Who didn't learn that little phrase in the 80's. I'm pretty sure it was stamped on the back of the most important card in my Spider-man wallet. My video rental card. If you grew up in the 80's, like a good portion of the horror fans I know, this was a badge you carried proudly. We didn't have the internet, we couldn't download anything and we weren't old enough to get into our favorites at the theatre. That didn't stop the true diehard fan. Everyone had a little Mom and Pop video store in the neighbourhood where it didn't matter if you were 18 or not, you still left with the latest Friday the 13th film.
In our neighbourhood it was Videolite. My friends and I would actually spend entire summers in the store checking out all the new videos, playing the one arcade machine they had or chatting with the owners and their son. This was my first introduction into the world of horror and before Videolite finally closed years later we had managed to watch just about every movie they had in stock. The owner's son continuously played Black Christmas on their little 12 inch television and would let us take out any flick for free if we promised to go home, watch it and return it in a few hours. We didn't care what it was but if the box looked creepy or gory enough, we took it.
When I see the covers of some of those boxes I'm instantly transported back to my days in the video store. I remember vividly seeing the cover for Funeral Home, The Gates of Hell, New Years Evil, Demon Wind (with its lenticular cover), Shock Waves, Iced and the list goes on and on. Going to the video store wasn't like a trip to any other store, it was a journey unlike anything we had ever gone on before. You'd walk into the store as the little bell signalled your arrival and transported you to an entirely new world. One we would be lost in for hours at a time.
There were huge cardboard cutouts of Leatherface, posters plastered all over the wall for upcoming releases, calendars of release dates, pins, stickers, pens, pop up boxes and all manner of advertising for the next great movie. We'd rush into the horror section and grab whatever box attracted the most attention. Most places had little pieces of velcro stuck to the box or just below it with a tag attached so you knew if the movie was in or not. This wasn't Blockbuster kids! There wasn't 100 copies of the latest film. There was one and if you got there too late then you were leaving with Nightmare on Elm Street 3 for the eighteenth time.
Eventually bigger stores started showing up, driving some of the Mom and Pop shops out of business but those little stores were still the places to go to find the really obscure titles. Back then we were only about 10 years old and we certainly didn't have the knowledge of what we were watching. We just wanted to see blood and guts and we wanted to have the crap scared out of us. When I look back now and think of the movies that I saw during that time that have had a huge impact on the horror industry I'm amazed.
My friend constantly told me about Last House on the Left and how it was the most shocking movie he had ever seen. How many Lucio Fulci flicks did I watch without even realizing it, or badly dubbed Dario Argento flicks. We didn't understand the importance of Black Christmas on the slasher genre or that it was a Canadian feature. A director's name didn't mean much to us back then and Wes Craven became one of the only recognizable names to us. That was after Nightmare on Elm Street and moving into Deadly Friend territory though. We never realized that he also directed the 'most shocking' movie we had seen at the time.
All that mattered to us was the box. It's one of the best parts of the 80's video store. Artwork meant something back then. That was the selling point of the movie. It wasn't hard to sell Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both well known names after a while. How were you going to get someone to pick up Funeral Home though? Impressive looking box art of course! So impressive is some of the artwork that VHS has become a collectible item with people searching through eBay for the one or two that are missing from their collection. Horrorhound magazine has even had an ongoing piece about the different video companies from the time, showcasing some of their more outrageous box art.
It had to be outrageous to get us to pull it off the shelf. At this point we were introduced to the greatest contribution of our video store journeys. Jumbo Video. Not only was their horror section impressively large, it was also closed off and decorated like an old haunted castle. Surrounded by dark grey walls and an imitation iron gate closing off the boundary with various spiderwebs, half rotting corpses, grimy looking lanterns and usually one bad looking rubber bat hanging from the ceiling, we would venture into a darkly lit corner of the store scouring the racks for some of the few films we hadn't watched yet. You hoped beyond all hope that behind the dog-eared box laid the large clear plastic case containing the actual videotape.
They must have known that we'd be in there for hours since they offered free popcorn at the door. You grabbed a little bag and helped yourself, over and over again usually, so you could munch while you searched. Usually this experience of finding the movie was much better than the actual film we would leave the store with. It was all about the thrill of the hunt back then. Nothing was more exciting than finding that film you had been waiting for so long to see. It was always a long wait during those days as well. Now a film is a flop if it doesn't make its money back after opening weekend. That would have been unheard of in the 80's. I remember seeing Back to the Future in the theatre one year after it had opened. Can you even imagine seeing Saw 6 in the theatre this Halloween?
I remember every Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street that would be released to theatres and the amount of commercials we would see for them. All we could think to ourselves was 'Well, we can always rent it when it comes out next year. Next year!' Can you imagine that now? I believe the phrase now would be 'Damn, I missed Your Soul To Take when it came out last week. Ah well, I'll just buy it when it comes out on DVD in 2 months!'
The video store meant everything to us. It was anticipation, discovery, travel and friendship all packed in a clear case. It was the beginning of my love of movies, both good and bad. When I look back on my time in the video stores I realize what an important role it played in my life now. Now I spend my days writing about movies, and horror movies usually, in the hopes that I can make a living out of it. I never would have thought that taking Puppet Master off the shelf then would mean that I'd be writing about it now. Many of the films that we watched because the box looked cool or because someone gets their head cut off have gone on to become the inspiration behind many of the things I do now. They fill the shelves of my living room and the walls in my house. They flicker across my television screen as the sun sets out the back windows. They push me to be creative and they bring my family together on the couch for a few hours at a time. I owe it all to the video store that has now become an 'adult' video store. Man, I hope I don't owe them any late fees!
Story by - "Canadian" Will Brownridge