RIP Video Oasis

VideosThis post was contributed by Weird Jon of Gravedigger’s Local 16. It was originally published here.

I’m bummed. You see, I was looking up the contact information for one of my favorite video stores and discovered that they had since closed their doors. I even tried calling to double check. It’s a bit odd for me to count Video Oasis as one of my favorites, seeing as how I only visited once and never rented anything, but I think the following will explain why.

I first learned about the store through its reputation back in 1995. Its selection of cult and obscure titles from all genres was often praised in the It’s All True column of the now-defunct Editorial Humor. That column, along with the paper’s profiling of local events in Massachusetts, set Editorial Humor apart from other humor piece/comic reprint papers (like Funny Times) due to their focus on everything weird. Be it crackpot inventors, television shows, movies, or the strangest the internet had to offer, It’s All True would tell you everything you needed to know. It also sponsored/promoted “Channel Zero,” a showcase of various bizarre movies and television shows (and occasionally things like bad poetry) that traveled from one venue to another. I remember reading that an installment about Japanese superhero programs was held at a bar, while others were presented at indie movie theaters.

But I digress… 

I seem to recall that one installment of It’s All True made note of Video Oasis having to hastily assemble shelves from 2x4s and cinder blocks in order to accommodate the sheer number of VHS cassettes they had acquired over the years. It also noted one of the store’s claims to fame: They actually carried the legendary Bruceploitation classic The Dragon Lives Again, wherein “Bruce Lee” goes to the underworld and teams up with Popeye to fight mummies, skeletons, Dracula, the Exorcist, and James Bond (among others). Oh yeah, you read that right.

So that, combined with the various ads for it that I saw in Editorial Humor and various free weekly papers, firmly cemented Video Oasis in my mind as a place I had to visit in the future. I once recognized the store’s distinctive palm tree logo from the newspaper ads, looking at the store with longing as the car I was riding in quickly passed by.

It wasn’t until around 2005 or 2006 that I actually set foot inside the place. I had gotten lost in Cambridge while trying to find a movie theater I was supposed to pick up a prize I had won online. Despite having walked for quite some time and started getting sore feet (along with a partial sunburn), I pressed on in the hopes that I only had a little more to go before reaching my destination. Instead, I found Video Oasis.

I was both happy and confused. Although I was glad to have an opportunity to actually visit the store, I could have sworn it was located in a different part of the state. The storefront certainly didn’t look like the one I remembered. But it didn’t matter if this was due to fuzzy memories or a change of location, I was finally there. Besides, I could probably ask for directions inside.

I was totally unprepared for what I found inside. It was actually bigger on the inside than it appeared outside. “Standalone, one story Best Buy” big. Rows upon rows of shelves (of the non 2×4 and cinder block variety) filled with DVDs or VHS (depending on what section of the store you were looking at). A barred door was chained shut in a corner, with a sign on it saying you had to ask someone up front to open it in order to inspect or purchase the vintage toys behind said door. “So that’s why they have a Shogun Warrior in one of the windows” I thought.

“Are you all right?”

The guy up front had taken noticed of my stunned expression. I had been so surprised by what I had just seen, I had frozen in place.

Embarrassed, I replied with something to the effect of “Oh…I was just surprised at how big it is in here. I’m just gonna look around now” and quickly darted down the nearest “Martial Arts” aisle. I walked around checking out all the cool covers and rarities until I worked up the nerve to ask for directions and more information about their rental and membership policies. It turned out that I had gone in the opposite direction of where I needed to be. I had to turn down the offer to sign up and take home a rental due to money issues, but vowed to return as soon as I had a steady supply of income.

But that time was further off than I thought and various issues (including an unplanned move) kept me from returning. By the time everything had calmed down and I was able to find the time to get there, Video Oasis had closed. If you maneuver around past the bus in this Google Map street view, you can even see the store’s signs and the darkened, Shogun Warrior-free windows.

As is the case when a loved one passes away, one has to work past the sadness and remember the good times. Although I’m sad to see it go, I’m still glad I had been able to visit at least once. It is also important to cherish those that are still with us and make every opportunity count. So if you’ve been thinking of renting certain movies from a certain store, do it now. They could close up tomorrow for all you know. Writing this also led me to discover that It’s All True/Channel Zero still exists in blog form. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Goodbye Video Oasis, you will be missed.

Growing up during a moral panic

Sony_SLV-M20HF_VCRThis post was contributed by JA Kerswell.

The following is an update of an article that I wrote for my slasher movie website Hysteria Lives! back at the end of the 90s. The original article can be read at: http://www.hysteria-lives.co.uk/hysterialives/Hysteria/slasher_nasties_1.htm

I am also the author of the upcoming history of the slasher movie, Teenage Wasteland. Which will be available in the UK from New Holland Publishing in October 2010: http://newhollandpublishers.com/details.asp?pid=9781847734525&t=The-Teenage-Wasteland:-Slasher-Movie-Uncut

When the perfect storm that surrounded ‘video-nasties’ began to really hot up in the UK I was all of twelve years old.

I remember passing those new fangled (at the time) video shops; gawking at their garish displays for such schlock busters as SS. EXPERIMENT CAMP (the poster for which actually formed the catalyst of the first ‘nasty’ bashing), and Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. I have distinct memories of seeing the cinema poster for the latter outside my local Odeon; longing to join all those lucky people inside in the dark. The X-certificate meant that there was no way I was ever going to make it there, though. However, video emporiums offered a potential world of delights for a boy with a burgeoning interest in the horror genre. Pre-certificate tapes could be a boon for a tyke with a taste for terror!

Even before we got our own VCR I would visit video stores and fantasise about the gleaming boxes; not yet dulled by decades of dust. I snatched furtive glances at the top shelf – all those chunky, garish plastic boxes, full of the promise of horrid delights. Some of those video stores were an assault on the senses: enough macabre imagery to knock you out and make your eyes bleed; and the overwhelming smell of new plastic to bring you round again. Back then, a rogue swish from someone’s polyester slacks would have been enough to generate a spark that would have sent the whole kit-n-kaboodle into a raging inferno.

Previously, I’d had to satisfy my morbid curiosity and fascination for all things scary with relatively anaemic 70’s horror movies shown on the BBC, such as late-night mainstays RACE WITH THE DEVIL and ZOLTAN: HOUND OF DRACULA. There were many stolen moments with the remote control, as the rest of the house slept; immersing myself in some old Hammer nonsense or other. I also had to content myself with the latest James Herbert novel (actually often more horrific than the films I longed to see, as it turned out). You can imagine my profound disappointment when I eventually found out that there was no genital dismemberment with garden shears in John Carpenter’s THE FOG!

Seduced by the promise of forbidden fruit I pleaded, cajoled and practically begged my parents to drag our home entertainment unit into the modern age. They finally succumbed, but not until early 1984 – just when the video witch hunt was reaching its zenith and many films had disappeared from the shelves altogether. The hulking great silver monolith sat, wedged under the television. It was fed, almost exclusively, on a diet of soaps, my sister’s music videos and – shudder – THE SOUND OF MUSIC. At least to start with that is.

We hired the Sony VHS VCR from Radio Rentals in Guildford town centre. We never went the Betamax route (we were savvy like that). What sounds antiquated now was cutting-edge back then. Indeed, a friend once showed me the receipt for the VCR his family had bought in the early 1980s (and probably later regretted after it lost that other great video battle between Betamax and Sony’s VHS (and to a lesser degree Philips 2000)). It came in with a hefty price tag of over £500. Even now most of us would baulk at playing that for a DVD or Blu-ray player, but back then it was a small fortune and then some. It just goes to show that these were must-have pieces of equipment. People would sell a kidney to keep up with the Jones’; them with the video remote control that was connected to the VCR and could double as a skipping rope. It was like they were living the SPACE 1999 dream for real!

Radio Rentals had a small array of tapes, mostly dedicated to a family audience – but even they had films such as David Cronenberg’s RABID to rent. It was surely a sign of the times that such a respectable high street store (in-between C&A and Dorothy Perkins if I remember correctly) would proudly display those garish covers with stickers to further up the ghoulish anticipation. In the instance of RABID, Radio Rentals (or perhaps the video production company) had stuck a self-proclaimed double XX rating on the case. One X off hard-core pornography, I thought? How horrific could it be if they had to make up a new certificate? My young mind was reeling.

Whilst my longing for some illicit video tape action continued, the media war (led by The Daily Mail, naturally) rallied against the ‘nasties’. I recall watching a news report on this new ‘menace’, showing tapes by their thousand being crushed by huge digger trucks and shovelled across an enclosed wasteland. Presumably they ended in some mass burial. On one hand I was furious – what a waste! But on the other it just made them more appealing. They were so dangerous, so horrific, so deliciously terrifying that they could not be allowed to exist!

I recall listening, with absolute wonderment, to the stories of older kids who had seen some of these fabled movies – many of which, now that they had been banned and were especially sought after in the playgrounds across the country. These fellow children had not only been in video stores, they had actually been allowed to rent some of these fabled ‘nasties’ (or so they said). Word of mouth, becoming Chinese whispers of epic proportions created legends around them. Wild (and often bogus) stories of abject horror were told in a surrounding of hushed awe. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT sounded like a movie from another planet for someone forced to watch BERGERAC and NATIONWIDE almost nightly. It was important to state that you had seen at least one of the films, even if you hadn’t – leading to wildly inventive, and often fraudulent, synopsis’. I remember one girl telling me – and me lapping it up – that FRIDAY THE 13TH concerned a series of accidents that occurred on ‘unlucky’ Friday 13th. One of which apparently involved a man driving along the freeway; his car filling up with water and him drowning! A year later I actually saw it and realised she was talking unmitigated bollocks.

And when I actually did get to see FRIDAY THE 13TH I loved it with a capital L. This was as good as I dared fear (despite the rather deceiving video cover I’d seen in Radio Rentals showing an idyllic still just before the film’s climatic shock ending). It came shortly after popping my slasher cherry with HALLOWEEN II at a friend’s house in 1982, or so. Again, a life-changing experience – and one I’d hankered after having been enthralled by the skull/pumpkin combo on the video cover.  It was made slightly surreal as my school friend’s Mum cheerfully made up chips and beans for tea and the rest of the family (including his younger sister) all sat with us with their plates in their laps watching Michael Myer’s second reign of terror before putting on that nice Michael Parkinson afterwards.

So, yes, I did get to see quite a few horror movies – including some of those mythical ‘nasties’, on friend’s VCRs. Despite the virulent crackdown on all things dubious there were still a number of local shops that had the odd unsavoury item tucked away on a dusty shelf and would turn a blind eye to a trembling fourteen year old with his parent’s video card. Even when I did get challenged I had perfected the look of innocence – “Really? BLOODY MOON is an ‘X’?”, and even though I had to leave sheepishly with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK instead, at least I didn’t get the card confiscated. That came later, after I made the mistake of making my Grandma watch Fulci’s AENIGMA. I wasn’t allowed to chose the family entertainment after that for quite a while.

Bunking off from school to watch ‘nasties’ (or at least the nastiest thing we could still find) became a disreputable habit. Shrieking and laughing through THE SHINING, SUPERSTITION, FINAL EXAM, HOUSE OF EVIL, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and many more, became a rite of passage. Eagle-eyed in our school uniforms for the latest atrocity to hit the shelves, and ever mindful of the shop attendants most likely to turn a blind eye for a moment’s peace. “Look everyone – they let me rent THE FINAL TERROR! Let the horror commence!”

But even the days where one or two ‘nasties’ would cling to the shelves (or under the counter) was in decline, gradually replaced by highly censored FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels (which began to appear in 1987). Sometimes we wondered what all the fuss was about, as many former ‘nasties’ reappeared in video stores in drastically cut versions. Surely the utterly eviscerated version of LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE could have quite easily played on early evening TV without Barry Took’s postbag being too overwhelmed with complaints. It wasn’t until years later that I realised just how cut it had been.

Soon the ‘nasties’ were gone, replaced by certified and increasingly anodyne horrors. Instead they found new homes at boot fairs – although you have as much chance of finding the Covenant of the Ark as you do of happening across a copy of THE BEAST IN HEAT these days. The ‘nasties’ were forcibly ejected from the video stores, and one of the only other ways to see them was through someone, inevitably called Nigel, who advertised ‘collectable videos’ in the pages of fanzines such as Samhain. Of course, the more I actually saw the more I realised that many of the ‘nasties’ were undeniable dross – and the anticipation and lipsmackingly sensationalist artwork were the best thing about many of them. Having said that, I still maintain that the Bigfoot opus NIGHT OF THE DEMON is perhaps the funniest film I’ve ever seen!

Of course, today video stores are going the way of off-licences. Soon to be banished to the history books in the age of Lovefilm and Netflix. I remember coveting a Siouxise and the Banshees video in HMV back in about 1982. It would have taken me exactly 440 years to save up enough pocket money to buy it. People forget that, in this day of cheap-as-chips throwaway DVDs, that videos used to cost a veritable arm and a leg back then. Video libraries were literally treasure troves, and proprietors had to make those clamshells work for them – and were understandably peeved if the local constabulary came armed with bin liners.

Of course, those treasures soon littered charity shops up and down the country. Once shiny boxes dulled by years of dust and grime. When I travel back to Guildford I can still pick out the place I rented ROSEMARY’S KILLER (it is no longer there; obliterated by an apartment block is in its place). I’ve made up for my initially thwarted passion for horror by collecting tapes over the years, making my own dusty video library. Just as LPs are aesthetically more appealing than CDs, the large clamshell – complete with it cheerfully demented artwork – is more appealing than a DVD. I don’t know why, it just is.

Just a sniff of that degrading plastic is enough to transport me back almost thirty years. Back to the g(l)ory days of the video store and illicit afternoons in the company of madmen, werewolves and zombies.

It’s All Greek To Me

Apollo videoThought for the day: Any ideas as to why so many video shops had Greek inspired names?  In Birmingham we had Apollo Video (was this part of the same chain who now own Apollo Cinemas?), Olympia Video and, perhaps my favourite, Aphrodite Video.  Surely this cannot be a coincidence?  Were there any other shops in the UK that had similar names?

Video Vision

This post was contributed by Dale Lloyd, known in the world of video collecting as @VivaVHS.

I used to go to a video rental store every Friday night with a friend when I was young. We’d always take a parent with us, as we were only interested in renting the obscure 80’s horror titles. The store was called ‘Video Vision’ and was located in Tipton, a town in the West Midlands, UK. Don’t tell anyone, but i’ve still got one of their tapes that I never returned. I found the case in the attic a few months back. It contains a terrible film, but the Video Vision artwork on the sleeve is just incredible and it instantly takes me back to days of old whenever I look at it. I wonder what the late return charge would be?

Video Vision
Video Vision was turned into a curry house at the end of the millennium. I eat there regularly and often think back to its glory days in the mid to late 90s. What is more disturbing is that I never go the toilet when i’m there, as that’s where the kids section used to be. In my experience, the greatest thing about video rental stores was that the horror section was always separated from the other genres by a partition wall. It was dark and eerie, and I always felt uneasy when I walked around that area viewing such titles as The Burning, Lucifer, Superstition and Visiting Hours.

We’d get one of our parents to rent us a few horror movies at random and take them home. We’d wait until it got late and then watch them until about three or four o’clock in the morning. Good or bad, it mattered not, as it was the experience of going to places like that and finding hidden gems that mattered. I don’t get that feeling these days when I walk into the various high street stores or a Blockbuster store. I guess it’s a feeling i’ll never experience again. My VHS screening room is the closest I get.

Library
There are many reasons why I have come to love VHS so much. The grainy picture and classic trailers from bad 80’s movies at the beginning of each tape; the classic artwork; the hard cases; the great studio logos and sounds. I could go on all night.

It used to be the case that when a film finished its run at the cinema, it would take a long time before it was released onto VHS for rental purposes and then a further six months or so before it was released for general sale. Video rental stores used to flourish because it was the only way to see these films if you had missed them on the big screen. These days, movies are easily accessible online and the time between a theatrical release and the arrival of a DVD/Blu-ray has shortened to just a few months. I think they’re actually available to buy in the shops on the same day that they are released for rental. The last time I checked, films were £5.00 to rent for two nights, but only £12.99 to actually buy. No wonder these stores started closing down around us!

I do appreciate that piracy is a huge deal these days, so it only makes sense that the release times are shortened. I’m no format freak; I own hundreds of DVDs and many Blu-Ray titles, but for me, VHS will always win through as it is a constant reminder of my rental years. I miss the days when we had to rent our VCRs and our video tapes from places like Video Vision. Every VHS I own has a story and I could tell you where I found or purchased each tape in my collection. I cannot say the same for the disposable and lightweight DVDs that I own.

I guess I just love a bit of nostalgia.