Friday, January 26, 2007
Sometime in my early twenties I found one of those great, now almost all long lost, privately owned video stores that would offer perhaps something a little different from the local Blockbuster. This particular one was called Video Dave's in Frankfort, Kentucky. The store was so great that I would actually drive 35 minutes from Lexington on a regular basis just to rent films. One evening I came across a film in the horror section that caught my eye. I'm not sure if it was the odd title, the striking artwork or the promise that 'the only thing more terrifying than the last ten minutes of this film are the first 90'. Something about it pulled me in and that night I found myself at home watching my very first Dario Argento film.
Suspiria became one of those great moments that a person will have just a few times in life. One of those moments when your mind is suddenly opened to something new. It was like hearing Nico's The Marble Index for the first time or discovering an Alain Robbe-Grillet novel. It was that feeling that I had found something amazing that no one else knew about.
I soon learned that actually quite a few people knew about it and that there was an entire cinema that I wasn't aware of. I had loved many foreign films up to this point and had a good grasp on the accepted circle of directors like Godard, Bertolucci and Polanski. Now I was confronted with names like Franco, Fulci, Zulawski and Bava. One of the major things that happened just after I saw Suspiria was discovering the mighty Video Watchdog. It was still a pretty young magazine at that point and Tim Lucas' publication became like a bible to me. Soon I was discovering all kinds of directors and films that would provide me with magic keys to open amazing unknown doors.
It was through obsessively pouring over each issue of Watchdog that I found out about mail order companies such as European Trash Cinema, Midnight Video and Video Search of Miami. Each month or two I would look forward to the catalogues and updates from these companies and face the daunting task of picking out which films I could order on my limited budget. There was such an excitement to it in that period. Visually many of these tapes would be poor quality. Some would be full screen, some in English and some not. It was an adventure and it was exciting being in it. Soon I began to learn the particulars of each company. VSOM had the most but with the poorest prints. ETC had some of the rarest and owner Craig Ledbetter provided the best service. Video Midnight had the best quality, many from import laserdiscs, but were the most expensive. Each company had their strengths and weaknesses but they all provided a great service and I will never forget getting packages in the mail with titles like The Perfume Of A Lady In Black, Four Flies On Grey Velvet and The Pyjama Girl Case.
I remember clearly getting that very first package. With the stamp ETC on it and inside a tape holding a terrible print of a remarkable film, Jose Larraz's still hard to find Symptons.
I met a friend around this time to who shared my same obsessions and he was the first one who showed me uncut prints of Fulci's The Beyond and Argento's Tenebrae. We began to trade our monthly orders, each making copies and doubling our collections.
Books on the subject began to come into play, the still indispensable Immoral Tales and also imported British magazines like Flesh and Blood. In the mid 90s Louisville Kentucky got an amazing gift in the store Wild and Woolly Video. We now had a store specializing in these films and I have such fond memories of long conversations with the store's owner Todd and sifting through his new releases and import soundtrack section.
A major change happened in the late 90s that was both a major blessing and a bit of a personal curse. When DVD arrived I don't think anyone would have guessed that it was about to give a legitimate home to many of these once forgotten films. That's precisely what it did and suddenly the precious little secret that many of us held so close was taken from us.
I couldn't believe it at first. That strange moment when I held Anchor Bay's first uncut, widescreen Argento releases still sticks with me. It was a bit like that moment when Jane's Addictions Ritual De Lo Habitual broke, it wasn't ours anymore. I was envious of the people who were going to discover these films on DVD but knew that I had lived through something special in that a lot of the pleasure had been in the hunt and discovery.
I'm a bit spoiled at this point, as i think many of us are. We'll complain about the most minor of problems with a new disc. We'll always prove that fans of the fantastique are the most dedicated around because we will know of every missing frame and we'll take personal offense to any cutting of corners. Sometimes I have to remind myself of just how honored I was, before DVD made it so easy, to just see these films in any condition.
I don't order from those companies anymore, I just can't afford it and still keep up with newer dvd re-issues of my favorites. I have now bought Suspiria at least 4 times in different formats since that fateful night at Video Dave's and have no doubt that I'll by it at least a few more before I am gone. I doubt if it will ever feel as special as it did that night though.
Video Dave's closed many years ago, and its once proud building now stands abandoned. Flesh and Blood is no more to my knowledge but thankfully Video Watchdog is still kicking out the jams and changing lives. My trading friend and I lost touch and I live too far away from Wild and Woolly to have my talks with Todd anymore.
European genre film fans haven't had it this good in years and this year promises special editions of everything from Bava's Kill Baby Kill to Joe D'Amato's Black Emanuelle series, as well as the publication of Tim Lucas' much anticipated Mario Bava biography. It's a phenomenally lucky time to love these films but for those of us that have been at this for awhile, let us not forget when it wasn't so easy.