Thursday, November 21, 2013

Horror Movies and Digital Distribution


I miss video stores.

The recent announcement of the final nail in Blockbuster's coffin made me nostalgic for the days when I used to patronize (and work at) a video store. I still miss the "mom and pop" shops way more than that corporate behemoths that killed most of them, but even Blockbuster gave me a place to wander around and explore; plus buy snacks!

I'm not saying I don't like digital distribution. Netflix, Amazon Video, and all the other VOD services are great for instant gratification, but I feel like there are certain things about the horror genre specifically that were better when you had to get off your couch to go to a store.

Most chain had their movies carved up by section, but where I worked there was the "House of Horrors". It was a closed off section (but not curtained like the adult videos!) that had orange lights and all sorts of ridiculous decorations you'd find at the Halloween Superstore on discount after October 31st. It had atmosphere, which is what good horror movies are all about! You knew when you stepped into that section that you were going to find weird, grotesque things too frightening to be anywhere else in the place. Even in the big chains, horror movie box art stood out. When you perused the "New Releases" section, something like The Howling III was gonna jump out at you amidst a sea of look alike romantic comedies. Scrolling through an overwhelming list of compressed digital images using an Xbox controller just doesn't evoke the same feeling.

Speaking of feelings, I also miss the surprise that I got when scouring through racks of VHS and DVD's and finding "that movie". You know, the one you heard about from a friend of a friend who was a horror nut too? It was supposedly banned in four countries and set a record for the most decapitations in under 30 minutes. I miss those moments of unintentional accomplishment where I stumbled across a gem that totally rocked my weekend. Now the best you'll usually get is someone saying "This is pretty cool. You should put it in your Netflix queue before it's not available."

This hurts the status of "cult" movies a bit, since everything has become so widely available. Can something be a "cult hit" based on the number of times it gets streamed off a server? Maybe by the number of people who love it when the general population rates it 2 stars? I feel like over saturation has changed the terms we use to define a "cult classic".

There's no doubt that digital distro services help smaller teams and directors get their stuff out there, but I also think funneling generalized ratings through such a huge audience might cause their films to be unfairly down voted as well. In the video store, maybe you talked with other horror buffs perusing the shelves, or the movie geek behind the counter who could turn you on to the latest Troma release or Critters 3 because they were in an elevator with Leonardo DiCaprio. That was fan interaction. It's very rare you meet someone who says horror movies are "just OK". It's a love/hate genre, and I can't tell you how often I see reviews on digital services that basically say "ugh" or "this was stupid". The "reviews" seem like gross generalizations from non horror fans.

Again, this is me being nostalgic, because outside of a convention, now you only get these kinds of cool conversations on blogs or places like Reddit. It was fun to have them in the moment, and the closest I get today is someone being nosy while I'm in line at the Red Box.

There's no turning back from this brave new world of "all digital, all the time", but there are still a few things you can do to recapture a bit of that old feeling. I find browsing discount sections at the big box stores like Walmart and Best Buy occasionally scratches that itch of exploration. You'll find some crazy stuff when you're elbow deep in those white wire bins. Buying movies may seem archaic in this day and age, but when you're scouring the bottom of the barrel the prices are usually manageable. I subscribe to the "Dollar Bin Horror" blog, because Rhonny Reaper and crew have some good insights for fright fans on a budget. Plus while you're at the store you can recreate that classic "movie night" ritual with some over sized candy bars or a giant tub of microwave popcorn.

Are you like me and look back fondly on the days of the brick and mortar rental houses? Share some of your favorite memories down in the comments!







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