Analog Dreams

Posted on • TJ Maynes

It’s kind of hard to imagine living without today’s streaming services, but at one point people had to actually leave home to find the movies they wanted to watch. This post discusses some nostalgic feelings I have around visiting Blockbuster Video stores when I was a kid. I decided to write this post after watching the new Captain Marvel trailer which features Carol Danvers, our hero, crash landing into a Blockbuster Video signifying the time the movie takes place, the nineties.

This was a non-“instant” time period. The only way you knew if a movie was available or not was by how many VHS tapes were on the walls or aisles (like a grocery store for entertainment). Oh and if you really wanted to get a movie you would go to the front counter and see if someone had just returned it. I’m very keen on certain smells and Blockbuster had the smell of an aged public library (even back in the 90’s). I may seem a bit old fashioned but I remember what the experience of being among the lucky few to see a newly released movie first was like. I remember knowing exactly where the new releases were, the average time of being in there (with my parents it wasn’t very long and with my aunt, to my luck, it would be awhile), and where each section would take me. Among all this talk about Blockbuster, what I truly want to remember is the VHS box covers that paralleled an art gallery.

The science fiction section had newer movies on the top shelf like alien:resurrection, dark city and pitch black. The bottom shelves had older movies like Kubrick’s 2001, Ridley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron’s Aliens, John Carpenter’s The Thing, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, and many others. A couple of notable box covers include the minimalist 2001: A Space Odyssey with Keir Dullea in a space helmet, The Thing had piercing prism light coming from the face of some-“thing” in a parka, and Alien had green-goo emitting out of the cracks of a rather large egg. There are many reasons why these covers were just so damn good, but the fact that they didn’t reveal too much only made me want to see them more. There was so much mystery to green egg and made you question what the hell was going on in The Thing? I remember the fonts also playing a part on the anticipation I would have for a movie (the more creative, the better). Also, I don’t believe that I mentioned this but I did spend a lot of time reading the synopsis, or “definition”, of the movie on the back cover. This would reveal a little more for me, so the anticipation would elevate.

I knew that at this particular childhood store, the horror section was facing opposite of the science fiction section. I always faced my back against this section; early on my aunt traumatized me with a Chucky doll (from Child’s Play) that she got from Spencer’s Gifts. Looking back on it, I would actually get the “sweats” from walking down the aisle and I didn’t even look at a single box. Eventually I gained the courage to look down this mysterious and possibly dangerous “other side”, while wearing my light-up shoes (still skipping the sight of the Chucky movies though). I remember seeing The Funhouse, Hellraiser, Army of Darkness, Jack Frost (not the one with Michael Keaton but still in the same category of shit), Halloween, Scream (which was huge in the late nineties), and Jaws. Jaws was interesting because the shark was made to look huge and vicious as well as being very capable of swallowing a beautiful woman whole. Jack Frost was one the first covers that I saw with a hologram on it, where a happy snowman turned into an evil one. The Funhouse featured a clown, a lot like Pennywise from IT, with blood wrapped around it’s lips and a circus-esque theme to it. I wasn’t afraid of clowns, but this one happened to be very different, more raw, which makes sense because it was directed by Tobe Hooper.

For that matter, a lot of sounds in this particular time felt synthesized. I believe that I may have been too young to see these movies, but I knew that one day these would probably be my favorite.

I only hope to one day pay homage to these experiences because one day kids aren’t going know what a movie store was. Check out Beyond the Black Rainbow and VHS (all on Netflix), if you’re interested in seeing a director’s take on that same love for VHS art galleries. If you too remember looking at VHS box covers like an art gallery, please comment below and thank you for reading.