Saturday, June 25, 2011

Remembering the VHS days: MAJOR VIDEO

Seeing how people today watch movies is really weird and frustrating to me. I grew up so enamored with them that seeing people look at movies as such a disposable medium makes me really sad. Going to the movies was such an event in my childhood, such a really special thing, that I have that imprinted on my very DNA I think. I grew up in the era when VCR’s were introduced and it was something my family had to actually SAVE money to get. I am pretty sure we used tax return money or something as we got it at the beginning of the year 1985 and it was a game changer in our house hold. I suddenly didn’t have to wait for movies I loved to be on cable TV or the late show. Something that today’s generation have no concept of. I remember going with my Step-Father to Video Towne and getting our fist membership and begging the clerk for all the horror movies I wanted to see and more importantly my family to see. For some reason I really wanted everyone to see THE STUFF. I think because I saw it in the theater the fall before with a friend but my family did not. Being a newer release no one had it in, it was always rented.

I remember we rented AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON,  THE BEAST WITHIN and I believe TAXI DRIVER and borrowed from our neighbors I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (which I was not allowed to watch just yet). The game was ON people.

Going to the video store became a pilgrimage for me. I am sure I drove my parents fucking crazy as I would spend hours going through the racks looking for movies to rent. I was mesmerized by the boxes, just taking in the artwork and synopsis. Being a kid I was still drawn to the stuff I kind of knew from commercials or cable, so I made up weird mythology in my head. Those BIG BOX movies were somehow forbidden to me. Because they were garish and titles I didn’t know, I surmised they had to be STRONGER stuff or somehow DIRTY in someway and I stayed away from them. Naturally this made them more fascinating because of  that. It would be a number of years before I would get my balls our of the sling and rent one of them. But that was okay because there were hundreds of other movies to go through first. Often I would find one I liked and I would rent it over and over again. THE EVIL DEAD for example I kept taking back to the store and asking to rent right back out, doing so for three rental periods straight. CREEPERS aka PHENOMENA was another one I did that with. Mind you this was when I was a young teen and couldn’t drive yet, so my Mom was always nice enough to indulge my insanity, willing to take me not only TO the video store, but to return the tapes too. Knowing full well that once I got there, I was jut going to want to rent more of the damn things. But she almost never complained. Honestly, I am not sure how we did it because we were super poor. But somehow we found money to rent movies. I’m sure conservatives today would find a problem with that and say we shouldn’t been allowed to.

I was also lucky in that Dayton had a wealth of video stores that had lots of movies. Looking back on it now some of the crazy shit I was able to see is astounding. This whole blog today was triggered by a discussion I was having on Facebook were a friend and I were remembering a couple of old video stores. Those memories made me want to write a little more in detail about said stores. I could probably get a few blogs out of each store if I so choose, so lets see how it goes. The one we were talking about was a place called:


Major Video was a chain store that was located in Huber Heights in a shopping center on Old Troy Pike and Chambersburg by a K-Mart that only recently went out of business (the K-Mart that is). As per usual Major Video was driven out of Business when Blockbuster built a brand new store in the fucking parking lot in front of Major Video. But the years they were open I found myself renting there quite often. I mistakenly posted on facebook that I rented there when I was 14, but that isn’t true. I think I started renting there when I was 15 and continued to do so until they closed when I was around 18 or 19 years old.

They were a very cool store that had a wide variety of the typical stuff any chain store would have. But the one thing that made them unique was they had a very large enclosed horror section. A giant room with two entrances that was always kept really dark and lit by can lights so you could see the boxes but not much else. In truth they probably did this so stuffy parents didn’t have to let their kids see all the scary and gruesome boxes of the movies they had. But it also functioned nicely as atmosphere, and made you feel like you were looking at something forbidden. The horror selection there was fantastic. They had all the Charles Band WIZARD VIDEO big box releases. I remember when they got that second wave of stuff they put out that included MUTANT HUNT, ROBOT HOLOCAUST and HEADLESS EYES.

I never actually rented them, because I was just convinced they were junk (I was actually a fairly snooty renter in my younger years. Now I have mad love for those movies) but I would just stare at the cover art for a long time as it was endlessly impressive.  But the movies only ever got one mention in Fangoria, which was my bible on the matters at the time and it was a brief mention in the article on the making of the movie BREEDERS (which they had too) so I passed on them. I did however take a chance and rent DARIO ARGNETO’S WORKD OF HORROR, a title that no other video store in Dayton EVER had. What a find that was! I watched that thing so many times it was insane. As was the routine at that point I ran a dub of it off and would watch it anytime I needed a little inspiration. I was well beyond the renting a title multiple times. My collection had begun and I would buy movies if I found them afford ably enough. Major Video also had the unrated STREET TRASH in the horror section, another one I took home and shared with my friends who had not gotten to see it with me theatrically.

I remember one title Major Video had that I was afraid to rent was COMBAT SHOCK. For all the gore movies I devoured at the time, I was still pretty uncomfortable with violence that had too much reality to it. I was very familiar with the movie thanks to DEEP RED magazine and Chas Balun’s and Steve Bissette’s praise of the film. But I was just certain that the real life milieu of the film was going to be too much for me so I always left it on the shelf. This was the unrated/uncut VHS of the film too, which is now VERY hard to come by.  But around this time I began to work with Jim VanBebber on what was to become THE MANSON FAMILY and we talked films all the time, and COMBAT SHOCK was one he talked up to me in a big way, along with HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER which he gave a copy of to me (and not coincidentally was the OTHER movie that at the time I was actually afraid to watch on the same grounds). So I got my nerve up and rented it and watched it one afternoon. I found the movie to be powerful, thought provoking and EXTREMELY disturbing. The low budget did make it a bit easier to watch, but it still gets under your skin. HENRY on the other hand is so real it is almost too much. Both films had a profound impact on me though and were my initiation into the more transgressive side of filmmaking. My baptism by fire into the abyss. I’ve never looked back since.

Major Video provided me with lighted moments too. I remember renting one of my first “dirty” videos there. I want to say it was one of those PRIVATE SCREENINGS late night European import Skinamax type movies. I was probably very taken by the cover which featured some beauty in white high heels and similar lingerie. The memory is fuzzy now, but I had to have driven there, or at least been driven there by a friend, so at worst I was 15 years old, probably 16. I distinctly remember taking it up to the counter with a couple other tapes. Probably horror movies knowing me. Hoping that they didn’t say anything about it. Never really thinking all they would do is tell me I couldn't rent it and put it back on the shelf. What would they have done? Call my parents? Call the police? Put my picture on a some pervert bulletin board? It’s not like I was showing my cock in the store or something. I had yet to actually work a video store so I didn’t realize that the clerks really just don’t give a shit.

A 15 year old kid sneaking skinamax movies is hardly a blip on the radar when there are people stealing movies and REAL perverts masturbating in the actual XXX back room. They never said a word to me and it went off without a hitch. I don’t even remember anything about the movie except that the woman on the cover was NOT in it, and it was BORING as all get it out. It wasn’t even funny like those Fairy Tale rip off movies you would see on late night TV sometimes. After that I made it a point to at least rent the PLAYBOY and PENTHOUSE stuff. I still thought it too risky to actually try to sneak into the porno room…

Major Video was also the ONLY place I have EVER seen a copy of Larry Buchanan’s documentary SEX AND THE ANIMALS complete with Animals about to get busy right on the cover. I always wondered who were the people who rented that tape? Did science teachers rent it to show to their classes? Was there some freaky sex cults that watched it for kicks? I just never understood the demographic for it, or the wherewithal it probably took to make the damn thing…

Like I previously mentioned Major Video was a hot bed of activity and did well until Blockbuster video literally grew out of the ground like a disease infested weed in front of their store almost over night. They last for a short time after that, but the competition killing practices that corporate giant used were too much and eventually they closed their doors. Sad thing is that Blockbuster lasted until very recently with the downturn finally making them go under too.

Major Video was a cool place. One of my favorites to rent at. But not my favorite, there were a couple of other places on the West Side of town that I adored. Perhaps I will write about CASTLE VIDEO or VIDEO NEWS in the near future…

Article © Andrew Copp

* After finding that PRIVATE SCREENINGS picture and realizing that is indeed the very video I rented that day, I now know I had rented a CUT version of a JESS FRANCO movie! The hilarity involved in that is not lost on me...


  1. I had a similar experience with Video King in Upstate NY. They had a lot of the Big Box tapes like Zombie and I Spit on Your Grave. I loved that store but the one around me bit the big one. There may be another one about 50 miles away but those tapes are probably long gone.

    My favorite experience was renting 5 tapes: Faces of Death 1-3, Naked Lunch, and Clockwork Orange.

  2. This truly spoke to my heart. Some of my most cherished memories involve my Mom and I renting movies. We actually had to save money just to rent a VCR from the video store, since it was just me and her, there was never a lot of money going around. Seeing all the varied cover art and so many unknown (to me) movies was a huge thrill...especially the horror section. As much as I love the net, it does make me sad that kids nowadays will miss out on the experience.