User reviews at Amazon.com and Target.com are the best stops for user ratings of cheap VCRs. You can get a good idea of what's available, as well as some insight into performance and reliability.
No major manufacturers are still making basic VCRs, so you'll either be buying what's left of the major brand-name stock in stores or inexpensive off-brand players. The smartest move probably is to buy whatever's cheap with one major caution. Most of the more recent VCRs don't have tuners and thus are unable to record from a TV unless they're hooked up to a cable box or satellite receiver. Models with analog tuners may need a converter after TV enters the digital-signal age in Feb. 2009. Among remaining name-brand VCRs with analog tuners, the discontinued but still available Sony SLV-N750 (*est. $75) gets favorable owner reviews most often, and one professional review calls it "basic but competent." Even so, user reviews are all over the map, with a lot of disagreement about picture quality, though most agree the Sony SLV-N750 is easy to use. It's much easier to find VHS/DVD combo players, such as the Sony SLV-D380P (*est. $100).
Amazon.com no longer has a dedicated section for VCRs, so you'll have to search by using the keyword "VCR." Some models get one or two reviews from owners.
Review: VCR Reviews, Contributors to Amazon.com
Target.com sells three VCR/DVD player combo decks. All receive some comments from owners, so you can get a glimpse into performance.
Review: VCRs, Contributors to Target.com