Last night, weary students in Bass Library were given the opportunity to take a break from their work by watching a series of murders on screen.
Roughly 30 attendees flocked to Bass for a screening of “Driller Killer,” which follows an artist who murders a number of people using a drill. The screening was the first installment in “Zombies, Maniacs and Monsters,” a series of horror movie screenings shown in VHS format that will take place throughout the semester in Bass. Attendees interviewed said they were largely unfamiliar with the featured film but were nonetheless interested in seeing it out of curiosity.
“I have no expectations, I came because I thought ‘Driller Killer’ was a cool name,” Kevin Su ’16 said.
Kaplanoff Librarian for American History David Gary, who organized the series, said that “Zombies, Maniacs and Monsters” will exclusively screen VHS tapes, adding that one objective of the series is to showcase the breadth of Yale’s VHS collection. Gary added that he and Aaron Pratt GRD ’16 cultivated the collection, which now holds roughly 3,000 VHS tapes. According to Gary, the hope is that the movie nights will not only encourage Yalies to take advantage of the University’s unique collection but also to shed light on the historical significance of VHS.
Pratt said that while the tapes themselves may be outdated, their relevance in academia persists.
“VHS was the first format that truly brought movies into the homes of everyday consumers,” Pratt said. “The importance of this cannot be overstated.”
Gary explained that renting or purchasing movies instead of viewing them in theaters endowed consumers in the VHS period with unprecedented freedom. As a result of this freedom, he added, viewers were then able to watch movies that were long gone from theaters. The emergence of VHS thus coincided with the reemergence of various bygone films, Gary noted.
VHS period also saw a shift in consumer demand towards genres such as horror, pornography and exploitation, Pratt said. While consumers may have been embarrassed to watch these movies in public spaces, he explained, VHS allowed consumers to watch socially stigmatized material in the privacy of their own homes. The Yale collection culls heavily from the horror and exploitation categories, Pratt noted.
According to Platt, horror and exploitation films are arguably more effective than other genres in elucidating contemporary social anxieties.
“You could understand much of what concerned Americans during the Reagan years by watching nothing but horror movies,” Pratt said. “There are titles that deal with the AIDS crisis, environmental disasters, white flight to the suburbs, the drug wars, both suburban and urban crime — you name it, horror’s got it.”
Gary said that because fledgling filmmakers often began their careers experimenting with horror films and unencumbered by the bureaucratic limitations of established production agencies, these filmmakers tended to confront taboo cultural tensions with candor.
VHS tapes take on an additional significance as cultural artifacts, Gary said. Many VHS boxes were decorated with flashy and alluring artwork that merits serious academic examination, he explained. Gary also noted that VHS tapes deteriorate easily, which Film and Media Studies professor Francesco Casetti listed as a strong reason to preserve them.
Zachary Schlesinger ’17 said that he found “Driller Killer” “very gory” and “very sexual.”
The next VHS Horror Movie Night will be on Oct. 13 and will screen “Toxic Zombies.”
Correction, Sept. 23: A previous version of this article incorrectly suggested that the Yale VHS collection culls heavily from horror, exploitation and pornography. In fact, it culls from horror and exploitation, not pornography.