Virtually every horror fan has shards of early, cherished memories that reflected their passion before they realized it was their passion. If you’re of a certain age, some might be universally shared, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or untold hours logged shotgunning Cacodemons in DOOM. Though most are quite personal, like the picture to your right. Or the time my parents placed a Slimer toy from The Real Ghostbusters in the fridge and dared me to open it on the first birthday I can remember. Vincent Price on the Horror Hall of Fame awards show in 1991. My mom renting Army of Darkness as a “new release” and saying it was great and should have been a big hit afterward. Seeing The Evil Dead for the first time uncut on the Sci-fi Channel’s Zombie Week hosted by Rob Zombie. Staying up until three in the morning just to watch Night of the Living Dead for the first time. Rewinding Dawn of the Dead‘s helicopter zombie again-and-again the very first time I saw it. Avoiding the perils of sunlight and exercise on weekend afternoons to watch the horror double features usually featuring The Return of the Living Dead, Squirm, Shock Waves, and Waxwork on my local FOX affiliate in the early ’90s.
Independence Drug. The building still stands today. Walk in past the cashier and discover a run-of-the-mill convenience store with a pharmacy against the back wall. I assume so diabetics and heart patients can buy three-liter Mountain Dews and pork rinds along with their prescriptions. Tucked back in the corner sits rows of dusty Hallmark cards and cheap plastic flower bouquets, but this corner wasn’t stuffed with laments of death. The ravages of Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos took their toll. When the small video section finally shuddered a few years ago, copious amounts of space remained unfilled with a desperate attempt to keep only the latest DVD releases on the shelves. No back catalog or tapes whatsoever. Genre sections so ill-defined that you might as well have just scanned the area for covers. Hardly any business at the dawning of Netflix until the small “video store” sign that adorned the front of the building disappeared along with all traces.
“It’s a crying shame” the manager would say whenever asked. I befriended the guy, who was the owner’s son, after hooking from a militaristic last session Foods class in high school since the place was literally a walk across a short parking lot. At that time, a few years before the store’s ultimate death, there were a few tapes still hanging onto the shelves. We’d shoot the shit about old horror flicks while I’d slyly ask if certain tapes were for sale or not. The best purchase was Fox’s Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore) (1994) when it was still quite rare. Of course, while talking about the store’s old days and Vincent Price’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes (his absolute favorite), not one customer would ever bother the quiet with rental business. It wasn’t always like this.
A solid wall of empty cardboard slipboxes in every section with dozens of titles at a glance. All the cassettes sat behind the counter all housed in scratched up clear plastic cases with catalog number and rating stickers. As a kid, I can remember being dazzled at the sheer amount of movies, falsely believing the entire world of cinema resided in this relatively tiny video store. This was when I was too young to realize what I was standing before or even make my own selections. I’d mainly tag along with my mother as she’d rent a tape or two every week for our big, long departed Zenith battleship VCR. I can also remember the Horror section.
And this is no bullshit, but I’m fairly certain this is the first thing I can remember…err…remembering. Independence Drug’s Horror tape section was to the left as when you walked into the square assemblage of towering shelves. It wasn’t in the back corner or behind a saloon door like the porno. Nah, it was the first thing all patrons saw. The midsection was just like the rest of the tapes being “spine out” sheets of the slipcases usually associated with VHS. The top shelf were the clamshell cases that seemed nearly touching the ceiling. Since I was just knee high to a grasshopper, the bottom shelf was what was in arm’s reach. A line of cardboard big boxes rested just inches off the floor, but not just any big boxes. Thriller Video’s Elvira Presents series with the Mistress of the Dark herself splashed all over the black-trimmed covers. This short-lived series was meant to capitalize on Elvira’s rampant popularity as the scream hostess of Movie Macabre and are the single most widely remembered tapes to anyone renting horror back in the ’80s. Today, all of Thriller Video’s output are amongst the most desired big-boxed horror VHS ever released. Of course, I had no idea of any of this at the time and still can’t get why I always stumbled over to them.
Though there was one in particular in the line-up that became burned into my memory. Roy Ward Baker’s monumental Amicus “hip update” misfire The Monster Club with Vincent Price, Donald Pleasance, John Carradine, and Britt Ekland. The box must have been “front out” on the shelf because I remember the cover so vividly with a great illustration of Price with kooky monsters and, of course, Elvira. As for the film, I wasn’t allowed to rent it at the time and only saw it a few years ago when it finally arrived on DVD. By that time, I had already seen most of Price’s classics like Theatre of Blood (1973) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). The Monster Club tries desperately to invoke camp charm, but it’s really just an embarrassing curiosity comprised of seasoned talents that deserved better. Although the kid version of me probably would have loved it and might have prevented me from crying my eyes out when presented with a Freddy Krueger poster at age of 8. Still, that doesn’t diminish my love for his tape and its importance in my life. This horror flick in a “porno box” reminds me of simpler times, and now that I have copy (pictured, factory sealed), also gives off the feeling of my collection coming full circle in some sense. Despite possessing rarer tapes, this is definitely my all-time favorite with immeasurable sentimental value.