Ninja VHS Movie Memories

2013-10-20 15.26.09

My first apartment was small and ratty, a one-bedroom dump. My rent of $300/month in 1992 included all utilities and basic cable. I was making $600/month at the time, so half of my income went to rent and the other half went toward gas and car insurance for a five year old Ford Festiva, food (for meals I didn’t eat at the pizza joint I was working at), and movie rentals.

My apartment backed up to a small, independent movie rental store called Kaleidoscope Video. A couple of times a week my friends and I would pop in Kaleidoscope Video and rent movies and Nintendo games. When it came to movie rentals, horror movies were on the left and the martial arts/ninja section was on the right. Every single time we entered the store the clerk would remind us that the adult movies were in the back, despite the fact that we never rented adult movies from there and that we visited the store two or three times a week for the six months we lived next door. We must have looked like “adult movie kind of guys” or something.

We worked our way systematically through the store’s selection of horror and martial arts movies. When we had seen them all, we started over from the beginning and watched them again. Some of the really bad ones, like Microwave Massacre and Ninja Terminator, we watched once a month. It was a really good time, one where I learned to appreciate the fine art of bad cinema.

I moved out of that apartment and away from Kaleidoscope Video to move in with my girlfriend who ended up becoming my wife. Years later — probably 10 or so — I heard that Kaleidoscope Video was closing down. “All movies, $10/each” read the sign outside. This would have been in the early 2000s, when DVD had already dealt VHS sales a crushing blow. A week later I drove by the store and the sign had been changed. “All movies, $1/each.”

And so, at $1 each, I bought what was left of the store’s horror and martial arts/ninja movies. I can’t accurately remember exactly how many movies I purchased that day, but I remember the clerk had to search for boxes and it took a few trips to load them all into the back of my truck. A hundred, maybe? That day I ended up owning most of the horror movies and ninja movies I had rented a decade earlier. I can’t tell you how thrilled my wife was to learn that finally I owned the entire Faces of Death series on VHS.

The movies pictured above are some of the ones I bought that day and still own. At the time I bought them, neither the Master Ninja series nor Revenge of the Ninja had made their way to DVD yet (they since have), so I was very excited to own them. Over the past decade I’ve parted with many of those old VHS tapes as the movies became available on DVD, although some of them I’ll hang on to forever. I’ll always have a copy of Microwave Massacre on VHS in my movie room even though I no longer have a VCR in there and my family will never quite understand why.