Many horror fans speak in wonderment and delight about the golden days of Mom & Pop video stores. If fans of Blumhouse.com’s podcast, Shock Waves, took a drink every time someone mentioned growing up in a rental shop looking at VHS box covers, we’d all die within two episodes. We’ve featured quizzes and lists, praising the glory of VHS, and unfortunately… I can barely relate to any of it.
I was nine years old when my local Mom & Pop video store closed its doors and turned into a coffee shop. It was three months after the gangly college student cashier (and my first non-celebrity but still wholly impossible crush) loaded up the back of my Huffy bike’s cargo rack with William Castle films, and it was six months after the opening of the town’s first Blockbuster video.
I had only been granted access to the horror “back room” of the video store for the final three months of its existence. At the time I thought it was because I was a cool kid, but now I realize it’s because the store was willing to take any money it could get. Blockbuster killed my local Mom and Pop store, and Netflix killed the brick and mortar stores, but it’s hard to miss something you never had the chance to know very well.
The assumption that millennials are killing the movie industry has already been debunked, and Netflix streaming launched in 2007, a year when most millennials were too young to own a credit card, let alone sign up for an online service that requires monthly payments. This idea that the millennial generation is destroying everything holy about the cinema just isn’t true. Sure, we watch Netflix more than any other generation, but how is this any different than renting a movie from the video store and watching it at home on a date? The action hasn’t changed, only the medium in which we experience it… and how we pick it.
Once home entertainment systems became a staple for American families, Big Box video stores quickly became the place to be on a Friday night. Big Box stores were cutting edge in that there were always multiples of whatever was the hot ticket, but in terms of finding hidden gems, we were mostly left in the dark. Big Box stores didn’t carry the “rejected” weird flicks like DEAD ALIVE, because they needed the wall space for seventy copies of JERRY MAGUIRE. Interesting or oddball films were pushed aside for more popular fare, which probably explains why I didn’t see PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, now one of my all-time favorites, until I hit college.
Big Box stores changed the way we thought about picking films and when you’re a little kid who doesn’t know anything else, you’re going to flock to the wall of SCREAM tapes like a moth to a flame. With the online revolution, even video stores went the way of the dodo, giving way to the advent of Netflix home delivery and the phenomenon of online streaming. We now have access to more cinema than the generations before us could have dreamed of having at their fingertips, and yet it’s harder than ever to find those hidden gems the children of the 80s love to brag about discovering at the video store. In the 1980s, everything had an even playing field. THE SHINING sat right next to SHIVERS and it was you who got to decide which one was worth taking home.
Look, I’m fully aware that I’m blessed beyond belief to have the technological advancements at my fingertips that my millennial ass has been given, and this entire article reeks of #firstworldproblems. Long gone are the recommendations from your local video store clerk and the local newspaper review has been replaced by thousands of bloggers screaming from their soap boxes.
Netflix recommendations aren’t personal suggestions, but rather an algorithm that decides what we should watch based on patterns. However, because it’s a computer figuring us out, and not a person, it’s an imperfect formula. For example, Netflix has my love of horror, true crime, and musicals completely tuned in. But for my more obscure obsessions like my love of hate-watching films like CHRISTIAN MINGLE (directed by THE DENTIST himself, Corbin Bernsen), they’re always way off. The weird films that I normally only find by word of mouth or personal recommendation are usually buried in obscurity with a 1-star rating.
Back in the 1980s, making a movie wasn’t nearly as easy as it is today. If you’re reading this article on a phone, you can make an award winning feature film with the very same instrument. Now that it’s become easier and easier to make and distribute films, the market has gotten overwhelmingly saturated with content. Trying to weed through all of the rough to find a diamond is harder than ever, and it doesn’t help when we’ve got great movies like ABSENTIA getting lumped in with dozens of hot garbage movies that just so happen to share the same poster art. Film posters are no longer dictated by complementary tone and beautiful artwork, but rather a specific formula geared to appeal to mass audiences.
It was one thing when magazines or television shows were trying to market what was “cool,” but now we have computers analyzing our watch history and online activity in order to dictate what we’re even being presented with as options. How are we supposed to know what weird stuff we might really like if we’re constantly being fed options generated “Since we watched ____”?