Lo-Fi VHS Dreams

coconuts-music-movies-76452224When I was in high school we had a chain of stores in New York called Coconut’s. It was a pretty typical chain of the model of Virgin records, with bright-eyed young people in polo t-shirts with the company logo and an ID tag on a lanyard around their necks, asking you if you were looking for something in particular. They sold CDs, they sold cassettes and posters, did giveaways and pre-sales of concert tickets, and of course, they sold DVDs. It was a good place to stop in for a bit as a high schooler with twenty bucks to burn, or just browse until one of the managers would ask you if you were actually going to buy something. For the most part the employees were completely fine with teenagers wandering and browsing for an hour straight, then buying ONE used CD a cassette or some disc cleaners to justify  being in there for so long looking like a thief.

For some absolutely bizarre but magical reason, the Coconut’s in my old neighborhood in Queens would have, hidden in random slots alongside with all the “radio rock” and pop music, the most absolutely amazing punk and metal records, just squirreled away. Black Flag. The Bad Brains. Minutemen. The Descendents. A ton of then-obscure thrash and heavy metal like Stormtroopers of Death and the first few Mastodon records. For a young kid whose punk tastes were slowly burgeoning out from just the same three or four skatepunk/obnoxious three-piece acts that littered independent music in the 1990s and had a bit of awareness now of not just the older acts but also the more obscure ones, that place was Heaven.

Even better? They had awesome fucking movies.

Besides the obvious semi-hidden porno display at the very back, and the even-less hidden display of the cartoon pornography (“You know, that anime ‘hentai’ tentacle stuff, man!”), there was a whole one side of the long room that was nothing but movies, just rows upon rows of DVDs, by both genre and alphabetically.

College and a job in a cubicle (with access to the Internet almost all day), combined with an unhealthy obsession with horror movies and trashy pulp led me of course to Hammer, to Troma, and to all the offshoots of those infamous names that were re-packaging and redistributing old grindhouse and bad horror knockoff films. This was the early days of Netflix and after I’d exhausted most of the truly weird and good stuff at the local Blockbuster, which a few years later withered and died into…whatever it is now. When Netflix (and later on the very early version of Hulu) were snatching up the rental/distirbution rights to almost anything they could get their hands on, from obscure anime to old horror movies and stuff that was basically light/fake snuff and softcore pornography disguised as horror and cult/arthouse, it was a boon to someone like me.

This was also right after we got cable for the first time after the 9/11/01 attacks in New York City, and my parents decided we needed Internet and cable to be able to escape the horrific drone of nothing on TV but the news. Hence…TV channels like IFC and later on, horror-exclusive stuff like Chiller, which would spew forth even more names and titles for me to look for and, later on, straight-up hunt for.

Coconut’s had so many movies, at one point (partially through being in collusion with one of the employees there) I got my hands on a non-American version of the Hammer film The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (released in the US as The Seven Brothers and their One Sister Meet Dracula, for some reason). Eventually because I couldn’t keep everything at home due to space, I was buying DVDs and returning them for cash at the buyback counter with something like a 25% loss, resulting in what I look back on in a stupid-but-fond way as a “fucked up rental fee.”

The week that the store was closing (an inevitability as music/movie downloading and cheap movie rentals online started to put huge dents in  with insane deals to just get rid of stuff, I went in with half a paycheck in cash and just went nuts, with everything half-off. Obscure Japanese movies, a few Hammer titles I didn’t have but really wanted to fill in my Dracula collection, and a box set proclaiming itself as “The 30 (or was it 50?) Greatest Lost Classics Of Horror In One Place!”, a box of slim DVDs that was $20 for what turned out to be ten straight hours of awful, two hours of 70’s smut masquerading as slapstick horror, and the rest was maybe salvageable.

I think that box set is still in my parents’ basement.

Most of those movies are gone, as are a lot of other things that got sold/donated later on or lost in a shuffle of several moves after then. I couldn’t tell you the plots to most of the movies I watched in that “era” of my life outside of the big name titles/critically-acclaimed titles, because now with the hindsight of age, I can tell you how awful most of them were. All those remastered and re-released “grindhouse classics” and “spotlights of foreign horror mastery” were, for very good reasons, forgettable.

No one outside of New York (and sometimes New Jersey) really remembers Coconut’s, and I still think about it every time I think about my early weird film education, in those really formative years when I started college and threw myself into pulp and Korean horror and old films that I managed to find as box sets or rereleases in the shelves and sales bins of this store that’s now a bank, one I still walk by and look at every time I’m in the area visiting family.

I work really hard to not allow myself to be so entirely nostalgic, but I will totally be nostalgic for a place like Coconut’s. In its own unmeaning way, a place like that can be a real oasis for a brain like mine that was craving more and more weirdness to keep up with it, which it did, in leaps and bounds limited pretty much only by work, school, sleep, and my wallet. If there was any time and place I’d go back to to, honestly, it’d be then.

Mostly because now that I’m older I’d know better what to get and what to look for.

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2 thoughts on “Lo-Fi VHS Dreams

  1. Pingback: Stranger In Fiction – MISC. THINGS

  2. Pingback: Awkward Scene, Everyone’s Fault, pt. 1 – MISC. THINGS

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