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Walking Down The Aisle and Falling In Love…With Horror

It was the early 1990s in Potomac, Maryland.

I, a bespectacled ginger child, was deep in the throes of early girlhood. Baby-Sitters Club, Polly Pocket, and Rainbow Brite ruled all in my wide eyes.  If you didn’t know who Shy Violet was I didn’t want to associate with you.

Pillsbury Toaster Strudels were still relatively new and Pepsi Clear was on the rise, at least momentarily anyway.

And of course, video stores were raking in cash by the bushel. This is the part where I say, facetiously, “Back in my day, those old, barren Blockbuster stores weren’t used solely to house pop-up Halloween shops.”  Oh, no. They had purpose! Whether it was a Blockbuster, Family Video, or a Mom & Pop type store, they were a staple in every community.

But, in my local store I stumbled upon three VHS covers that captured my attention, grabbed ahold of my heart strings and have yet to let go.

I don’t know about you, but I would get ultra jazzed every time my parents said we had to go to the video store. Ha, as though it were some sort of chore!  I mean, you needed a membership card for Christ sake.

This was exclusivity at it’s finest to my younger self.

My younger self

Our store was called Video Village. Upon arrival, I would always make a beeline directly to Rainbow Brite.

But, one day while my parents were looking at new releases, which I have to assume somehow involved Michael J. Fox, I strayed from the path.

I made a turn around the white shelves and saw “HORROR” in thick, black font.

Not the actual store, but you get the idea

I can’t tell whether it was foolish or ingenious to put Rainbow and her impish sprites within mere steps of titles like Return of the Living Dead and I Spit on Your Grave.

The tapes themselves were brand new or at most only a few years old. They sat in clear plastic hard cases, beckoning me! I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be there and, at the time, that was exhilarating for a small human like myself. I peered up at all the titles.

I was an early reader, but I had never seen a word Hellraiser before. A very pale man with a bunch of nails jammed in his face held a mysterious box. I was captivated by his sickly, devious look. It was entirely foreign to me. “He’ll tear your soul apart,” the cover read.

Clueless as to whatever a soul was or how one could tear it apart, I continued to gawk. I knew better than to ask my parents if we could take it home. I was pretty sure they would never let me go in that aisle again if I showed them my newfound friend.

Although I was blessed to have a mom who read Stephen King and listened to Nine Inch Nails on her Walkman with stroller in hand, I still felt like this may not go over well for the ginger child. So, I went home with the usual suspects, Care Bears and old faithful, R-Brite.

Next time we went back, I didn’t even even visit the “Kids Rent Free” section.

I headed straightaway for the horror aisle. I feverishly scanned the bright covers. It was probably just checked out, but  to my still developing brain Hellraiser was gone. I was devastated. I wish I could tell myself then that twenty years later I would be friendly with Pinhead, or rather Doug Bradley, and see him regularly while working at conventions. I wonder if that news would have been soothing or unsettling then. I immediately began looking for alternatives. Looking back, I see at this as the point where I became attracted to the strange, uncanny, and fantastic.

I shifted my gaze from the empty spot and my eyes settled on Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller

Needless to say, I really dug M.J. Who the heck didn’t then? You know what, don’t answer that.

I loved the song, but lacking cable TV I had yet to see the music video, let alone the making of Thriller. This is perhaps the first documented case where I rented a non-girl videotape. With consent from my mom, we took it home. I can honestly say I watched the bejesus out of that tape. They showed dance rehearsals, behind the scenes footage, and clips from other films by the director, John Landis.

I would watch the clip from An American Werewolf in London over and over.

It was the scene in Piccadilly Circus where David, now a werewolf, breaks out of the adult theater and wreaks havoc in the surrounding area.  Snapping at the heels of locals and tourists alike, taking bites out of people, and causing horrific car accidents. Heads were literally flying! Well, at least one anyway.

All this and then the music video itself was catchy, kitschy, intoxicating, and Vincent Price’s voice wrapped it all up in a bow. I was hooked.

My parents continued to let me rent that movie every weekend for months, if not longer. I can say without a doubt in my mind that Thriller was my gateway drug to horror. Until I was old enough to watch the movies I had ogled, I would continue to peruse the selections in the horror aisle. The majority of its contents still unrentable to me.

I was a few years older when I finally watched George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but for three reasons it holds a unique place in my heart.

The first reason is this movie is the Rolls Royce of zombie flicks. The second is when I watched it with my brother for the first time I was massively sick. So, the special effects which were gnarly to begin with then became ultra-gnarly. I remember this particular viewing so clearly. I clutched my stomach and watched Tom Savini plant a machete deep into a zombie’s forehead. Juicy! The final reason is viewing this specific cover as a young girl. I remember looking at the front and thinking, “Oh, yeah, he doesn’t look like he feels good.” My favorite part has to be the final sentence on the back. “Will the besieged four escape the bandits and the flesh-eating zombies?” I remember not knowing what the majority of these words meant and still I asked myself, “Yeah, will they?”

I remember these three VHS tapes so vividly. I remember wanting to watch them so badly. Of course I eventually did.

It’s no surprise my favorite horror subgenres are slashers, 1980s cult, and Giallo. I realize the selection at Video Village had a hand in that.

Video Village was replaced by Blockbuster which was then replaced by a liquor store. Although I don’t mourn the loss of late fees or the abrasive fluorescent lighting, I do mourn knowing what I felt at Video Village in Cabin John Mall I can never experience again.

Like Pepsi Clear, that has come and gone. I now know that at three, my path had been set.

I was a horror fan and I was done for.

My current self visiting Elm Street



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