Once upon a time, not so long ago, when home theaters were new and the VCR was the pinnacle of technological achievement, folks used to spend hours perusing the shelves at their local video store hoping to find entertainment for an evening, or perhaps the entire weekend. These were the days of the dollar rental, before Blockbuster and Hollywood Video chains became prominent fixtures on the American landscape. Like many children of the ‘80s, I have fond memories of our family’s first VCR and my parents taking me to the local grocery store, or if I was very lucky, to the Curtis Mathes electronics store in a neighboring city, to gaze in wide wonder at the bounty that was held upon their shelves. This was before I understood what a B-movie was; to me, they were just movies and I loved looking at the artwork on the package, dreaming of the joys held within. If you have similar memories, you’ll probably enjoy Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box.
Jacques Boyreau has gathered an impressive collection of VHS box art reproductions in this book, which is packaged rather creatively in a slipcase cover reminiscent of an old VHS case. An introduction is included, in which Boyreau expounds on his love of the VHS format and how the artwork on the video cassette, like the movie poster in previous eras, became synonymous with the film in the minds of viewers. He discusses the home video revolution, which enabled film lovers to experience a movie time and again without having to get to a theater. And of course, he makes the correlation between direct-to-video releases and the grindhouses of the 1970’s, and between the titillating poster art which later translated to equally provocative box art.
The format of this book is perfect: It’s roughly the same size (and exactly the same shape) as an old VHS box. When you open the book, the page on the right features the cover artwork while the left features the description contained on the back. To further capture the feel of perusing the shelves at a video store, some of the packages appear to be worn or faded from being left out in the shop window and there are more than a few with stickers denoting price or genre. And my god, what a beautiful cross-section of genres! This is where the title might be a bit deceptive; yes, it does predominantly feature films that would carry a denotation of “trash”, “B-movie” or “grindhouse”, but Portable Grindhouse is really more like a trip to the video store in brochure form. There is artwork for videos detailing General Schwarzkopf’s war strategies, Gary Coleman’s safety tips and even one offering advice on how to capture the perfect buck during bowhunting season.
Obviously, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It took me back to my childhood and allowed me to relive the bygone era of the video store. As much as I love services like Netflix and wouldn’t trade them for the world, even I have to admit that something has been lost. Not only did Portable Grindhouse remind me of ye olden days, it also gave me quite a laugh. You won’t believe some of the ridiculously schlocky movies that are included in this book. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. It’s the perfect book for anyone who understands the art of the guilty pleasure and the joy in a terrifically bad movie, as well as those who took great joy in the hunt for home video entertainment. Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box gets two thumbs WAY up!