We never stopped to consider that they might disappear one day. Why would we? For some of us, they’d been there from the moment of our birth; we literally don’t remember a time without them. Until recently, that is. Video stores as we knew them are long gone, a bedtime story we tell children raised on multiple streaming platforms available to them 24/7. A cornucopia of choices right at their fingertips…but on some sort of screen. Only on a screen. Those fingers won’t run over a clamshell case or slide a cassette tape out of thin carboard. The phrase “be kind, rewind” means about as much to the younger generation as “soda jerk” meant to mine. Just a remnant of a time now past, a memory destined to be forgotten by all but historians as those who lived through the era pass out of this existence.
There’s a lot to be said for streaming video. The convenience certainly makes many things easier for all of us, and not just the lazy. But there’s plenty of us who miss the video store.
It’s been said over and over in the last few years that we are hearing the death rattle of physical media in its last gasp, and there’s more than ample proof to bear this statement out. Those of us in Generation X seem to be fighting this shift the hardest — I know I am. We LOVED video stores, whether it was your neighborhood Blockbuster or the mom & pop joint around the corner from you. Wandering the aisles, picking up seemingly every other box, staring at the art and wondering if the film itself could live up to such a cool advertisement (not always the case, but such was the price of joyful exploration). I remember doing just that from the time I was barely walking on my own through my late twenties. As a lover of genre films from early in my development as a cinephile, there are some video labels that linger in my mind even all these years later. Ones like New World come to mind, but the one that’s always stood out to me the most? That would be Vestron Video. GOD, how I learned to love Vestron Video. I’m talking about a ridiculous level of trust in that line — I’d turn the box sideways to see if that telltale logo was there and if so, I felt fairly comfortable in knowing I was about to rent me some quality (again, this was not always the case, but enough so that I was confident). Speaking of said logo, I am very much one of those weird people — and WAS one of those weird kids — who was initially annoyed when they changed the logo simply because it was now different than what I’d come to adore, but it didn’t take me long to decide that it was the right move because the new logo was undeniably cooler.
Like I said… weird.
But I’m willing to bet there are people reading this that can fully and completely relate. Ones who remember that time, those odd little things that still stick in the craw. Not unlike the 1 box art for Thom Eberhardt’s SOLE SURVIVOR (released by Vestron in 1983), which fascinated me to no end. What was up with that skull? It looked kinda high tech in that early-80s “COMPUTERS, HELL YEAH!” way, but also pretty damn ghostly at the same time, which was like catnip to the horror & sci-fi geek I was. Suffice it to say I rented the shit out of that movie (which is not great but enjoyable enough, as I recall). Other titles like THE HILLS HAVE EYES II — I had not seen part 1 at that point, but fuck me if Michael Berryman wasn’t some freaky shit in just that picture alone — and SPLATTER UNIVERSITY tickled my little geek sweet spot in a big way.
Vestron wasn’t solely devoted to that side of genre fare in the early 80s. Raunchy slobs vs. snobs comedies like UP THE CREEK (#JenniferRunyon4Eva) and the Stanley Donen/Michael Caine middle-age sexual fantasy creepfest BLAME IT ON RIO also adorned shelves of your local video depot along with a slew of others ranging from the likes of BEAT STREET to IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES. What I’m saying is, Vestron wasn’t merely the video home of THE MUTILATOR and IMPULSE — even if that’s what many of us remember them as being. Then again, it’s not like we can help it; you rent TRANCERS and THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS as a 10-12 year old, I guarantee you that’s gonna have a larger impact on a particular kind of kid than something like THE FLAMINGO KID or THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN is going to have.
As long as we’re discussing impact, Vestron Video most likely made no larger one on me personally than what I’m almost positive is the first one of their movies I ever owned (with an almost irrational degree of pride) a VHS copy of: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION. We should all know why this movie is The Shit, and if you’re currently reading these words I assume you do. Granted, I know a few film freaks who just do not understand the appeal of this crazy thing, but for those of us who know, we’ll never forget. My bounty of video treasure slowly and surely grew, and the list goes on and on: snapping up my own copy of RE-ANIMATOR and learning it was possible to laugh at the same time you were fighting the urge to vomit; renting LIFEFORCE and experiencing the awkward excitement of having Mathilda May make a man out of me; seeing TO LIVE & DIE IN L.A. at a friend’s sleepover birthday party and being destroyed by Friedkin’s climax; allowing my younger sister to choose our rental and suffering through the execrable ONCE BITTEN (she was 8 and developed a crush on young Jim Carrey, something she pretends never happened to this day and which I will never stop reminding her about).
Again, I could go on and on…but lest eyes begin to glaze, I’ll simply say that those are fantastic memories and ones I’ll always cherish. Those specific details of our childhood, be it the Snorks or The Great Tiffany/Debbie Gibson Wars of 1987 or Vestron Video, no matter how insignificant or routine they may have felt at the time, they represent one of the many building blocks that shape us into who we become. Fondly looking back at those days, times spent romping through a video store and endlessly searching for the next Awesome Asskicking Flick in a quest we were sure would never end, I’m reminded how things inevitably change — but that 2 the pieces left behind aren’t necessarily discarded. Sometimes, as we’re seeing now with this new Vestron Video line from Lionsgate, they remain, and are rightly cherished.
We haven’t lost these things. The only danger is forgetting that they ever were, and can one day be again. I think there’s worse fights we could engage in than the good one to keep that era alive, in our hearts if not always in our local retail. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go wrestle a middle-aged soccer mom for the last Blu-ray of CHOPPING MALL at my neighborhood Best Buy. She’s got a sizable advantage as she’s operating with the considerable strength of a childhood infatuation with Tony O’Dell (that preppie prick from TV’s Head of the Class), but seeing as how I’ve got a similar situation with the eternally adorable Kelli Maroney… I think I’ll be just fine.