Monday, June 23, 2008

mom and pop video stores. R.I.P.

look at this picture. study it. close your eyes and really think about it. remember those days?

i'll give you a minute...

think about swinging open the door and getting hit immediately with that rank stench of old popcorn given off by the half-working machine popping away by the registers. hear that light, but, constant buzzing sound from the fluorescent bulbs shining out crappy lighting above your head. breathe in that moldy, aged, smell from the hundreds upon hundreds of VHS boxes surrounding you. can you imagine it?

well. those days are long gone. the days of the mom and pop video store. if you were like me, you were lucky enough to have one in your town. i was lucky enough to have two. one, amazing. the other, so-so. dont get me wrong though, because they were both great. and the better of the two, which was also the one responsible for corrupting my young brain, was called Star Video.

now, before i get started, excuse my borderline romanticism concerning something as trivial as a video store. it may sound ridiculous to you, but to me, it represents a time long passed and yet, still sorely missed. a time before the watered down, family oriented, corporate owned places like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video were on every corner of every town. this was the booming time of VHS. a relatively new format that, by the mid to late 80's, had become way more accessible to both distributors as well as store owners. as fast as anyone could make a film, there were basement companies to release them as well as willing entrepreneurs to open stores to rent them out. and, no genre flourished more than the horror genre. so, between the cracks of all the Hollywood hits, you had the brain melting garbage that was avoided by most who had the right mind to do so, but literally eaten up by every sleaze and gore connoisseur out there. that is where Star Video came in.

Star Video was what the perfect mom and pop video store should be. it was located in a brown and orange color coordinated strip mall known as Almar Plaza. it shared the strip with a vacuum repair shop, a candy store, a grease-pit pizza joint, and a large grocery store that never graduated from its 70's theme and color scheme. Star Video swapped its space with other stores two times before settling in the space of an old Walgreens-styled pharmacy/one stop shop at the end of the strip, which made it one huge video store, to say the least.

i can still picture my younger self riding my bike up there on any friday night and finding the place packed with teenagers looking for a good time. the dudes with feathered hair sporting IOU sweaters and their teased out haired girlfriends, clad in stone washed jeans asking the boys to buy them candy. i can still hear the sound of parents fighting over new releases in the return drop box or haggling over late-fee's for not being kind and rewinding. scanning over the place, you were greeted with one of the biggest selections of Nintendo games you would ever see in your life. they had two full rows of nutty Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest kungfu classics. they had the z-grade ultra violent shoot-em-up action flicks as well as a sci-fi section filled with every unheard of alien attack, mutant killer, amazonian warrior, post-apocalyptic barbarian movie you could imagine. and from what i understand, they had quite the porn selection as well. i can only imagine what big-haired 70's forbidden delights were hidden behind that "adults only" curtain. but that didnt matter to me at all considering my unflinching attention was towards the holy grail of this place, their horror movie section.

picture this- six long rows that ran along a whole wall inside of the store. the racks were covered in fake spiders and spiderwebs, and black plastic chains hung ominously from the ends of the shelving units . the surrounding walls were decorated in cardboard cut-outs of your horror favorites- leatherface, freddy kruger, and jason voorhees. and as far as the quality of their movies goes, believe me, they had it all. from the "classics" that everyone knows about, to the bottom of the barrel, brain rotting, cinematic trash that only true gorehounds and horror fans drool over. it was an alphabetical assortment of zombies, slashers, cannibals, and anything else fucked up that you could think of. and it was all at my pre-teen disposal. while my peers were doing homework or out learning social skills i was sitting in my bedroom, jittery from a cool ranch Dorito/Mountain Dew high, destroying my brain cells with movies that no child my age has any business watching. while kids were getting together and playing sports and being active, i was walking up and down the aisle of the horror section. fully examining every VHS big box or plastic clam shell case. admiring the cover artwork and gory details in the blurbs on the back. i can still remember being wide-eyed at every cover saying "TOO GORY FOR THE SILVER SCREEN!" or "BANNED IN 30 COUNTRIES!". and with Star Video offering their "5 movies, 5 dollars, 5 days" promotion, literally every weekend was turned into late night romps with cheese, sleaze, and splatter. i wouldnt have wanted it any other way.

througout the 90's, the popularity of larger chain stores continued to grow. their corporate support with both finances and promotion made it virtually impossible for small independent stores to compete. slowly, but surely, mom and pop video across the country were forced to close their doors for good. Star Video, on the other hand, was still able to maintain itself. its survival can be directly attributed to the fact that the closest Blockbuster was still two towns away. as a result, i was still able to thrive in glorious horror, splatter, and exploitation flicks for a few more years. that is, until the a fatal blow was dealt. that blow being the introduction of a brand new format known as DVD.

though DVDs mainstream existence was still in its infancy, any video store that wanted to compete for business had to make the switch in formats. the stores that couldnt afford to do so were met with their unfortunate end, and Star Video did just that. one day as i walked into Star Video, i was met with "vhs and fixtures for sale" signs. what could be considered its inevitable end had finally come. all of the racks i spent so much of my youth digging through were now on the chopping block- 5 VHS for $10.00. i tried to take advantage of the sale, but what 17 year old has any money to blow on hundreds of VHS tapes. i gathered what money i could and made my way to barter with the owners. during the walk over i can remember daydreaming about walking in, slamming my money on the counter, and saying "give them all to me...". in reality, i walked in and was shocked to see that 90% of the horror collection was gone. was it a private collector? maybe they threw them away? it didnt matter. all that did matter was that they were not mine. i was able to find a copy of Bloodsucking Freaks for $1.00, but that was that. i made my final purchase, made my way out of the exit doors, and said goodbye to my youth.

in a years time after Star Video had gone out of business, the empty store front was taken over by a chain store called Video Village. though i had high hopes that this new store would be at least somewhat similar to the amazing Star Video, i was sorely disappointed after only a few short minutes of walking around in there. they didnt even have a horror movie section, let alone ANY sections. all the movies were placed in one big alphabetical mass, with a huge porn section in the back.
the shoddy, beaten up, and long forgotten VHS boxes that i loved so much were now replaced by slick looking DVD cases. the place was polished and sterile. it didnt even smell the same.

its amazes me how similar my Star Video story is to the stories i hear from fellow vhs horror addicts from the 80's. it seems like everyone had their own mom and pop video store that served them up the best in gore, cheese, and sleaze. and their stores, just like mine, were killed off by corporate business. we are like a unspoken club, if you will. some go on "video hunts" by tracking down independent video stores that are still in business and trying to buy from their rentable stock of VHS. most are successful considering a large amount of those tapes havent been rented out in a decade or so. others, like myself, rely on small scale companies devoted to the days of a true horror genre, who re-release these forgotten trashy classics on DVD. of course, there are those rare titles, or the truely awful garbage titles that nobody wants to waste their time or money on professionally re-releasing. for those gory delights you can always count on some dedicated horror fan to have bootlegged them to DVD. thanks to these people, i can still rot whats left of my brain by watching these same movies i did 15 years previous.
i feel like a kid again. still wide-eyed like i was the first time i saw the bare-chested linnea quigley get impaled on a pair of antlers or seeing a pissed off Cropsy hack up a whole raft full of teenagers.

and that is what this blog is all about. reflecting on my childhood obsession with gore and sleaze. reviewing these old movies that are still so important to me and waxing nostalgic about the real golden age of horror flicks. all the while, acting like a big "fuck you" to every PG-13 rated, CGI infested, watered down piece of trash that hits the mainstream horror circuit and is supposed to pass for a horror movie. long live big boxes. long live real cover art. long live real horror. long live the memory of the mom and pop video store. its time for some serious VHS BRAIN DEATH!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gr8 story totally agreed