(note: Matt has just put out a Scarecrow Video Podcast dedicated to VHS Gems and I highly recommend it. Listen here:
ARENA(1989): A great little sci-fi film about an intergalactic gladiatorial competition. Sort of a cross between THE RUNNING MAN and ENTER THE DRAGON. Jammed with incredible animatronics and makeup.
THE TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS (1991): This is a thoroughly stupid DIE HARD knockoff featuring Ken Wahl as an ex-football player who teams up with cop Matt Frewer to stop a plot by a bunch of fired dirty cops who've staged a chemical spill in order to rob all of the rich folks in the titular neighborhood. The great Robert Davi is the bad guy. A seriously overlooked early 90's winner.
SCREAM FOR HELP(1984): I've gone on and on about this film, both on this site and on Scarecrow's podcast and will continue to do so. It's my favorite "bad" film of all time, an amazingly tasteless thriller from the master of tasteless thrillers, Michael Winner. Somebody get me a meeting with Edgar Wright so I can strap him to a chair and force him to see this.
ACTION USA(1989): probably the best of a rare strain of 80s films, the Stunt Demo Reel. Some experienced stunt people scrape together the funds to make their own film and the results are often glorious despite being saddled with hammy acting and even worst scripts. This one was produced by Ross Hagen (who also plays the bad guy) and also features William Smith and Cameron Mitchell. Almost everything in this movie is destroyed.
ELIMINATORS(1986): From Peter Manoogian, director of the aforementioned ARENA, comes this total treasure about a mad scientist who creates a cyborg warrior, here called a Mandroid, who rebels when facing destruction and must now stop his evil creator from travelling back in time and taking over the Roman Empire. You either want to see that or you don't. And you really do.
DROID(1988): On the surface an extremely low-budget dystopian Sci-Fi about a cop trying to bring down a fascist government, actually soft core porn.
ORDER OF THE BLACK EAGLE and UNMASKING THE IDOL: a couple of Bond knockoffs from the late 80s, starring Ian Hunter as secret agent Duncan Jax. These are incredibly campy but surprisingly effective spy thrillers with some impressive production value given the obvious low budget. There are a lot of fancy cars in these films, hence my suspicion that they were financed by an auto dealer, but that's neither here nor there. There may be a lot of humor in these films but it's important to note that they are not parodies. Instead you get a ton of smirking one-liners, borderline attractive women and cardboard sets, not to mention an obligatory hot-air balloon escape.
HEARTBEAT(1987): Possibly my favorite VHS-only experience is "Don Johnson's HEARTBEAT", the hour-long music video/film that accompanies Johnson's 1986 album of the same name. In the movie, Johnson plays a war photographer covering some South American revolution who is gravely wounded while trying to rescue a child caught in the crossfire. The movie is mostly made up of his extended near-death experience. The director, John Nicollela (potentially most notable credit: KULL THE CONQUEROR) produced and directed a lot of TV, including episodes of "Miami Vice", and HEARTBEAT has an appropriately knockoff-Michael Mann feel to it, a vibe that extends to its amazing supporting cast which includes Sandahl Bergman, Paul Shaffer, Lori Singer, David Carradine, Dweezil & Moon Unit Zappa, Willie Nelson, Luiz Guzman and Giancarlo Esposito. The music itself kind of reminds me of Don Henley's solo career. Pretty action-packed for a glorified music video vanity project; it's kind of bizarre to think of something like this getting made today, especially for an actor moonlighting as a rock star rather than vice versa. There's even a surprisingly explicit sex scene. All of that packed into a tight 65 minutes. Under no circumstances are you to miss this thing.
(can be seen in parts on youtube!)