Gen Z can now experience VHS rental at a video store with Dallas exhibit
There was a time, a long, long time ago, when movies weren’t as ubiquitous and accessible as a YouTube video or porn.
There was a time when people had to put on pants, get out and drive to a place to find a movie to take home. Watching movies on VHS (home video system) tapes from Blockbuster Video or the local video rental shack was more than just a movie-watching experience: it was a challenge.
And some people like it rough, which is why a group of North Texas videotape collectors and movie buffs get together for video swap meetings.
“It feels like a big commitment when you put the tape in and play it because you can’t move forward,” says Eli Luna, founder of Dallas VHS Swap. “You can’t go back. You’re committing to watching it cover to cover, whether it’s good or bad.”
Sadly, this adventurous quest has all but disappeared thanks to the rise of streaming platforms that offer a selection as big as a movie warehouse.
But there’s a way for people who remember going to video stores — and people who’ve never seen the blue and yellow glow of a Blockbuster Video sign — to get the movie rental experience with a new exhibit that opened Saturday at the Texas Theater.
The Video Crypt is a recreation of the video rental shops of the 80s and 90s, on display in the Safe Room Gallery of the Oak Cliff Cinema. It has aisles filled with genre-categorized VHS tapes, promotional cardboard displays, advertising new George Romero home releases half dark and Hulk Hogan Mr. Nanny and analog TVs streaming some of the rarest items on the shelves. There’s even an adults-only section with original copies of Deep Throat and Debbie does Dallas behind the same kind of bead curtain that parents believed would somehow prevent hormonal teenagers from finding a world of perverse delights.
The Video Crypt is the creation of two Texas Theater employees, Vianca Vega and Chad Pierce, who have shelves full of rare and favorite VHS tapes they wanted to share.
“We’re constantly dreaming about what we can do, and one of the things we were constantly talking about is a video store,” says Pierce. “I was even looking for places that I thought were quite reasonable and thought maybe I could do it with a business grant.”
The Video Crypt will not rent tapes downstairs. The only thing that comes close to merchandising are T-shirts and buttons with store logos and racks of clearance tape on the far wall – next to a promotional poster of a ticket taker in a hall of cinema amazed by copies of star trek 4 and Crocodile Dundee for $29.95.
Dallas also has a large community of tape collectors through events and groups such as the Dallas VHS Swap and Facebook groups like the Dallas Film Cult. Vega says the attraction is more about recreating the long and lost feeling of going to a rental store and comparing how the viewing experience has changed in our digital age of push-button convenience.
“I just remember the feeling of every time I was a kid and went to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and I don’t even have to say them,” Vega said. “I was going to the video stores that were connected to where you were going to get gas, and I remember constantly seeing the videos that I was not allowed to rent. I remember seeing the case of Undead before I even knew what it was about.”
The month-long Video Library Expo will also be holding this month’s Dallas VHS Swap outside the doors of The Video Crypt on Sunday. Gen Zers, familiar with the concept thanks to stranger things, will now have the pleasure of searching for movies and finding again and again that the store is out of copies of what they are looking for. But hey, at least we knew what we wanted.
“Even now on Netflix you can browse for an hour and never decide what you want, whereas with VHS you can watch badass coverage and you’ll just accept it and maybe that’s not- be no good, but you’re not. doesn’t matter,” Eli says. “It’s about the commitment to what you spent your Friday and Saturday night picking and going in your house.”
VHS may be an outdated form of tangible medium, but Pierce says VHS tapes lasted so long and are still collected because they could hold more content and cost less than Betamax tapes, the precursor to VHS.
“You can get longer, longer movies on VHS than on Beta,” says Pierce, “and frankly, that’s like saying it’s cheaper to make porn on VHS.”