Meet the Dude on a Quest to Obtain Every Copy of BATMAN & ROBIN on VHS, and Use Them to Build a Life-size Statue of Mr. Freeze
By Josh Schafer
VHS collectors are a fascinating breed of fanatic. Tapeheads gather plastic slabs of cinema for myriad reasons that are often personal, and slathered with passion. Nostalgia is a major factor in many collectors’ endeavors, enabling them to connect with those distant, dusty, but ever-warm and radical memories of pre-adult life. There’s also the irresistible allure of eye-popping cover art, and in the world of VHS, there’s plenty of that visual VHStimulation to go around. Other collectors are inclined to uncover obscure oddities and incredible independent efforts that only VHS could preserve. You gotta love a dope rarity in its truest form.
Maybe the most unique and idiosyncratic approach to VHS collecting is the specificity angle. Whether it be a particular label (e.g. Vestron Video), a certain actor or director (perhaps going after every David Heavener movie out there), or type of video content (say 80s slashers, workout tapes or porno parodies), there’s a collector for it.
Then, there are some who take that specificity to a whole new level.
Take the wonderfully weird, VHS-driven creative EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE who have been amassing copies of Jerry McGuire with the idea to construct a pyramid in the desert, using only what have now affectionately become known as “Jerrys”. They haven’t done that yet – but they did create a video store where you could only rent copies of Jerry Maguire, among other super cool installations.
There’s also a guy with a van who collected copies of SPEED, another collector who is obsessed with SHREK, and a collector who has amassed a whopping collection of the horror trash classic Three on a Meathook. Funny story on that: for a while there, in the VHS collector world, collecting one title in particular was called “Meathooking.” The more you know.
And now, a collector known as Matt Awkward is out to nab every copy of Batman & Robin he can. This is his VHStory.
Tell us about yourself. How long have you been collecting tapes?
I’ve been collecting tapes pretty steadily since high school. Only back then I didn’t really regard it as collecting tapes as much as it was just having a big movie collection. I’ve always been obsessed with collecting movies. In high school, I worked at Home Vision Video and spent a lot of my meager wages on pre-viewed tapes there. I also never threw my tapes away when DVDs came out. I couldn’t understand why everybody was doing that. I was like, “These movies still play fine!” Throughout the years I always bought tapes and VCRs at thrift shops, but I never got into what I would call “Actual Collecting” until I joined the Facebook tape groups and Instagram about five years ago. That opened my eyes to so many titles I’d never heard of and wanted to get, and that’s where I pretty much transitioned from pack rat to collector.
What attracts you to the format? What’s VHS got that Blu-Ray and disc don’t?
I think for me like a ton of others out there, there’s definitely a nostalgia factor there. When I was 10 my parents were divorced. I lived with my Mom and my Dad would pick me up every Wednesday night to rent a movie and get a pizza. I always wanted to rent horror movies but my Mother wouldn’t let me. My Dad would let me rent anything and I just loved that secret feeling of getting what I wasn’t allowed. It’s so cliché but I love surrounding myself with all those titles I used to rent from Downeast Pharmacy! I have nothing against DVDs or Blus, but they sure do not look half as cool lining your shelves as the big thick tape spines do, and that’s kinda been my decorating scheme for the past 25 years and I’m definitely a creature of habit!
What are some of your Videovore habits? Do you have a favorite releasing label? Preferred Genres? Do you like Batman & Robin?
I don’t really have a favorite releasing label, although I am partial to Vestrons and Prisms, due to them releasing so many movies I absolutely love. Recently I’ve been after late release Lion’s Gates and other tapes from around 2004-05 because they can be very hard to find due to the small amount of copies made, and that’s been a fun challenge. My favorite genre is horror for sure, and specifically more light weight horror, goofy slashers and creature features. I’m not a super gore hound or a disturbing horror head, I just love me that USA Up All Night-style kind of schlock.
And yes, I absolutely love Batman & Robin. It’s such a special masterpiece of amazing-looking super-dumb fun, and Arnold’s Mr. Freeze is one of my all-time favorite film characters. He’s just perfect.
Tell us about your Batman & Robin collection. How did it all start? Why this film in particular? Why multiple copies of it?
The wild thing about my Batman & Robin collection is I honestly can’t remember why it started. It began on my Instagram first, and going back through my account I can’t even find an answer! I do remember somebody asking once why I had so many copies, and I answered as a joke that I was going to build a life-size statue of Mr. Freeze out of them. After I said that, I couldn’t get my stupid comment out of my head and it actually sounded like a good idea! So that is my goal now, and I fully believe I can accomplish this if I put my bat brain to it!
How many copies do you have now?
A buddy of mine here in town met me up in the parking lot of my work yesterday and presented me with copy 257! Nothing like handing off masked heroes while wearing masks.
How did you gather so many copies?
That’s a fun story! I started the Batman & Robin Mystery Exchange Club on Instagram and that became a stellar success! I put out a call that if you send me a Batman & Robin I’d send you a mystery tape back, and boy did the great people out there take me up on my offer! There’s such a great community of people on Instagram and my collection wouldn’t be anything like it is without them.
Soon people started sending me other Batman & Robin memorabilia, like toys, shirts, backpacks, promotional items; it got really crazy. I got home from work one day and there was a giant surprise box at the door from my buddy Blake. It was full-size cardboard standees of Batman & Robin! Insanity! But yeah, every copy I have has been thrifted by me or given to me from people. I haven’t found one myself in my area in quite some time now! Haha!
Were you familiar with the other single copy collecting that’s been going on in the rewind world?
I was. I donated a few Jerrys to the Terrible boys while they were in town, and I’ve seen the articles about the Shrek guy and the Speed guy, and I’m obviously familiar with that infamous Meathook collection. I like to say Bathooking: It’s like Meathooking but with 100 percent less negativity.
Do you have a set number of copies you’d like to attain? Or is it just as many as you can handle?
I do not have a set amount to attain, but I’m not slowing down. I haven’t actually planned out how the statue will come together but I did just find some graph paper under my couch while cleaning the other day, so maybe that’s a sign that it’s time to get real.
Can people send you copies to help with the collection?
Oh, absolutely! The phones are open and operators are standing by. Hit me up on the Instagram at mattawkward_vhs.fiend or find me on the Facebook under my fake name Matthew Gagne.
What’s it like to come home to 250+ copies of B&R every day?
It’s funny: they’re all stacked up in our dining room (much to the chagrin of my wife) and I’m so used to it that it kind of just blends into the normalcy of my house. But every now and then I’ll be walking through that room and stop and look at them all, start to wonder if I’m crazy, then reassure myself I’m not and it’s been such a fun journey of meeting cool peeps that helped out with the stack and the fact that the ludicrousness of it all has brought a lot of fun to people makes me very happy.
I recently noticed, however, that my cat recently used the wall as a scratching post, so I really gotta get moving and thrift a new shelf for these bad boys!
What’s next, man?!
Well, like I said, the statue must be built! I may need to rent a storage space or small art studio to make it happen for my house is quite tiny, but by golly… we gonna do this!
Anything else you wanna VHShout out to all the Videovores hangin’ in Lunchmeat Land?!
I just hope everybody out there is having a great time and finding great tapes and having fun with their collections, whether it be filled with commons or rares, as long as it makes ya happy. One person’s wall of Bats is another person’s wall of trash. Stay VHSafe, be kind, and keep it surreal. Awkward, out.
Groove and Groove and CHILL.