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Rewinding the Video Tape: Memories of the Video Store Print E-mail
Written by Jay Creepy   
Tuesday, 07 May 2019
 

REWINDING THE VIDEO TAPE: MEMORIES OF THE VIDEO SHOPSRewinding the Video Tape: Memories of the Video Shops by Jay Creepy

I suppose back in the day, a few video shop assistants and owners would have noticed me and recognised me, thinking; “Who the hell is that lad? Why is he always in here?” Well, I was a video store addict from an early age. The homely smell of those puffy black cases, it's hard to describe the plastic scent to someone who has never been into one of those early stores. Warm, safe and knowing something good would come as you walked through the doors.

At my video shop
Let me fly, fly you away

And everyone who walks in through that door
Has got something that they're looking for
At my video shop....

(The Kinks “The Video Shop”)

In the UK, it seemed they all sprung up from nowhere. My city, Hull, isn't a big place, but to my childhood mind, these places happened to exist down every street. So I can imagine the army that emerged in Manchester, Leeds, or parts of London. The fact was, like takeaways, every one had its followings and made money.

Huge chunky video machines. I have a vague memory of the adverts on TV, this was the next big revolution in film. The VCR! Betamax and VHS (there was of course the V-2000, but I never came across this)

I reckon I must have been around 8-years-old and my Grandparents hired a Betamax from a store in the town centre called, Rediffusion. At the time, my Granddad was an obsessive technology fella, happily showing his family all the glories of this top loading beast with its “poking stick” to tune it. So it wasn't long after that this kid, who watched the late night horrors with his Mum and Dad (this was in the days that UK telly had a regular helping of '60s and '70s chillers on the box after 9pm) nagged his long suffering parents (I was an only child – ok??!!) to rent us all a Betamax! We could now record those films and watch them again and again. My Mum dived into to the craze instantly, and took me by the hand into the glorious world of the rental market.

Off we trotted twice, maybe three times a week, to the before-mentioned Rediffusion. Mum put together any spare change we had and we browsed the endless shelves of puffa boxes, that smell, and some of the most incredible head turning covers imaginable. We had a head start – my Mum used to buy Starburst magazine in the heady times the publication devoted most of its time to horror as well as science fiction.

Werewolves, maniacs, wild misshapen creatures, vengeful women, possessed folks, vampires, and zombies! Ahh, we adored zombies. Zombies: Dawn of the Dead, Zombie Lake, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie Creeping Flesh, anything with the 'Z' title or showed walking corpses on the sleeve did the old 'clunk! Whirrrr' in our Betamax. This was a religious experience, a version of erotica to my young self, without knowing the meaning of the word at the time. I was devoted to the films. Whilst my school mates played with their Star Wars figures and planned scene by scene recreations of George Lucas' monster, I had them playing Dawn of the Dead with me. I had to be Roger, he was cool as fuck (other games we based around The Black Hole and Doctor Who).

Meanwhile, my own Star Wars figures gradually became zombies, courtesy of plasticine and red felt tip pens (incidentally I went too far one weekend by setting up my Han Solo on the bars of an electric fire to make a burnt zombie. I forgot about him, thus my Mum wasn't happy to find the plastic fella melted and smouldering, close to starting a house fire. “Wait til your Dad gets in!” Yeah, well, after the good hiding I received later on, I decided a burnt cadaver toy wasn't the greatest of ideas).

Over time, more video shops were appearing in the city. I recall five in my area (I mean either walking distance or a short bus ride away). One store had two rooms – a smaller one by the till for new and large title popular rentals, the larger room through an archway. There were rows upon rows of horrors and all kinds of madness from probably every country around the globe! Of course this was also the era of the 'video nasty' culling, which meant lots of fave titles and ones we were planning on watching, vanished.

But I was still a kid, so I didn't care. I hung around outside the shops alone or with my pals. “Let's meet at t' vid shop down road!” We might check the latest movies or any that we'd missed prior, make notes, and then set about persuading our parents or whoever to hire the films for us. Aside from this, we frequented the cinemas. Blimey, it was frustrating being a kid, seeing the incredible titles on the posters yet couldn't go in, being they were X or later 18!

VHS had been the thing for a while now, the compact and in many ways far superior, Betamax, had rolled over in culture and whilst could still be purchased and stocked with tapes, less people did so. Let's not forget the other thing you could do with two VCRs and the leads. Somewhere along the way, I don't recall the exact method now, but my tech savvy Uncle taught me how to record from one machine to the other. In effect copy any movie (before protections were used) or programme already on a tape, to your own. He brought his own VHS under his arm, on his push bike, simply so he could compile a long cauldron of softcore skin. He paused and recorded all the best bits of as many soft porn movies (which he borrowed and taped at many houses in the city) he could find whilst I watched in a state of early teen confusion (was I about 11 or 12?). We giggled over a lot of the scenes and music. Many were comedies after-all.

The doors were open now. My Uncle also educated me into the ways of how to open up a machine and clean the heads. Wow, those heads got dirty so quick renting tapes. Anyway, school friends would give me a blank one, or one with a film on it to record over, and I would make a few quids. Nothing too big because I usually rented and copied for myself with saved pocket money or paper round cash.

As the late '80s and into the early '90s had taken down a lot of stores, there were less to choose from. At senior school my gang knew me as the weird kid with the horror films and mags, they lent loads off me. Another thing a few of us did was hustle and persuade video shop owners to give us, or sell us cheap, loads of posters. I had Elm St 3, Prison, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Church, and so many more pinned up in my bedroom amongst the Hip Hop stuff. In some cases I hadn't seen the films, they just looked awesome! We could all just chill and watch a trashy horror. Hahaha, the Friday 13th series became a favourite for us lads. Gore, violence, and tits of course!

It was getting cheaper to buy films, so rentals were dropping. In those days a rental came first to mind, and shop sales I think were a month later or so. I dunno. Cable TV had arrived years earlier, hoisting the early movie channels into your home. For a time in the late '80s we had Cable. I remember the Deadly Ernest Horror Show. My, oh, my, the classics I saw.

One or two new shops tried but failed. Two lived on for a while, Pharoahs and Kitcheners. We lads were still renting, but a new thing had entered our lives – the rise of Hip Hop. We spent our free time after school and into our college years rhyming, break-dancing, or spinning tunes. We're talking 1987 finding the music and early '90s getting serious about wanting to make records. We'd rather check the latest Public Enemy, Ice-T, Demon Boyz, BDP, Geto Boyz, Overlord X, or Schoolly D track than rent a film. The '90s became a maelstrom of writing, rapping, makeshift recording studios, soft drugs, and parties. Now and then we'd all slow down to smoke a massive amount of weed, or take some E's, crash at a mates house and watch Candyman, Phantasm III, a new Hong Kong movie, or whatever.

Somehow Blockbusters wiped everyone out from the old school. DVDs were coming. The internet was expanding to absorb everything like The Blob does. Being caught in the music (I finally retired from the music scene in 2016) meant I missed any sales and cheap bargains as the shops closed. I'm gutted still to this day. Saying that, my cash went on albums and tattoos.

In the year 2000, I met my Horror Soulmate (sadly my ex-Horror Soulmate now, we split last year) and she shared a huge passion for video tapes and movies in general. Over the years we adventured to so many shops, and collected hundreds upon hundreds of films and memorabilia together. In 2004, it was her who convinced me to switch over to DVDs, still keeping the VHS, mind. At one point I had a job in a rental store called Apollo. I recall the manager showing me upstairs and the fifty or so bags of tapes residing there, gathering dust, because DVDs had taken over. “Help yourself.” she said.

The last of the great old ones, Kitcheners, closed its doors around 2009. We were regulars over the years, taking the children in, who were treated to the sweet machine whilst we decided which films to rent. The owner told me he was selling up and going on a pilgrimage because he had finally found God. Apollo closed, another chain called Choices also did. Of course, Blockbusters passed away over time -- a victim of the internet.

This was the death of perhaps the greatest single event in the history of film (aside from the invention of moving pictures of course). Some lay blame at the doors of video shops for the death of cinema. Cinema still exists. We rented films, but also went to the cinema to watch movies. Rentals were crucified for the spread of nasties and porn. TV and the internet still exist.

The standees, the posters, the tapes, all fetch up to insane amounts of cash on eBay. Many collectors build their own homages to video shops in their homes. Me? I still have a working Betamax and VCR with tapes. I have a lot of puffa boxes (that smell... I'll tell you a funny story. A few years ago, a girl I worked with had some kind of perfume on, it smelt just like those video shops. I explained this and smelt her. Yeah, that creeped her out a bit: “Jay, stop smelling me!”) and a few standees. It seems a multitude lament the death of the stores worldwide. I've seen the documentaries devoted to the subject.

To think, by another generation, no one will have any genuine recollections of that magic decade and a half when rentals ruled. Now a click of a mouse or the press of a button brings home entertainment to you instantly, losing yet another way people used to go out, talk, meet and look around.

If you want to escape, I can rent you a tape
To relieve your situation
If you feel a bit low, I got a good peep show
'Cos everybody knows almost anything goes
At my video shop....

(Additional note: Here's a quick video tape memory, courtesy of one of my mates who grew up in the same era. His story takes up from around the year 2000: “I worked in Choices Videos on Holderness Road from December 2000, and was later sent to the newly opened Hessle Road branch in 2001, where I became supervisor, assistant manager, and manager. I spent a large portion of my childhood in Pharaoh's video shop on Holderness Road. At that time we were transitioning from VHS to DVD, and as such the company was selling off its back catalogue of VHS titles, so I ended up with a multi-buy deal of 10 VHS videos for £10.00. We sold thousands. Now many of these were dodgy horror titles, and many of those horror titles were ex-rentals, in the massive boxes, not like the smaller sell through boxes. I ended up buying tons back then, and still have them.”

Cheers, Mike.

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