Sunday, October 08, 2017

Slashback Video - Part 3

Continued from HERE...

In 1998, the home video business was booming.  DVD players were available, but VHS was still king—and more and more horror movies were becoming available on video every day.  At a certain point, I started saving money for weekend trips to Suncoast Motion Picture Company (a malls of America retailer), to buy movies that I couldn’t find anywhere else.  That's where I picked up X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, THE WICKER MAN, DARK STAR, GOD TOLD ME TO….  and a bunch of other movies that had existed on home video for years, but hadn’t been available through my local video stores. 

I was especially drawn to new releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment—beautifully restored, widescreen presentations packaged in pristine clam-shell boxes.   So far, I haven’t said anything about the tactile experience of the VHS era…. Simply put: it was comparable to what book nerds say about turning pages.  Those Anchor Bay clam-shell boxes were a sight to be held. 

Anchor Bay was at that time delivering highly-collectible versions of countless cult favorites: The Hammer Collection, The Lucio Fulci Collection, The Dario Argento Collection, Amando de Ossorio’s BLIND DEAD movies, Larry Cohen’s Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS... And this was the beginning of the end for VHS.  By 2000 or 2001, Anchor Bay had stopped releasing titles on VHS; the format simply didn’t serve their devotion to quality or provide the extra space for bonus features they wanted to include.  The writing was on the wall. 

I bought my first DVD player in the summer of 1999 (so I could watch the extended version of ALIENS)… but I still loved video stores.  In fact, it was during this time (1999 – 2001) that I truly began to appreciate the video store experience... because I realized how individualistic it was.  Where you grew up and what video store was in your neighborhood determined what you were exposed to during those early years.  If / when you wanted to broaden your horizons, you had to actively search for new material.

While researching my book Nightmares in Red, White and Blue, I was constantly scouring new video stores for movies I hadn't seen before.  It was, in no uncertain terms, a treasure hunt.  I acquired literally dozens of video store membership cards, for stores all across my homestate of Virginia.  In a Charlottesville-based Blockbuster Video, I found ERASERHEAD, BLACK CHRISTMAS, and Mario Bava’s HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON. 

In and around Harrisonburg, where I went to college, I became a fan of Frank Henenlotter.  I think I had already seen BASKET CASE, but it was BRAIN DAMAGE that blew my mind.  I saw it sitting on a shelf at Hollywood Video, right next to Adam Simon’s underrated BRAIN DEAD.  I needed to have them both.

In that same store, I found time-worn copies of Ulli Lommel’s BOOGEYMAN movies, Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and BEYOND THE DOOR 2, as well as Charles B. Pierce's THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK and THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN.  These films all had lame cover art… but I didn’t need much convincing.  By then, I had a checklist of titles--taken from books like John Stanley's Creature Features and James O'Neill's Terror on Tape.

At one video store in Harrisonburg, where VHS rentals were used as filler in a fireplace showroom (!), I found the original U.S. release of Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA.  I already owned the Anchor Bay version, but it was still exciting to see the older cut of the film—released (with much more tantalizing cover art) as CREEPERS.  

Probably the most exciting discovery from that time period was an oversized, heavily-battered copy of a film that was, in my mind, an urban legend.  I never really expected to see it, and so I felt like I had struck gold when I actually did. 

When I went to Virginia Beach over the summers, I continued my search.  I vividly remember the day I found copies of SUSPIRIA and THE GATES OF HELL, at Moovies Video.  Yeah, really, that's what it was called... The mascot was a cow with sunglasses.  Lame brand; great store!  They also had copies of DEMONS 1 and 2, STAGE FRIGHT, TRAUMA, THE CHURCH, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER, SANTA SANGRE.  If you haven’t figured it out already, I had an Italian horror movie fetish around this time…


Did I mention EATEN ALIVE?  ALLIGATOR?  BURNT OFFERINGS?  And, just when I thought I’d seen everything… STREET TRASH?

On another day at another nearby video store, I found the old MGM horrors THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and DOCTOR X.  These flicks were, at the time, pretty obscure.  It wasn't easy to find old (non-Universal) monster movies.  I filled out a membership application just for those two rentals. 

One Virginia Beach Blockbuster had a collection of early George Romero movies (SEASON OF THE WITCH, THE CRAZIES, MARTIN); another one specialized in early DePalma (SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, THE FURY) and Cronenberg (THE BROOD, SCANNERS). 

Then there were one-offs: LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, PIRANHA, EYES OF A STRANGER.  The list goes on and on and on…

I realize I have turned this supposed reflection on the Slashback Video exhibit into an excuse to compile images of VHS covers.  Like those who contributed to Slashback, I have my own criteria for inclusion—I’ve focused on box art that made a significant emotional impact on me (and, in some cases, still does).  These images remind me of a time when watching a movie at home was a bit more of an experience, because the films were a bit more rare.  I don't resent the instant availability of films today, but I'm glad I discovered movies the way I did. 

A few years ago, I got so nostalgic for the real video store experience that I created an excuse to re-live it.  I did the majority of my “research” for the 2016 book The Quick, The Dead and the Revived at Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, an honest-to-goodness video store in North Hollywood, with more than 90,000 VHS tapes for rent or loan.  Over a period of several years, I watched so many movies from there that I actually killed my VCR.  

What I found is that the thrill isn’t gone… even though the vast majority of video stores are.  So if a virtual trip down memory lane doesn’t quite do it for you this Halloween season, may I suggest a trip to Slashback Video, Eddie Brandt’s or some other survivor of the analog era? 

As for me, I need to buy another VCR…. because this trip isn't quite over.