It’s 2003, and it’s the same predictable Sunday morning routine. Maybe you know the guy, maybe you don’t. He’s got bushy hair, pale skin, a fair bit chubbier than he’d like to be. His glasses leave little imprints on the bridge of his nose, and he has a hard time looking people in the eye. If there was a party, it seemingly passed him by. An emotional blank page in a blood-red leather coat and black turtleneck ensemble that you’d probably laugh at if the wearer didn’t give you the creeps.
Such foolish specimens are creatures of habit, and on that Sunday morning you’d probably catch him at places like thrift shops and video stores, poring over shelves full of dusty cassettes. The $20 he more than likely allotted for himself that day should probably guarantee a nice haul of video treasures, little mementos from the only things that ever gave him any peace. He nit-picks details, scouring for long-gone video companies like Tapeworm, Media, Continental, and the ever-elusive Lettuce Entertain You. He’s laughing over the Big Black: Pig Pile library-box that Jerry over at The Paper Chase is saving for when he arrives. Grinning as a copy of I Dismember Mama comes into view; he laughs to hold back the tears. The kid buries himself in his own dreams and other people’s visions, hoping that maybe one day somebody will care. Sometimes, he puts his thoughts down into words that are so acidic that even the hardened punk rockers he fraternizes with consider him a bit off. None of it matters as he takes advantage of the “buy two, get one free” deal and heads to the counter at Movie Gallery with his stack of old memories.
As I look into the mirror, I see but a faint reflection of that kid. It’s 9 years later and almost nothing is the same. Dark suits and sunglasses, a tad less chubby, married, divorced, distant and cold. Through all the frustration and tears, the tapes remained. Hundreds of cassettes line cheap bookshelves in a basement dungeon converted into a Movie Fortress. The kid turned his passions into some kind of life – when you manage to transform your hobby into something more, people stop thinking of you as a freak, and instead you become unconventional. The faces change, but the words stay the same.
Much like that grown-up kid, the world of videotape collecting (those in the know call it “Head-hunting”) has grown from a smattering of dorky kids looking to recapture their lost youth and turned into a bona-fide movie-fan renaissance. Documentaries are made, The New York Times are writing articles, magazines are being published, and even more surprisingly, these people are gathering. So perhaps it’s a strange culmination of psychotic prophecy that the kid in question (in that case, me) wound up attending Wild Eye Releasing and Horror Boobs’ VHS of the Dead event at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg. How could a scene consisting mainly of guys and gals who avoid the world actually have a get-together? Naturally, I had to go.
The Nitehawk Cinema howled with the sound of chatter as Tony Vitamins and I strolled through the door. The room was surprisingly packed with warmth and friendly faces. Some I knew, most I didn’t. It was nice pressing the flesh with like-minded individuals so quickly after arriving. Vitamins and I grabbed our beers and looked for seating – oddly enough, there was none. Stacks of videos on tables at every corner of the bar, people talking about movies instead of all the cool things they’re gonna do when and if and where. How can I not love these people?
Soon after, my boy Matt Desiderio comes up and we exchange our bear hugs. In the world of head-hunting, Matty D and his longtime girlfriend Katrina are the Spirital Godparents of the circuit – relentless Defenders of the Faith. When the Times came snooping around, Matt was the one guy who everyone pointed fingers at as a Person of Interest. When it came time for the interview, he balked on the strict fact that he had nothing to sell to the press. From the Horror Boobs website to the VHS-only shows at both the Nitehawk and the Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, they deliver genre fandom on as pure and honest a level as grown adults can muster. In short, they’re the real deal.
After a few minutes of drunken small-talk, Rob Hauschild from Wild Eye comes over suspiciously. I know something’s up, it just has to be. Rob leans over into my ear.
“David, I hope you know you’re in our brain-eating contest.”
I look over at him, faintly shocked.
“What’s in those brains?”
“Fruit chunks and Jello, you in or what?”
“Okay, man. You got me.”
As I pace outside of the Nitehawk puffing furiously on a cigarette, bad visions come into my head: YouTube clips, stains on the skin, my work colleagues finding out. The mental anguish kills me as I adjust my pants and prepare to embarrass myself in front of a crowd of complete strangers. Again.
The contest is about to begin, and oddly enough my competition is the supremely weird cult actor Johnny Link. Looking at his face, I think of the movie I bankrolled starring him and some of his equally wacky pals. It’ll never get finished, a victim of interpersonal fighting and occupational hazards. He stares at me with his beady little eyes and I smell blood. He is no longer human to me– John Link stands as a symbol of my failings, flights of fancy turned horribly wrong under both literal and figurative train tracks. The microphone comes our way and Link is already promoting the hell out of the numerous movies he’s been in. Garbage tailor-made for Cinemax, with worn-out Scream Queens and their tramp stamps dry-humping for somebody who isn’t me. I can only tolerate that shit when it’s called pornography. When the mic hits me, I call myself Mother Theresa and run off a list of credits including Raw Talent 3 and Let Me Tell Ya Bout Black Chicks 2 with Cinnabunz and Janet Jacme. A few in the audience go nuts.
It begins, and I cram a big old mouthful of gelatin into my mouth with my bare hands. Johnny Link has barely touched his plate, and I’m going for it like a starving Biafran. I hold back dry heaves as the crowd cheers. I look at Link, and he’s still lost in translation. Good! At this point, whoever plans on YouTubing this can suck my dick, I don’t care. I lose myself in the moment, in the thrill of victory, in the destruction of another real or imagined enemy. The crowd roars.
The microphone comes back to yours truly as I pump my fist like Rocky Balboa. I dedicate my victory to the memory of Bill Landis and Sleazoid Express.
As I left, the smiles and small talk of VHS of the Dead rang bells in my brain. Here was a celebration of an activity formerly relegated to the lowest of the low, an extreme subculture of dorks (myself included) who caught the bug of collecting movies and took it to the extreme. At long last, here we all were in close quarters, sharing some kind of solidarity in the fact that we were all weirdos who seemed a broken tape away from going Dresden. Freaks and geeks of all sizes and shapes coming alive under the whir of a VCR . If that doesn’t give you something to believe in, then I don’t know what would.