Movies on TV and Videocassette by Steven H. Scheuer
We were the first family on the block and at my school to get a VCR when they came out en masse in Finland in the early ’80s. My dad bought a silver top-loading Panasonic with a corded remote control. This was back when consumer electronics were still built to last, and we certainly put this remarkably constructed machine through some hoops. We would drive to neighboring cities if we heard there was a store that carried tapes, and we would be regulars at all the rental shops within a 20-mile radius around our home.
We mostly watched action films. We saw, yes, all the Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson films, but we were not very discriminating. All a movie needed to be was “entertaining.” This meant watching dubbed Italian spy films starring Henry Silva, Fred Williamson or Stacy Keach, oddball British comedies, Yugoslavian war films, and martial arts movies from somewhere in the Orient, featuring leads with names like Bruce Li. As long as there was movement on the screen — running, chasing, shooting, jumping, tackling — we watched it. Given that most tapes were either originally in English or dubbed into English, this is also where I learned my second language.
It wasn’t very long before the volume of available movies became impossible to master. Fortunately for us, a film and TV magazine, Katso (“Look”), started publishing an annual guide to films on video. It categorized the films in genres (Drama, War, Horror, Comedy, Thriller, etc.) and had a star rating system that was accompanied by pithy one sentence reviews. Never a religious person, I made this guide my personal bible. I would pore over the pages, read the reviews, compile lists of films I’d seen and rate them myself in a filing system of small index cards. I’d compile charts of films I wanted to see and then divide these obsessively into lists to carry around with me to the stores.
By the mid-’80s I would ride my bike for miles, or take the train to Helsinki (a 20-minute ride), and spend hours scouring any shop that looked like it might have some obscure gems from tiny VHS labels in a back room. I came across quite a few, including a tiny sewing shop that memorably carried a copy of a Lupin III animated movie. The cover proclaimed “better than James Bond,” which it was indeed if only by virtue of its novelty. I had never seen a Japanese animation, and at the time it was shockingly entertaining. [And no, it wasn’t the Miyazaki directed sequel. It was the original 1978 film that opened with our intrepid titular thief and rascal escaping from an ancient pyramid by riding a motorcycle down a tight walker’s rope.]
All of which brings me now to Scheuer’s book. Along with a Leonard Maltin Video Guide of the time, it was my first film book purchase back in 1986 or so. There was no question or competition regarding which of the two was the better compendium. Although Scheuer’s book contained some sloppy information (as later noted by Bill Warren, for whom I have great respect), it was infinitely more in tune with my movie tastes than the Maltin book. Maltin’s reviews were boring at best, never daring and often ignorant of films outside the mainstream. Scheuer’s reviews, on the other hand, were funny and spot-on. His opinions — even when I disagreed with them — were knowledgeable and opinionated.
When the final volume of this series came out — Movies on TV and Videotape 1993-1994 (in the Fall of 1993, I think) — I should have grabbed five copies. I had bought the new edition every year and would wear out each beyond repair by the time the next volume popped off the publishing chute. When only the Maltin book was published in the fall of 1994, I was beyond disappointed. I didn’t realize the series had been canceled, so I kept visiting the bookstores, requesting they order it and asking around. The Internet was up and running, if just barely, but my meager telnet, ftp and fidonet connections didn’t secure an answer for me.
So all I had left were the remains of the previous year’s Scheuer book. The cover had been taped several times over until it fell off. The rest of the book (around 1,300 pages) was divided into three or four chunks with loose pages tucked in between the remaining pages. All marked up in pencil, highlighter and sticky notes, I continued to patch up this last edition with glue, tape and rubber bands over the next several years. It held its place on my shelf until finally reduced to a stack of loose paper too difficult to maneuver.
Eventually, I got confirmation there would be no more in the series and so moved disappointedly onward. I would buy copies of the Maltin book because it was useful for the data if not the reviews, but never without thinking of the infinitely superior Scheuer book. I’ve tried the VideoHound guides and Halliwell’s books, as well as any other that came along, but not one ever came close to the brilliance of Scheuer’s.
Rest In Peace.