Video Rental Store: The Tour

Lets Go Look Around A Classic Video Store
February 09, 2015
As you walk up to a Redbox at your local grocery store, you stare into an LED touchscreen. It’s the same kind of screen on your tablet, laptop, smartphone, and so on. You see little pictures from the cover of different Blu-Ray titles and flip through with your fingertips. “There are no old movies.” You think to yourself as the person behind you waits impatiently. You hurry and just select the first new movie that sounds sort of interesting. There is no one to ask questions about the film, so you go by the description. The movie is a disk in a white bland envelope. No fun at all, renting a movie is just like making a decision between a Coke or Pepsi.
Just as you turn around, a silver DeLorean is parked next to your car. “Great Scott!” yells a quirky old man with white hair and a lab coat, “You need a change of pace, are you renting a movie from a vending machine? You need a reminder of how fun it was to RENT a movie. Come with me!” You say, “Wait, what about this movie?” Doc replies, “Forget that movie. It’s abysmal, you hated it. I saw you returning it tomorrow and decided to come back to this exact location in time to take you on a journey.” You think, “He could have at least come a few minutes sooner. I paid for this stupid disc.”

Video Store:

The year is some point in the 1990s. You’re a kid excited with nerves abound. It’s Friday afternoon, your mom just picked you up from school and wants to take you to the video store. You walk into the doors and the smell of nostalgia fills your nose. Over by the register is a buffet of candy, popcorn, soda, and the video store cashier. Your mother would ask the cashier his or her advice. “Which movies are good this month?” She liked to discuss the “language” of this or the “violence” of that. Remember actually having conversations with the clerks about movies? You could get a better idea of what to watch and what not to watch. Plus it was fun just discussing movies.
The store is broken up into sections; each aisle is labeled by genre. Most video stores were the same. I went to various chains such as “Blockbuster” or “Hollywood Video” and even “Movie Gallery.” Then you had the local “Highway 247 Video” or “Random City Video” in the smaller rural areas. The new releases were usually on the outer walls lined up in alphabetical order. Picture this, the sounds of movie trailers are playing in the background. You look up and see the television monitor. “Welcome to Jurassic Park” says John Hammond as the previews play above the VHS tapes.

Remember how exited you were when you walked down each aisle? You used to pick up each VHS tape physically in your hand, look at the cover, read the description on the back, and put it down until you found the right one. Going to the video store was an “experience”. Each aisle had a unique tone and affected you differently.


You are in your own little world here. You look at “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and see Harrison Ford on the cover with a fedora and whip. On another shelf there is “T2: Judgment Day” Arnold on a motorcycle with those dark shades on, classic. Who could forget the cover of “Rambo: First Blood”? There is Sly Stallone with that gun and bullet belt. Then there is Tom Cruise with aviator sunglasses on, “Top Gun” who else felt the need for speed? This aisle was the definition of cool when you were 8 years old. (Even as an adult) The pictures on the VHS tapes really promoted the film. They were the selling point. You would hold them in your hand and really appreciate the effort each company put into the artwork. Some covers had stills from the movie in poster form; others had an almost painted or drawn characterization of the lead actors (e.g. Star Wars)


Warm fuzzy feelings creep in as you turn the corner and stroll down this aisle. Your favorite movies are on every shelf. “An American Tail” I love that little mouse. Remember the cover of “All Dogs go to Heaven”? Don Bluth really knew how to make his films an experience. The attention to detail is exquisite. Ah, look on that shelf, it’s Disney. Sometimes Disney had its own area due to its extensive library of Masterpiece films. The clam shell white cases were special, they said “We are Disney, we are just better than everyone else.” (most companies had the cardboard box cases, Disney’s were built to last) There was “The Little Mermaid” “Beauty and the Beast” that unforgettable blue genie in “Aladdin” (R.I.P. Robin Williams) and of course “The Lion King”. Who could forget the epitome of animated films? The cover is beautiful, that pride rock with Rafiki holding Simba above the animals below. Scar mischievously hiding under the rock (Even your 8 year old self knows he’s up to no good) Then you had the live action family film classics like “Home Alone” , “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “The Mighty Ducks” and “The Goonies”. Wow, who could forget “The Neverending Story” VHS? I mean, it’s a picture of mythical creatures like trolls, rock monsters, a kid that looks really happy to be riding a dog-dragon named Falcor (I want to be that kid). That is the definition of awesome. So many good titles.


This aisle always gave me the creeps, but I secretly loved it. The covers on the VHS tapes were usually pretty gruesome, even if the film was a bit silly. The selling point was “gore”. You look around at the “Friday the 13th” movies. The covers were always sickening. Blood splashed on a hockey mask with a knife in the eye opening. “The Exorcist” with that disgusting girl’s face and eyes. The possessed puppets of “Puppet master” or “Child’s Play” (I had to throw “My Buddy” in the trash) and who could forget Freddy Kruger on the covers of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” I think the simplest, but most eerie could have been the mask of Michael Myers from the “Halloween” series. It was just a white mask with black eyes. I know the original had a pumpkin with a carving knife, still equally creepy. The lesser known horror films usually had gross covers; it was as if they were compensating for being a bad “B” film. Like I said, the cover art was very important in the late 80s early 90s.


You might browse here, but there wasn’t much to see. This aisle usually had Academy Award winning films or romantic dramas. (As a kid I didn’t really appreciate this, as an adult I love it) Sometimes “Rocky” was put here but the sequels were usually in “Action/Adventure.” There were some interesting covers, but mostly adult stuff like “Rain Man” “When Harry Met Sally” although you know you loved “Forrest Gump”. What a classic cover, just a man sitting on a bus station bench with a white background. Sometimes simple is better. This is where I found “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” at age 10 and started appreciating dramas. I seriously thought Leonardo DiCaprio was mentally handicapped for a few years until “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic” came out. Sometimes “Braveheat” was here, sometimes it was in “Action/Adventure” (You see an overlap depending on the store between drama and action). “Braveheart” may be in my top ten VHS covers, the picture of the man holding a sword, the quote “Every man dies, not every man really lives”. Somehow they captured the mood/tone of the film. It’s hard to do that with cover art.


This was my favorite aisle. They had to put funny pictures or hilarious quotes from the film to sell these VHS tapes. Who could resist Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura”? What a goofy looking guy with weird hair on the cover. That screamed funny. My favorite was probably Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters” So many great lines in that film. You had the traditional white Ghost Logo with the tag “Who Ya Gonna Call?” The back had a few pictures of the guys in full suit and slimmer. Look over your shoulder its “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Coneheads”. Up and down the aisle there are movies with Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. I think my favorite cover was “National Lampoon’s Vacation”. It was one of those stylized covers that looked like a painting of Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) with a ripped body and his wife fighting over him with a supermodel. It looked epic and funny all at the same time. The “Christmas Vacation” cover had Chevy Chase being electrocuted by Christmas lights, still a classic look. Finally you had the “Ernest” Series. His covers were the perfect example of an 80s-90s comedy VHS tape.

Video Games:

I remember looking through the SEGA Genesis and SNES games trying to find a cartridge. I couldn’t afford every game I wanted, so I would rent games and test them out. Some of my favorite games were “Mortal Kombat” or “NBA JAM” “Final Fantasy III” “Nickelodeon Games like Rocko’s Modern Life” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and some sports games. I owned “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Super Mario Bros.” but I had to test out the newest releases every month. Sometimes they released unique versions and variations of Mario or Sonic.

Finally you check out with one movie and one game. Usually your mom gets a movie for the family or for the parents to watch. I would leave thinking ” Friday night I’m going to watch my movie and Saturday morning I’m going to play my game after my favorite cartoon block is over. “
Doc says, “It’s time to go back to the future.” You turn and say, “Please don’t make me go back! I really want to enjoy this a little bit longer.” You have forgotten how pure and fun it was to experience something that seemed so mundane or routine in the 1990s. Doc says, “No, that’s not how this works. I reminded you of your past and it’s time to go back.” He drops you off in front of the Redbox and you get into your car with your boring white envelope. Later that night you think about how much you miss the experience of renting movies. “He was right, this movie does suck.”
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