It is sometimes hard to explain the warm and fuzzy place that video stores have in the hearts of generations of adults who grew up in the eighties and nineties. A Mecca of film (and latterly games) where thousands of stories were laid out in colourful boxes designed to catch the eye and spark the imagination. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to the local store with my Dad as we selected our weekend’s viewing; a family film for my sister and mum, and two barnstorming horrors for me and him to watch after everyone else had gone to bed.
The Last Video Store taps into that nostalgia with a knowing wink and leans into the silly excesses of the genre films that lit up the childhood of millions.
While returning her father’s video cassettes to what appears to be the last video store in existence, Nyla (Yaaya Adams) encounters the store’s eccentric movie buff owner Kevin (Kevin Martin). Blaster Videos is home to a cornucopia of genre films that, while of no interest to Nyla, would be a treasure trove to cinema buffs across the globe. When one of the video cassettes she returns happens to be the mythic Videonomicon, an accident causes Kevin and Nyla to be marooned together in a netherworld where the stars and villains trapped on cassette are able to make their way into the video store itself…
Directors Cody Kennedy and Tim Rutherford have lovingly crafted a film that pays homage to not just genre movies, but to an entire era long since passed. The Last Video Store is a meta, self-aware romp that feels every inch a low-budget mix of Arnie’s Last Action Hero and Matthew Holness’ work of comedic genius, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
And I mean that in the most glowing terms imaginable.
Blaster Videos is packed with faux-video cassettes which are loving pastiches of existing franchises; maybe you’d like to spend some time with sci-fi horror Prey Stalker? Or spend an evening avoiding the killer hockey stick of Castor from the seminal classic Beaverlake Massacre 4 (the undisputed master of the Beaverlake series)? All available to watch on rows of VHS recorders and pre-HD television sets; there was an emotional connection to the old tech used in the film that caught me completely off guard. With the click and snap of the buttons on the machines, I was transported back to being an eight-year-old kid watching videos with my Grandad on his big, clunky recorder.
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As the video store is visited by creatures and characters from the films that Kevin has lovingly curated, the tongue in cheek comedy of the film really comes to the fore along with some incredibly silly gore and wonderfully meta references. The steady hand of practical effects maestro Steve Kostanski (director of the remarkable The Void and the insane Psycho Goreman) guides the film to a wonderful state of heightened lunacy, while Brandon Boucher’s synth-laden score helps transport the audience to a bloodier, more neon-soaked time.
Kevin Martin is having a ball as storeowner Kevin; a performance dialled up to eleven on the zany and wacky scale, there are still some slight moments of poignancy and heart that manage to shine through in his gusto-fuelled performance. Yaaya Adams’ Nyla has a slightly more reactive role but still manages to have a good time among the crazy events that unfold in the shop and learns a whole new appreciation for her father’s love for these silly, schlocky movies.
The Last Video Store is stuffed full of fun ideas, none more so than the introduction of Josh Lenner’s Viper. Viper is an action hero drawn into the world to take on the relentless killing machine from Beaverlake Massacre 4 (think peak Sly Stallone vs Jason Vorhees). While that idea is terrific in its own right, having Viper realise that he is the weakest version of that actor’s pantheon of heroes (and that his own movie was on the discount rack) is a wonderful touch that adds another layer of self-referential silliness to the party.
The Last Video Store is a fun, silly love letter to an era that probably lives long in the hearts and minds of generations. A story about the power of nostalgia and the power of film to bond people together and change the world forever, this is a festival classic that will find a very warm reception.
The Last Video Store had its UK premiere at FrightFest Halloween on 28 October.
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