It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school. My older brother had just left for college, leaving a box of 80s-era VHS tapes in the closet of his recently vacated bedroom, which was actually a renovated loft over the two-car garage attached to my parents’ house. What my brother Josh had always referred to as his “Mike Seaver bedroom,” though I never got the reference (well I do now because I Googled it as I was writing this, but I digress…)
I’d always envied the apartment-like privacy of my brother’s room and was pestering my folks to let me have it the moment Josh announced that he was going to an out-of-state school. My mom eventually relented on the grounds that I first moved everything he left behind into my old bedroom. I quickly agreed and the closet had been the last thing I cleaned out. When I came across the tapes, I immediately assumed “vintage porn” but was quite surprised to find that the entire box was nothing but old obscure horror films. Mostly stuff with ridiculous titles and dated cover art but, being a fan of terrible B-grade horror, it was actually quite the find.
The only problem was my brother didn’t have a VCR, at least not one that he left behind, and neither did my parents. I begged my mom to let me use her credit card to buy one I found online for like thirty bucks and she of course asked me what a boy with a Blue-ray player and a laptop needed with a VCR. I explained about the box of tapes in Josh’s room and she scoffed, saying “I’m honestly starting to worry. You’re always watching horror movies and playing those violent video games. You need to start reading more books.”
“Can I use your credit card to order books then?”
I spent that entire afternoon scouring the stores near my neighborhood and was eventually able to locate an old DVD/VCR combo-player tucked away in a dimly lit section of Best Buy’s Home Entertainment department. And then I dusted off a price-tag that read $199.99 and promptly put it back.
What am I, a drug dealer?
I was walking home and contemplating simply swiping my mom’s credit card when I spotted a large black rectangle lying beside several bags of trash that had been placed out on the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot. Odds were it was just a busted DVD player but I stopped to check anyway, just to be sure. Imagine the look on my face when I got a little closer and saw that it wasn’t a DVD player but, shit you not, an actual for-realzies VCR.
I practically ran home, the large bulky machine clutched to my chest and me looking like the world’s most needless burglar. One of the main benefits of my new room was that I was able to enter through the garage and would thereby avoid any possible questions from my parents, who are both upper-middle class white people and generally judgmental of anything that involved pilfering trash. I hurried up the stairs to my room and plugged in the machine. It was then I discovered that, big surprise, the VCR which I found on the side of the road didn’t work. I don’t know what I was expecting but this still managed to frustrate the shit out of me.
Luckily, I was the type of guy that when you asked who his favorite X-man was, he answered “Forge…” Which of course tells you two things: One, he probably enjoys tinkering with machines. And two, even in an era where nerds were actually cool this guy still wasn’t getting laid… So, of course my first reaction was to retrieve a soldering iron from my dad’s workbench and bust that bad boy open.
I sat up most of the night, Googling VCR repair manuals and watching tutorials on YouTube. Eventually, I located what seemed to be the problem and in the end it was a relatively easy fix. The only real speed-bump was when I cut my hand while replacing the VCR’s metal casing and a few drops of blood managed to end up on one of the exposed video-heads. If this had been a horror movie, I probably would have heard an ominous clap of thunder right about then but no such luck.
I carefully wiped off the video-head, secured the casing, and plugged in the VCR. And yet after all of this, I was still genuinely surprised when it actually turned on, the green digital-clock style display lighting up as the machine whirred to life. I quickly hooked up the VCR and dug a tape from the box at random. I slid the movie (Blood Train) in and hit PLAY.
An image appeared on the screen; a static black-and-white shot of a dimly-lit windowless room. The back wall looked like it was made from packed clay. Aside from the clay wall and a few feet of cement floor, the only thing visible within the frame was a rusty floor-mounted chair (like the kind you see in a dentist’s office) which was partially visible to the left of the screen. Not exactly Kubrick-level composition but there was something that began to feel oddly menacing about the shot as I watched it continue, uninterrupted, for almost two minutes.
“…the hell is this?” There was no score or audible sound of any kind and if it hadn’t been for the grainy quality of the film or the time-code ticking away on the VCR’s display, I would’ve thought I was looking at a still image. I tried to fast-forward but nothing happened. Hoping that this was just a busted tape, I hit EJECT and grabbed another movie (She-Snake!) from the box. I replaced Blood Train with the new tape and hit PLAY.
I blinked at my TV. The image that appeared on screen was the same as before; the same continuous shot of the same clay wall and partially visible chair. I double-checked to make sure that I had put in a new tape, then hit the fast-forward button and again nothing happened. Same story with rewind and pause.