Thursday, April 23, 2015

Video store sleaze rises from the grave

Once upon a time, our national landscape was littered with video stores. And it was beautiful.

My first video store was near Colts Neck, N.J., and looked very different from the unholy corporate monstrosities later spawned by the likes of Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Moovies. The tapes (both VHS and Betamax) were in translucent plastic shelves behind the counter. The only "browsing" you did was through the store's photocopied catalog, which was nothing more than an typed list of movie titles in alphabetical order. When new titles arrived, they were added as hand-written notes on the final page of the catalog.

It took about 15 minutes for this business model to change.

During their prime, video stores were equal parts "show room" and "freak show," a place for vendors to display their wares in full exploitative bloom. This wasn't a marketing aesthetic reserved only for horror movies. Back in the day, everybody had cranked their marketing to 11. Video store shelves often looked like the Joker had vomited on them, with garish colors and bizarro imagery all fighting to get your attention. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss those days a little.

A lot of this nostalgia is rooted in my distaste for the disposable trash that replaced it. During the 1990s movie posters became an interchangeable cavalcade of floating heads and lens flares. Adding insult to injury, many "older" titles were given botched plastic surgeries courtesy of Photoshop. Even Lucasfilm — a studio that made its bones by lovingly repackaging nostalgia — got in on the game, creating bad Photoshop renditions of the original STAR WARS movie posters for home video releases. Nothing was sacred.

It's been a joy to see the independent home video market gradually reject this ideology during the last decade. Companies like Mondo Tees, Waxwork Records and Arrow Video have worked to distinguish themselves by, you know, distinguishing themselves. While the major studios competed to be more like everyone else than everyone else, the indies said "Fuck It" and decided to have some fun.

Which is how we find ourselves with a release like SATAN'S BLADE, a 1984 slasher flick that's coming to Blu-ray next month. I like to think I know a little something about horror movies, but SATAN'S BLADE is a film that's managed to evade my radar. Here's the grammatically tragic summary from IMDB:
"At a mountain resort, a local resident is possessed by the evil spirit of an ancient mountain man, and terrorizes a ski lodge."

SATAN'S BLADE was originally released on VHS by Mogul Communications, a company that thrived on filling video shelves with terrible movies back in the '80s. There's a very real possibility that SATAN'S BLADE is just fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, but it's kind of thrilling that this kind of rubbish is getting an HD release in the era of Redbox. The Blu-ray also features the film's original Motörhead-esque poster art, which probably has nothing to do with the actual movie. I'd be kinda disappointed if it did.

(Note: You can see alternate VHS box art for SATAN'S BLADE at the Basement of Ghoulish Delights.)

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