V/H/S ‘Cellar Rentals’ Event

January 25th, 2013

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I’ve always found supposed evidence for ‘fate’ too trivial to take seriously, yet recently my worldview got a severe shakedown. On the day Momentum Pictures celebrates the launch of its new horror film V/H/S (check out our review here) by turning London’s Blackall Studios into a fully recreated video rental store…Blockbuster goes under.  Even though the struggling retailer had forgone analogue copies of movies eons ago, this coincidence is so extreme that the normal reservations I would have against personal incredulity polluting my rational mind have been thoroughly rewound. God exists, and apparently he’s not kind to lovers of 1980’s celluloid schlock.

IMG_2916_650x433Christened with the shop title ‘Cellar Rentals’ inside and out, this cave of nostalgia was buried in the studio’s basement, which presumably belongs to the owner’s mother. As expected old boxy TVs played The Thing and The Evil Dead on repeat, and, as if to shield ‘customers’ from a digital nuclear holocaust, the walls were lined with plastic boxes that at some point in their lives housed real video cassettes.

I hope whoever was in charge of market research for this night gets some kind of raise or promotion, because the depths of obscurity that these titles dwelled in was beyond comprehension, with only one in five ever having a fool’s chance of making it to DVD. Unsurprisingly every neck beard in the building was awe struck by their mere presence, and would, with or without invitation, make note of every alternate title, cut and behind the scenes piece of trivia worth not knowing. Scanning the boxes was a wild game of spotting the (regret-filled) famous name/s on the front, and the only title I couldn’t find were any of the unwatchable Dracula Vs. Frankenstein films, in which the two horror legends don’t actually battle at all. Maybe you did see it, if so, tell me.

Even if these box covers were not the property of some private collector and instead were recreated solely for Cellar Rentals, that would actually be more impressive. It’s nigh unbelievable that some event organizer said: “We have to build a fake video rental store indistinguishable to someone who lived in the 80’s/90’s? Very well! Get me fake boxes for the Critters trilogy, Shaolin Ninja, Slaughter High, The Exterminator, The Last Dragon, Incredibly Awesome Adventure and the U.S. retitling  of the 1984 Godzilla reboot…”

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And to think most of my VHS collection was Disney.

Though I was unable to view the actual screening of  V/H/S, a compelling part of the invitation was the promise of a copy of the film  on the prehistoric platform. What a thrill to know I can watch a new, 2013 release without being greeted by annoying menus and un-skippable copyright notices. For the first time in years I can be kind and rewind, if only for myself.

VHS Magazine page_606x433Likewise, accompanying the last VHS I’ll probably ever receive was a commemorative magazine, again made to pay tribute to the era of the now defunct format. The inside is filled with catalogue style pages of ‘new releases’, news articles typical of the time and even adverts right at the back for those wishing to order some XXX smut.

As a highly sociable event for those perceived as unsociable, the conversation topics were fixed, yes, but surprisingly personal. Maybe it was the open bar I was talking to, but hearing childhood tales of sneaking and staying up late to watch some of the more horrific films on display felt, ironically, like something straight out of a film. The most memorable was one chap who, raised on G-rated and bible story-derived movies, traumatized himself through his rebellious search for video nasties, yet now works for a company that sells their modern equivalents. It reminded me of my own experience where my Dad, not foolish enough to let his ten year old watch Alien, instead described it from beginning to end as if it were a blood spurting children’s book.

Let’s put fond memories aside and be honest for a second. Blockbuster’s departure has unveiled an awful truth we devotees need to come to terms with: as much as an adventure going to the rental store was back in the day, the internet rendered them entirely useless years ago. I hope from reading this article you understand that I still do have a fondness for VHS. In fact I believe this realization gave the Cellar Rentals event its poignancy. Reminiscing over something so antiquated and obsolete is commonplace these days, but when it’s over magnetic tape from Japan that let you watch Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, well, that can only ever happen once in a lifetime.

Words > Graham Ashton


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