Midnight Video: The Gateway to Horror Movie Imports
Before they were Amazon, eBay, Netflix, or other online stores, you had to hunt and peck for hard to find movies on VHS, especially horror ones. If you were looking for your favorite horror film back in the 80’s and 90’s you had to either find a mom and pop video store that was going out of business and selling their VHS tapes, find a friend that has it and have them make a copy for you, or find a catalog of a small company that sold these films and send away for them. Midnight Video was one of those small companies that sold hard to find and mostly foreign horror films on VHS. Here’s how I discovered them and how they helped me discovery great horror films and directors from across the pond.
As a horror fan, I’m always trying to find the best horror movies out there and back in the early to mid 90’s I was looking for more horror beyond the ones at my local video store. For years I watched all the classic horror movies from Night of the Living Dead to Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Halloween to Friday the 13th to A Nightmare on Elm Street. I even seen a few exploitation ones like I Spit on Your Grave, Last House on the Left, and the Ilsa movies, just to name a few. Most of these films were American and by the early 90’s I felt I’ve seen most of all American horror and wanted to see some imports.
I got a taste of euro-horror from seeing clips from some of Dario Argento’s films from a horror series called This is Horror. I was able to get my hands on the classic Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage at my local video store, but that was it. I had to look elsewhere to find other Argento movies and other horror imports. Midnight Video was my answer. It was the gateway to discovering Italian and other European horror that I only read about back in the late 80’s.
I found out about Midnight Video in late 1993 while looking in the back of one my issues of Fangoria in their classified section. There were many different ads for companies selling bootleg imports or rare horror movies, but the Pennsylvania based Midnight Video stood out from all the rest. Maybe it was their ad, which was the cover to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (the famous zombie with worms coming out of its eye sockets) and just a few lines saying they had Argento, Fulci, and other imports, that made me send away for one of their catalogs that only cost a dollar and to see what they had to offer.
In the past I attempted to order VHS tapes from another company, FantaCo, which was based out of Albany, NY. This company mostly dealt in publishing comic books and magazines, but it also sold a variety of horror items, one was VHS tapes. These were legit copies that they carried and not bootlegs, but they didn’t have much variety in the hard to find horror category. I remember only getting one tape from them, which was Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Gruesome Twosome and the other one I order was Argento’s Tenebre, which was under its American name Unsane. They ended up sending my money back because they were out of the film. So, I was hoping my luck was going to be better with dealing with Midnight Video.
A few weeks later I got the catalog and was curious to see what movies they had. The catalog itself was about the size of an old TV Guide in width and length and was about 15 pages thick. The first catalog I got had the poster to Fulci’s Nightmare Concert (A Cat in the Brain) on the cover. The rest of the catalog had the listing of the movies they carried. They had mostly imports (European or Asian horror), but they also carried American horror films in their uncut form. They even had special sections for Argento, Fulci, Mario and Lamberto Bava, Jess Franco, Joe D’Amato, Jean Rollin, Paul Naschy, The Blind Dead, The Guinea Pig films, and others as well. After looking through it I knew that Midnight Video had what movies I was looking for.
I was thrilled to finally be able to see all these movies I only read about in horror books and magazines. It would take a long time to see all the ones I wanted to see because of the three to four week shipping and the movies were ten to twenty bucks each I believe. After Christmas of ’93 I placed my first order with Midnight Video. I picked an extended version of Dawn of Dead, which today it’s easy to get on DVD, but back then you couldn’t find this anywhere for rent or to buy. The other one I got was Alan Ormsby’s Deranged. When I got their catalog, there was a special offer for the film. I guess it was getting released on video for the first time or it was a re-release. Those were the two that I got and it took about until early February ’94 when I got a package from them.
I noticed when I got the two movies that Dawn of the Dead was just a recorded copy and not in a standard VHS case with a cover and everything. It was a VHS tape that you would buy in the store blank and it was just in the brand named case (which happened to be Maxell). All it had on the tape was a label with the title of the film typed on. All the films from Midnight Video came like this. To me it didn’t really matter if it was a copy and I didn’t care if I had the cover art, I just wanted to see the film. The transfers were always high quality and it didn’t look like someone taped it from a worn down rental tape of the film. On the other hand, Deranged was brand new and in its original glossy case with the cover art. This was the only movie from Midnight Video that was shipped brand new that I ever got. Maybe that’s why it was a special offer and they must have gotten a supply of that film.
With ordering movies from Midnight Video, I finally got to see many of the films that I’ve heard about for years. After hearing about them for so long you hope they’ll be as good as you think they’ll be. Most of the ones I got from Midnight Video were. Fucli’s Zombi 2 was one of my earlier purchases from the company and a film that I wanted to see for years. First time I read about this film was in late ’87 in a video movie guide I had. It was in there under its American name, Zombie. The book wasn’t too fond of the movie (I believe they gave it a half a star), but being a big fan of zombie films and reading the description I wanted to see this movie. When I watched it for the first time I was very pleased with the film. I finally got to see the scene that I read about, which was a piece of wood going through a woman’s eye when one of the zombies was attacking her. Zombi 2 also has a classic scene with a zombie battling a shark underwater.
I also finally got Argento’s Tenebre, which I enjoyed very much and it was another film that delivered after hearing about it for some time. I bought a number of Argento and Fucli films from them and it made me an instant fan of those directors. Another Argento film I got was Deep Red, but this was the original version under its original name Profondo Rosso and it was an extended version in Italian with English subtitles. Some of the Fucli titles I got were The Beyond, which was great. The scene with the spiders creeped me out in that movie and so did many other things during that film. City of the Living Dead was another one I got and another good film from Fucli. The film has one of the grossest scenes ever in a horror film and it starts off when a woman is put in a trance by a ghost and her eyes begin to bleed. Then she begins to vomit all of her organs. It’s so gross I almost threw up when I watched it and still can barely stomach it when I watch it today.
The movie collection from Midnight Video was of course mostly imports, but the actually copies of the films were imports themselves. Lots of them contained subtitles of that countries language, which at times was annoying to have up on screen, but most of the films were widescreen and for the most part the subtitles would be placed underneath the picture in the black. Midnight Video got most of their films from Japan, so they were plenty of films that I had that have Japanese subtitles on them. Also, if any movie had full-frontal nudity that was a Japanese import, it would be blurred out. At the time I was wondering why these copies were being censored since they were unrated and uncut films that showed tons of violence, gore, and nudity (topless and butt shots only), but no full-frontal. Years later I found out that at the time Japan banned anything that showed pubic hair or private parts in film or print. That is why those scenes were censored. The ban was later lifted in Japan.
From early ’94 up until the summer of ’95 I had gotten a number of movies and along with Argento and Fucli I gotten films from the Bavas, Naschy, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Hammer Films, and a variety of Italian horror. It’s a gamble putting your hard earned cash down on a VHS copy that may or may not be good. For the most part I got lucky with my purchases, but they were times where I wasted my twenty bucks. Most of the films I felt that were disappointing were from Lamberto Bava. In my opinion Demons is his only good film, but the ones I got from Midnight Video like Macabre were real let downs.
I did order from other companies that I found in the back of Fangoria. They were pretty much the same as Midnight Video with VHS copies and the standard of quality, but I found that these other companies were better in price. During the mid to late 90’s stores like Suncoast Video, Saturday Matinee, Best Buy, and f.y.e. were booming with a variety of this type of classic horror that years ago you could only get from bootleg catalogs. Thanks to a company called Anchor Bay that started to release a number of classic horror films from the 70’s and 80’s that you normally couldn’t find in stores. Now you could pick up a copy of Zombi 2 or Demons in one of these stores. Then soon after that DVDs came in and many of the horror imports found a new home. So, you really didn’t need to order expensive VHS copies from these bootleg companies when you could get the real deal at the mall for a decent price.
Nowadays you can get any movie you want online and get it in a few days or even download it that very day. Of course it’s great that we have that option now, but sometimes I miss the days where you had to really work to find a rare film or a hard to find item. Now it seems the world is at the touch of our fingertips, but back then you had to look long and hard and pay top dollar for these classic horror imports.
Today, Midnight Video is still around and available through the web instead of their mail-order catalog. The company upgraded to selling DVDs of course, but they still have VHS tapes. From the looks of web site, it looks like they have original VHS tapes and not copies now. It has to be, because the prices of these tapes are likes prices of new VHS tapes from the 80’s at almost eighty dollars. They also have imported VHS tapes as well at high prices and their DVDs go for about twenty.
Midnight Video was the gateway for me to all these classic euro horror films that I only read about for years, but could never find at the local video store. It was a really great time with discovering this company, getting their catalog and looking at all the titles they had to offer, and the anticipation of waiting for weeks to get a package from them with these great horror films inside. Thank you Midnight Video and other companies like them for being around at a time where these horror gems were a rarity at video stores.