Millennials are arguably the last generation that was able to embrace the soul-opening wonder that was the mom-and-pop video store. Before there was a Blockbuster on every sub-metro highway, your local video store—or, as previews on tapes would call it, “your local video library”—would be right next to the pharmacy or a convenience store. Hell, your rentals may have been inside of a pharmacy or convenience store. The point is, in an era of having a few hundred Netflix tiles and a strong indecision to decide what to watch, the novelty of posters, swag, and popcorn machines surrounding the Styrofoam-stuffed VHS and video boxes feel lost in time, buried in our memories.
I remember before the Blockbuster came to town, our local stop was Video Alley, where I rented Clifford, The Naked Gun, and many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tapes there. Posters all over, the aforementioned old-time popcorn machine, a Silence of the Lambs butterfly sticker… it’s all part of my vivid early childhood memories. I can still see the brown generic clamshell boxes and the red-and-gold logo that boasted comedy and tragedy masks.
Streaming has made that physical experience a relic, if more convenient, in terms of accessing movies, but nothing replaces that experience.
Welcome to Mike’s Video Alley, a look at the tapes, merchandise, and even some movie moments that highlighted the video store experience.
The Original Hunt for Red October VHS Tape!
The Hunt for Red October remains the best entry of the Jack Ryan movies, or any Tom Clancy adaptation for that matter. The dialogue flows, the cast rules, and John McTiernan completed his three-strike turkey that started with Predator and Die Hard. Despite the massive box office and Paramount’s setting a trend of pricing videos to own three years earlier with Top Gun and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Red October was priced for rental and if you wanted to own a copy, you’d have to shell out $80 to $100 to own it.
Now, if you planned on accruing enormous late fees or wanted to rent it twenty continuous times in a row so that you could memorize Sean Connery’s “Once again, we play our dangerous game” speech, that would be a viable option. If you wanted to conserve cash, you could be patient, wait six months to a year for the thing to hit Sam Goody for $15-20 brand new, or buy it previously viewed for the same price three or so months down the road.
Retroactively speaking, I would have suggested getting your hands on the tape while it was still a rental, as Paramount started a nifty trend on Red October.
The physical tape and label lived up to the color of communism. I’d been on the hunt for this going back a while and managed to track it down on eBay a few years ago. VHS usually reserved crazy colors for the kids (dig those orange Nickelodeon tapes!), but a big hit like this demanded something a lot more attractive. It’s just a tad disappointing that such a beautifully badass videotape wouldn’t be available in stores. Were they looking to make this a collector’s item and throw people into a frenzy?
The tape is sourced from The Video Vault in Dwight, Illinois (rest in peace). The top sticker on the tape categorizes The Hunt for Red October as “drama,” code name DRAMA 638. For the life of me, I’ve never understood those codes—was it the 638th drama to come in stock?
I find the genre designation odd because I’ve always considered it a film that falls somewhere between action and thriller. Sure, it’s dialogue-driven, but did the folks at The Video Vault not pick up on the submarine warfare and a handful of shootouts? That was always the side effect of movies that blended genres—you ended up in a broad misfit category once the new-release phase passed by.
Given, that was probably a corporate move, but come on, it’s an action movie. Hell, the description on the back of the box promises “high-tech excitement and sweats with the tesion of men who hold Doomsday in their hands” from the man who gave us Dutch Schaeffer and John McClane. Eventually, sometime in 1991, The Hunt for Red October gets dropped in with the likes of Rain Man and Wall Street, where “high-tech excitement” and “Doomsday” are not terms associated with classic drama.
The contents are sadly no-frills as well. It doesn’t live up to that tape. Obviously, it’s reformatted to fit your old as hell TV screen and that screws up the picture. Meanwhile, the only trailer at the beginning promises Paramount’s “Great Movie, Great Price” promotion, where their “classics”—and this would technically refer to movies released the late 80’s and earlier—have been priced to own at $14.95. For me, the goal of tapes was always selling the “coming soon” aspect of things, or maybe a cute commercial plus a trailer.
Later, Ghost came on a white tape and The Godfather Part III on two shiny gold cassettes, but that was the perestroika moment for Paramount’s custom-colored VHS days. Even with three big movies from one year, I’d say that was a cool legacy to have.
That’s all I got. Remember to adjust your tracking, be kind, and rewind.