When I first came up with the idea for this column, there were a couple specific items I remembered from my youth that I knew I wanted to search for in our archives. And with October carrying on, here’s one of them: from the Nov. 7, 1987, Journal Gazette, this review by Carl Lebovitz of the then-current horror film “Prince of Darkness” with additional commentary on just how similar the posters for horror movies were starting to seem at the time. I actually remember reading this article when it first ran. C’mon, I would have been 9 years old; of course an article about awesome horror movie posters with the word “Satan” in the headline was going to catch my eye.
To make his point about the posters, he also brings up the 1987 sci-fi horror film “Nightflyers”, a film so cheap the producers tried to get you to believe a disused Julius Caesar stage set was the communal area of a spaceship; and, unseen here, the classic poster of the 1981 horror film “The Howling,” all of which, do, yes, have very similar movie posters, each one featuring a screaming head.
You might be surprised to find out that Carl sort of liked “Prince of Darkness”. Well, to be specific, he said it’s not “halfway bad” and that it has some “good effects” even though it’s “overdone to the point of being ludicrous.” I guess that’s a fair way to describe a movie about one of the "Simons" from "Simon & Simon" and a group of scientists studying a cylinder of swirling green goo in a church basement that supposedly contains the Anti-Christ.
I would have been too young to see “Prince of Darkness” at the Time Theater in 1987, and other than catching slop like “Day of the Animals” on WCIA late Saturday nights, I didn’t start actively watching horror movies as a hobby until 1997, when I think I got tired of my friends not being able to decide what to rent off the new release rack. What a time what was if you were into such things. Mattoon had, by my rough count, five, maybe six different video stores around that time. It would have been even more if Carousel Video was still in business then. That’s where I first encountered films like the Japanese superhero film “Infra-Man,” or the infamous Italian-made chainsaw-murderer film “Pieces,” which had the helpful tagline “It’s exactly what you think it is” on the movie poster.
Let’s see, there was Broadway Video, previously mentioned here, which was probably the senior VHS vault at the time. One of my high school buddies worked the night shift job there; a position that, even though he’s a respectable high school administrator now, he’s expressed to me that he still misses to this day. When they went out of business I purchased their ultra-rare VHS copy of “Last House on Dead End Street,” a fact that puts me at elite-status in a select group of unemployable horror-nerds who care about such things.
That same buddy later worked at Video Revue, a position he doesn’t seem to wax nostalgic about nearly as much. It really was a magnet for some of Mattoon’s finest p.m. weirdos, including myself I guess, since I’d hang out there too and rent stuff like the original “Emmanuelle” and “Ilsa: The Wicked Warden” after loitering there when my night classes at Lake Land were done every Wednesday.
There was also Premiere Video, probably the classiest of the bunch. They always seemed to stock the artier films, and if something had just run on cable and they saw me renting it, I’d sometimes get it for free. The perks of being in there four times a week I guess. They had “Horror House on Highway Five,” a film whose trailer had the tagline “Watch this movie or DIE!” OK, you could have just asked.
Craig’s Video on Lake Land Boulevard never quite seemed like they were open and had a cavernous backlog of all their old stock from when they first opened no doubt, including a lot of '70s oddities like the “someone-really-dies-in-this” malarkey of “Snuff,” from a director who died when a helicopter blade tore him to shreds, or “Blood on Satan’s Claw,” a film of which I remember nothing of other than the title.
Blowout Video was Wal-Mart’s video store, located where the salon is now. They were small but serviceable. That’s where I got my VHS copies of “Demon Wind,” a movie that probably also needed the “It’s-what-you-think-it-is” tagline, and “Xtro,” a "dad's-been-replaced-by-an-alien" film which became notable amongst my friends because no matter how much I tried to swab it down with rubbing alcohol, the VHS box always smelled like pure B.O. Now that’s real Demon Wind right there.
Also worth mentioning, even though I can’t remember if either of them was around during that particular time, was Stars and Stripes Video, right next to the Big Lots. The only thing I ever remember renting from there was the 1984 Lorenzo Lamas breakdancing film “Body Rock,” which wasn’t a horror film as much as it was horrible; or Spotlight Video in that little building across from Famous Recipe which didn’t have a lot of room, but still had enough space for the rubber sea monster vs. schlubby high school journalism teacher idiocy of “Slithis,” a movie that apparently offered a “Slithis Survival Kit” to theater-goers. Given the quality of the film, this probably meant they just gave you a ticket to a different movie.
But all these places are gone now, winked out of existence one-by-one thanks to time and other factors. Although last I checked, “Prince of Darkness” is still on a rental shelf here in Mattoon at the Family Video. And even though the DVD case doesn’t use the original poster that first caught Carl’s eye, the new art still has, yes, a giant ghostly head on it. May some things never change.