for the movie theater AMC back before Quail Springs was even built, at that little Northpark AMC. I worked there as an usher. I just fell in love with movies, and I had this giant VHS collection back in the day. I sold that when DVDs came out.”

A History of Violence (2006) was the last movie to get an official major release on VHS, but Peel said the continued fascination with the outdated medium means newer films can be found through unofficial channels.

“There’s a culture where people put modern things on VHS,” Peel said. “I’ve got Blade Runner 2049. I’ve got the new It. I’ve got the Guardians of the Galaxy movies on VHS tapes with VHS covers, cardboard and everything, just like they came out in the ’90s. … I’ve got the Blu-ray 4K copy of Blade Runner 2049, but still, if I have the choice, if it’s right there, I’ll put in the VHS of it and kick back and have just the same experience, the same good time as I would watching it in a Dolby Theatre or whatever.”

Getting creative

The VHS and Chill screening of Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) 8:30 p.m. Thursday at 51st Street Speakeasy, 1114 NW 51st St., will utilize a DVD copy of the never-released-on-VHS film, which horror film fan site Bloody Disgusting called “a flick that’s so mind-numbingly inept and awful in every conceivable way that it’s mesmerizing.” However, Peel will be putting together a special preshow “mixtape” on VHS, a procedure complicated by obsolete technology.

“It is ridiculous,” Peel said, “because I don’t have a VCR or anything hooked up to my computer right now, what I’ll do is actually edit it together with modern editing software. I’ll put together a show, and then I’ll have to upload that to YouTube, just privately, I don’t publish it, and then I’ll run into the garage where I’ve got an old XBox 360 hooked up to a VCR because the Xbox 360 still works and it’s got a YouTube app, and I’ll play the YouTube video and hit record on the VCR, and then I’ll hit stop when it’s over. That’s the process I’ve got right now.”

When Rodeo Cinema opens, Peel said he will be lobbying to screen some films in his beloved old format in the new theater.

“Of course I’m going to try and sneak in some late-night VHS shows,” Peel said. “Of course I’ve already got a VCR in there hooked up that I’ve tested out and it works great in the theater on the big screen. The only thing is the audio quality is a bit rough. There’s a little hiss to it, but yesterday I was watching Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise on VHS, and the surround sound was great. It was perfect.”


Location Details 51st Street Speakeasy
1114 NW 51st St.
Northwest OKC
Oklahoma City, OK
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