Thursday, September 12, 2013

Children of the VHS era

"What is the scariest movie you can recommend?"- a friend asked on Facebook not too long ago. Boy, I've seen quite a few. Some made me afraid to go into a dark room for months or check if someone is hiding in the closet or behind the door. Most, I'd say- by today's standards, I was much too young too watch. But I grew up in different times. The late 1980's- the golden era of VHS in Poland. It seems that you can't watch a movie on TV today, without it being either censored, edited or having odd age ranking icons in every corner of the screen. Back then it seems we were less concerned with that. We understood that some nudity and violence would most likely to happen, and none of us grew up to be deviants or psychopaths.  My parents primarily wanted me to understand that what I was watching was fiction and how we reacted to the film (as in fear beyond reason or panic) mattered to them more than what we would actually see on screen. Those were the days when getting a good copy of a movie was a rarity. When you'd find one of a movie you liked you'd copy it for your own collection and lend it to your friends. It wasn't illegal at the time as it was years before modern copyright laws were introduced in Poland. One of the first films was Police Academy that our friends and family liked to borrow freely. And my mom didn't like that tape to people much as she was proud of the high quality of the recording. Back then, you'd rent a tape from a local video store that were popping up everywhere, including my elementary school - for pennies. A lot of them were bad copies, on which the screen was blue or lost color often with even worse translations. Voice over with really inventive Polish equivalents of English words. A tape would have two or even three films recorded on it when the longplay technology became popular. The rental store would have printed catalogues of titles. You'd typically pick based on a choice of a movie that you really wanted, the other one would be a surprise. I remember how we would borrow a second VCR from friends to copy tapes, but the most challenging part was figuring out how to connect the cables. But back then, until 1992 we've only had two TV channels in Poland, both public. In the summer of 1989 my mother went to America for training in this supposedly new hyped method of treating Cerebral Palsy- The Doman principle. My dad was already there, so my brother and stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins. We'd just pull out the folding bed in the couch and watch movies. And there was a lot of movies to see, as my uncle started a new job at a video rental place and brought new tapes home every night.  My brother and cousin are about seven years older than I am and they would often play tricks on  me trying to scare me. A lot of the films were popular selections, like that Clint Eastwood flick with the monkey or the one were Stallone arm wrestles and drives a truck. Some were horrors. I remember I was playing a computer game in the same room when my brother and cousin and her boyfriend started watching John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness", to date the scariest film I recall, although I have never seen it again. I remember the scary music, the setting in the old forgotten church and the old, primal evil discovered in the basement by a group of scientists, that first infects them and then brings the dreams of apocalypse set for 1999. When you ask me about scary movies I think of that summer. How my cousin's boyfriend tried to scare me by making noises from the film. Kids just being kids- How I was ten, excited for my parents to return from America with gifts. And how after the fall of communism we were all excited for this new reality that was taking form and we didn't quite understand.  I remember how my brother tricked me into watching Predator, by saying that the heat vision sequences are from military night goggles. A year later or so, it was my mom who insisted I watch scary films with her- because everyone in my class has already seen it and she wanted to toughen me up I guess, so I'd be like other boys. I remember watching Horror Express - a movie about a missing link alien frozen creature that terrorizes passengers of a Trans-Siberian train with the curtains open in the middle of the day. The being was harmless until the lights shut off and it looked into its victims eyes. Suffice to say I would not look at people in dark rooms for a few weeks after that. And the red spark in the monster's eyes is one of the things I remember 23 years later.

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