Ninjas, Japan's historical hitmen, were meant to be stealthy assassins, striking in the night and disappearing into the shadows. I'm not sure what changed between 12th century Japan and 1980s Hong Kong, but by the time cult movie director Godfrey Ho was through with ninjas, they were white guys wearing bright red and yellow Halloween costumes, racing to the top of mountains and bellowing "NINJAAAA" into the sky. That's one of many bizarre, hilarious scenes that pops up again and again like a meme in the mixtapes of Forgotten_VCR (opens in new tab), a Twitch channel that mostly eschews videogames in favor of pulp cinema streamed from actual VHS tapes three nights a week.
The Forgotten_VCR Twitch channel started as a convenient way for the streamer, who asked me to refer to him as simply VCR, to watch tapes at his desk—he's a university professor by day—without hauling the hardware into his office. "I thought it sounded like a Metal Gear-y name for what I was doing," he says. "I did that for a couple months and then people started tuning in."
VCR tested the waters with a compilation of toy commercials he'd play on Saturday mornings, and then in mid-2019, he started making mixtapes, cutting together absurd scenes from infamously bad ninja movies, '80s tech commercials, wrestling, super sentai, and other oddities lurking in his tape collection. A year later he's made more than 50, and 200-300 viewers will tune in on a Sunday night eager to see a new tape played live.
"It's kind of a gimmick, if I'm going to be totally honest," he says. "But here's the thing: If it's a video file in Adobe Premiere, why are you tuning into me? Why aren't I just posting this on YouTube? When I have this VCR and you hear it and see the little icon that says 'play' and 'stop' and all that, it immediately makes it feel like 'I have to be here. This is on a tape.' It's part of the look of the stream."
That real hardware is an essential part of Forgotten_VCR's retro, underground vibe. But it's also a key part of why and how he makes these mixtapes to begin with, which he also did in college in the early 2000s.
"The one that I always tell people that I saw way before YouTube was Winnebago Man (opens in new tab). That ended pretty much every compilation tape we'd get at the university I attended," he says. "There were a few video artists like Derrick Beckles who made this whole series called TV Carnage, where he would juxtapose footage to try to tell a story and completely pervert things. I remember finding that really appealing. He wasn't just putting things together in a compilation. He was trying to subvert what you were expecting."
When he got the idea to start making tapes for Twitch, VCR went out and bought a couple Panasonic tape decks and a mixer, nearly the same setup he had in college. He does video editing in Premiere as a side job to teaching, but working on tape forces him to keep things simple instead of editing over cuts. He'll put movies on while he works, and when something catches his attention—usually a fight scene—he'll rewind, slap a post-it note on it, and add it to the pile for a potential mixtape.
As he's gained a devoted following, the tapes have grown increasingly elaborate. His fans are building lore around actors who pop up in multiple movies, turning them into characters with imagined motivations and backstories.
"That encourages me to look for footage that matches this story that they've made up," he says. "I've managed to take a centuries-old Indian god named Hanuman and turned him into the weirdest meme of my channel. He's this ape human, and there are all these stories of him saving the Indian people and being this hero. I purposefully edited footage of him just doing horrendous violence to people and now everyone in my chat is scared of Hanuman and talks about how disgusting and violent he is and how he'll just murder you. There are plenty of clips of Hanuman playing with children and patting them on the head and being very nice. But I've never shown any of that footage, because everyone's created this lore of Hanuman being this horrible person."
Now more than 50 mixtapes in, VCR has barely made a dent in his library. He started collecting in high school, where his local comic shop sold bootleg anime and the Korean deli next door also happened to rent out tapes—primarily Asian movies, dubbed into English, with Chinese subtitles.
"Eventually VHS just became uncool, and it was really easy to acquire them," he says. "You just tell people that you collect tapes and they'll just hand them to ya."
The money from Twitch streaming has allowed him to hunt for obscure movies on Yahoo! Auctions to add more scenes with stars his audience adores, like martial artist Cynthia Rothrock, and stuff they'd otherwise never know about, like movies from Thailand and Malaysia. His Patreon (opens in new tab) grants access to recorded versions of the mixtapes and a small but avid group of fans who show off their own retro collections and talk about obscure movie trivia.
One of his mods, TheOpponent, runs a similarly nostalgic Twitch channel called OldTimeyComputerShow (opens in new tab)—a 24-hour stream of old '80s and '90s videos about computers. To tune in is to immerse yourself in a time when computers were still mysterious and awe-inspiring and mullets, windbreakers, and pocket protectors were commonplace.
"I like the vibe of it so much," VCR says. "It's so relaxed. It's a time in which we thought computers were going to solve all our problems, not create more. Everything is so positive about computers in these shows from the '80s. It's so melancholy to watch these, at least to me. I always view it in this lens of 'man, if we had any idea what was coming…'"(opens in new tab)
TheOpponent is also the keeper of what VCR jokingly calls the "bullshit lore" of his mixtapes, and he keeps an updated spreadsheet of every movie that's shown up in a tape so far, most of them linked to IMDB and a watchable version hosted on YouTube or the Internet Archive. It's a great resource for people who latch onto the channel, because the fandoms of found footage and cult film aren't always so welcoming.
"People can be really guarded and protective," VCR says. "I think that's stupid, because we don't own any of this stuff. People watching my stream are just watching the things I find aesthetically pleasing. I do try to play to my audience in terms of the 'story' I'm creating, but in terms of clips that I just think are pretty or have fun music, it's just my taste. What's fun about that is I've kind of developed a style accidentally by doing that. People now on Twitter will @ clips at me like 'this seems like a Forgotten_VCR clip.' I love that! It's always some bonkers clip from some Chinese movie with weird disco music. Yeah, that checks a lot of boxes."
Even though Forgotten_VCR's average 150 viewers or so put it firmly in the underground of Twitch communities, it's proven to be a surprising source for new side gigs—because of Forgotten_VCR, he's started cutting music videos for vaporwave musicians who love the aesthetic.
"I have two kids, a mortgage, college debt and all that, so I had to take video gigs I didn't really want to take to make money," he says. "Now the money I make from the stream has replaced a lot of the bullshit I don't want to do. So I always tell my audience one of the best things they gave me was the ability to say 'no' to things that I don't feel like are very creatively stimulating. Why would I take that money for that job when I could do something that I really really love?"
Catch Forgotten_VCR (opens in new tab) Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 9:30 EST. New tapes premiere on Sundays. Watch TV, and stay home.