Remembrances of the Video Aisle


A few people I’ve come across have viewed the sudden online VHS resurgence kind of silly. They mock the fact that fans long for the days when you had to pop in a brick sized tape, and rewind and forward through scenes. No menus, no extras, and often no widescreen. Just a movie, and some trailers in the beginning of the movie you bought. Often times you’d have to buy blank tapes from a store, and then record whatever you wanted from the television and that was a part of your library.

Why would anyone want to re-live that time where VHS dominated the world? It’s not so much the VHS tapes that fans long for anymore, as it is the community that came along with it. You couldn’t look online for a movie and buy it. It was often about trading movies with other fans, or going to someone else’s house to watch a movie they’d just rented. You’d either sit through a lemon of a horror movie, or often times you’d find something really good.

I remember being a very young child, and sitting in the background as my uncle showed my dad his copy of “Scream Greats,” and I fondly remember watching the spider head scene from “John Carpenter’s The Thing” when I was a very young, as well. I was born in 1983, and was old enough to remember much of the video era.

I unfortunately wasn’t old enough to have the pleasure of going out on my own to travel video stores, and rent whatever I wanted. I wasn’t old enough to revel in the pleasure of renting movies and bringing home a stack of horror films. I do however remember a time where my neighborhood had at least five video stores. I remember running through video store aisles, and I remember often gravitating to the horror aisle, to see what they had available.

And like every other kid, I could fondly recall seeing the adult section hidden behind a red curtain. People would often slide in to the small corner, and pull the curtain over, and enjoy whatever they wanted to take out. Within my vicinity there were at least four video stores in walking distance, and those were places we frequented for the new films. And when we couldn’t settle on anything, we’d take out something classic.

My dad often insisted on renting a film he, my brother, and I could watch together. And he rarely rented kids films. He rented “The Warriors,” or “The Wanderers,” or “Stone Cold.” And we’d hunker down and take in the fun. I still fondly recall my dad coming home with a bag filled with black VHS tapes in the plastic cases, and watching stuff like “Nightbreed” or “Predator.”

And I sadly also recall the day when my favorite video haunt “JR video” (not related to J&R Video) closed down. Rather than just close down altogether, they sold off their stock to customers, and my dad bought as many tapes as he could before they closed their doors. We held on to those tapes for a long time, and they had the polish of the video store that I really miss. Even with the deluxe DVD editions we have today. The stickers, the wear of the constantly replayed VHS were novel and nice back in the days.

Surely, I don’t hate the internet or Netflix. I love the convenience, and I love how easy it is to find movies you want, but with evolution of technology, something always dies. Sadly, that is the community of cinephiles. You can’t go to a store anymore to find a movie, and rent some titles, you can’t make friends with the clerks, or have experiences anymore. You just point, click, and watch on a cold screen. Often all by yourself.

Once Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos began popping up, the small video stores were all closed down. We even had a small video store a short walk from my apartment building that became a laundromat for many years. The last surviving video store was Boulevard Video down the block from where I lived, and it eventually closed down to be turned in to a neighborhood deli. That place was one of the remaining remnants of the video store age for me. They had standees, promotional posters, and a huge selection of horror movies from the eighties and seventies. It was a truly excellent video store that didn’t really narrow its library all that much, until it had to begin appealing to the masses.

I talked a lot about my days in a video store in “The Ten Best VHS Covers of All Time,” and I still think back on those days fondly. They were fine times to just have fun and wile the day away among libraries of movies. The video store I would stay in all day, as my parents attended to financial affairs, had a very diverse selection of movies, from horror, and science fiction, right down to really cheesy asiansploitation and chopsocky films. I fondly remember the poster for “Firewalker” on the door that led in to the employee lounge, and we’d often sit by the window in the back of the video store and play for literal hours until my parents came to pick up my brother and I.

I love the VHS resurgence just like other movie buffs mainly because it reminds me of a time where loving movies were about community and sharing an experience. I loved walking through the aisles of the video stores, and I loved the thrill of my mom or dad dropping a stack of videos on the counter of the store that they were renting for our annual Friday movie night. Going to the video store was about the thrill of the hunt, and finding something that could possibly open your mind to a new realm of cinema, or a new director you’d never heard of.

Right before VHS went out the back door, I bought stuff like “Enter the Dragon,” and “The Omen,” movies I just can’t let go, and great box sets like “Indiana Jones,” and “Planet of the Apes.” I guess there’s that old pack rat side of me who will not let go of these tapes for the simple fact that the poor schmuck in me still says “Don’t get rid of them! They’re still good!” And hey, my VCR still works well.

The first VHS tape I’ve ever owned was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and once I ventured out beyond kiddy movies, I started buying more mature stuff. I bought “The Sting,” “The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three,” and “Jaws.” These were the prize jewels of my VHS collection, and now they’re just artifacts for people to look down on.

The best VHS gift I’ve ever received was the “Indiana Jones” box set. It was just amazing. It had a tape of “Young Indiana Jones,” and damn I saw all three movies in one sitting. And there are some goodies like “Merlin,” which is a sluggish but fun fantasy, and “Runaway,” which I bought simply because Gene Simmons was in it. These are fun little memories, and one of the primary reasons why I still cling to them and probably will keep them for another five years or so. I guess it’s why my uncle held on to his Betas for so long, too. Perhaps.

I still own about eighty percent of my VHS tapes, and I just can’t bear to let go a lot of the precious box sets I own. They’re not just there for the sake of collecting, but to remind me of what I grew up to love movies. Video stores were just one of the many reasons why I became a movie geek, and I’m sad to see that sense of discovery fade away. I don’t mourn the generic Blockbuster generation. I do miss the old video stores, though. Their aesthetic were for cinephiles only, and new generations of movie buffs won’t have that sense of belonging again.