Robbins, NC — Thirty years of history came to a sudden and quiet end this week as Choice Video’s (sic) announced that they were closing their doors after three decades of providing video rental service to the local community. They came up during the 80’s VHS rental boom and managed to stay active through the lean Blockbuster years on into the era of Netflix, Redbox and instant streaming. Your humble narrator and reporter managed to stop by the store during their closing sale to say goodbye to the dust covered celluloid memories.
If you were a child of the Eighties like myself then perhaps you remember a childhood filled with memories walking the long rows of display shelves in your local Mom & Pops video store. I remember back to the days when we had a video store on every corner with a rainbow of creative names like Entertainment Tonight, J.B. Video, Moviemax and Choice Video. Most were owned by one family or another and catered to our every fear and desire. An entire industry exploded overnight as VHS technology gave fans the chance to enjoy their favorite films from the comfort of their own home at a time of their choosing.
This lead to Saturday nights filled with endless viewings of Big Trouble In Little China, Aliens and Weird Science. As kids despite having the entire world in our hands we always tended to focus on our favorite things and watched them over and over until we ran them into the ground. If you were lucky, your local Mom & Pops owner would let you rent anything you wanted – short of the backroom movies hidden behind “The Curtain.” You know about “The Curtain” don’t you?
That’s where you had to be an adult to enter and visit the lovely ladies of the night such as Traci Lords, Ginger Lynn and Vanessa Del Rio. Of course, I was never allowed to do such things but they were always there calling out to me past the dirty raincoat wearing men that visited them on a regular basis. That particular siren’s call was drowned out by the cacophony created by endless rows of Science Fiction and horror films. I was a rat led by the pied pipers named Corman, Arkoff or Spielberg following every celluloid tune they played.
This was a glorious time for fans of the Fantastique as enterprising producers rushed into production to try to keep up with every trend that came along whether it was space opera, slasher films or low budget bad girl TNA fare. This grand time brought us an endless cavalcade of titles such as Battle Beyond the Stars, Not of This World, Oasis of the Zombies, Waxwork, Star Crash, Deathstalker, Night Train to Terror, I Spit On Your Grave, Sorority Babes in the Slime-ball Bowl-a-rama and the list goes on.
My parents raised me in a strict Catholic household. I was forced to attend Catholic school wearing a uniform that made me look like every other stiff necked sweaty palmed teen in my class. Individuality was frowned upon and anything involving sex or death was a deadly sin – leading straight to HELL! And so it was with this warning in my mind that I would make a pilgrimage to my local Mom & Pops video store every weekend to walk the hallowed halls – – or rows if you prefer. To my diminutive teenage self those rows of shelves were like giant hallways – lined with VHS cases and lurid four color covers proclaiming that my every wish would come true – if only I rented them for the weekend. My parents frowned upon anything that was risque but fortunately that’s what friends are for making weekends at my best friend’s house a time to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy and the darkest depths of the human soul.
Those shelves were oracles of a new age of Imagination. They called out to me like the Monolith in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey daring me to look within and evolve out of my mundane human existence. Those videos served to fuel my imagination year after year. If I couldn’t rent the movies themselves – the covers were enough. I would spend hours ogling fantastic cover artwork by the masters such as Drew Struzan, Boris Vallejo, or Roger Kastel.
Those amazing covers distilled centuries of carnival barking salesmanship down into one simple captivating image that told you everything about the story inside that you needed to know. In many instances the covers were better than the film itself but that became part of the devil’s pact of VHS rental in the 80’s. A shell game evolved on those shelves involving young minds that were seeking new avenues of expression coming into contact with slick talking fast moving salesman that could scrounge up enough resources to put together what could be considered a film – sometimes in name only as the FX, acting and plot were laughably bad. If you’ve ever been burned by a fantastic looking cover featuring some amazing robot/monster/goddess that failed to appear in any capacity within – then you know what I’m talking about.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Those old stores served as Fountains of Imagination for a generation of young dreamers such as myself. Many the time when I pass a solitary Redbox standing like a Monolith of the new Gimme Now Age of Entitlement and I wonder if they will serve the same function to the new generation? If you’ve heard my thoughts on the de-evolution of modern poster art – then you’ll know that I don’t think this is happening. Modern poster and cover art does not try to create an unforgettable tableau of the Fantastique – but rather settles for delivering the biggest names and actor faces that you can imagine like a dollar menu at the nearby McDonalds. The pictures are locked away behind glass – forbidden to touch. At best, one can look at the cover and make their rental decision but they are forbidden from interacting with them as in days of old when you could pick up the box and study it front and back. Those times are gone and I weep for the children of the new media.
In many ways we are experiencing a new Golden Age of Media Access through streaming, and online websites. Online services such as Netflix, Youtube & Greencine enable us to rediscover all of those long lost Out-Of-Print titles that had been thought lost to obscurity. They are giving us an unprecedented access to film and information like never before – but are they exposing the new youth generation to new and glorious titles or simply enabling them to focus even more on the titles they are force fed by the Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex Masters? Teens of today will be at a loss to discover the randy works of Warhol’s Blood For Dracula or the hotshot fantasy adventures of Deathstalker II when they are hypnotized by the constant flood of truncated Twilight movies and American Idol marathons.
The potential for discovery is there – for those that can break free and follow it. Perhaps the new generation is not as brainwashed as I think and out of the morass of the internet will arise a new generation of Star Children that are familiar with works from across the globe such as Valerie and her Week of Wonders or El Dia Del Bestia, Nightwatch & Daywatch and so on and so forth. New terrors and glories are out there waiting to be discovered but we will never again be able to walk the halls of a sacred celluloid temple that was the Mom & Pops Video Store.
Don’t cry for me Argentina because I’ll be too busy watching Netflix and Youtube and scouring Amazon for new movies to worry about the rest of you. I’ll continue carrying the Torch of the Star Children of the past in the hopes that someone new will come along and show me the paths that I did not know where there for the taking.
For your years of providing inspiration and fuel for the imagination of a generation – Mom & Pop video store owners of the world & Choice Video’s store owners – I thank you.