Athens, Ohio: home of a university, a Halloween party and videotapes so bad they're good.

Athens, Ohio: home of a university, a Halloween party and videotapes so bad they're good.

We're talking VHS, as in the boxy cartridges once stacked in family rooms across America. DVD began supplanting the format in the late 1990s, and millions of movies, TV shows and instructional VHS tapes ended up in flea markets and thrift stores.

Who would want them? As it turns out, six Ohio University students who found ironic entertainment in VHS gems such as a woman demonstrating cat massage and an overly enthusiastic yoga instructor teaching kids in a barnyard.

What started as a way to amuse themselves grew into Everything Is Terrible, a Web site ( where old commercials, forgettable movies and cheesy fitness videos find a second life.

The site, recently featured on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, attracts a few thousand visitors a day -- and resulted in the cat masseuse making an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman.

Athens was an invaluable resource for getting started, say the creators, all since departed from OU.

"The thrift stores in Athens are amazing," said Katie Rife, 26. "We find some of our best stuff in small towns."

"All the weird, little, forgotten salvage bins," said Dimitri Simakis, 27. "So many bizarre items you'll find there."

While they were students at OU, Rife, Simakis and their friends Joel Barhamand, Lehr Beidelschies, Aaron Maier, Nic Maier and Nick Moore would try to outdo one another in finding odd videos.

After their college years had ended, they started the Web site in 2007, initially as a way to keep in touch.

"For the first year, no one looked at it but us," said Rife, who is teaching English in Japan. "But it started to build."

Now, on its best days, the site gets 10,000 hits and has seen some of its videos go viral. (As a side attraction, the site is trying to collect every known VHS copy of the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire. It has 332.)

Most videos on Everything Is Terrible began as earnest efforts to entertain, communicate or sell. But, 20 or 30 years later, they seem ridiculous -- especially to people too young to remember them the first time around.

The Terrible crew often does heavy editing. Edited or not, the videos might be an acquired taste for anyone not a connoisseur of, say, tedious how-to films.

"I'm a big fan of The Secrets of Simple Packing. It's the most boring thing in the world," said Simakis, a TV editor in Los Angeles.

As for the "stars" of the videos, some enjoy their Internet resurrections, and others, stung by the anonymous comments that viewers leave on the site, don't.

The yoga instructor's wife, who probably read the word creepy once too often, was quite offended, Simakis said.

If it's any consolation to her, no one is getting rich off Everything Is Terrible. They make some money by selling DVD compilations and performing live shows, but that mostly covers expenses, Rife and Simakis said.

Still, who would have thought that the bargain bins of Athens held the seeds of a minor Internet phenomenon?

Said Simakis: "The whole thing is very surreal."

Joe Blundo is a Dispatch columnist.