80s Rental Top 10

Tuesday, August 3 2010
80s Rental Top 10

While sorting through some stuff in our loft recently, partly to answer some questions for the BVA’s impending 30th anniversary AGM, we came across a book celebrating the first 10 years of the video industry, published by now defunct trade magazine Video Trade Weekly and put out, well, 20 years ago.

It included some fascinating articles – former VTW writer Mark Kermode who started his now illustrious career at the magazine, talking about sleeve design for example – and some brilliant chart material, tracking the history of the industry.

Buried in there were a bunch of charts from stores detailing the best renting titles over those first 10 years, aka the 80s.

And in particular, we loved this one from the Video Palace. For those that don’t remember, this was the retail (or rather rental) arm of Palace Pictures and Palace Video, the pioneering production and video label from those halcyon days.

Palace, of course, was one of the key labels in recognising that another world existed away from the schlock of most labels, becoming one of the first to develop a range of foreign language and subtitled releases (its generically packaged Palace Classics range, of which we still have a box in our loft).

Similarly, its flagship store (its locations included, among other homes, Berwick Street in London’s West End, the home now of Sister Ray and Selectadisc before it) stocked a different range of titles, from the in-house classics through to leftfield, esoteric titles.

As a kind of out of towner, not working in the West End, we used to look at these titles and dream of the day we could rent films like those stocked here. In their smart rental boxes and sleeves.

As regulars at the also now long gone Scala Cinema (later owned by Palace too), these were the kind of films we wanted to see.

Anyway, here’s their top 10 renters between 1981, when the store opened, and 1989.

1. 9 1/2 Weeks

What we always used to dub soft porn for students – the kind of saucy stuff it was OK to watch because, it was like, you know, art. And it had a then credible actor (Mickey Rourke, although this was arguably the beginning of the end of the first part of his career). A massive rental hit and you didn’t feel too sleazy walking out of a shop in Soho with this tucked under your arm.

2. Rumble Fish

More Rourke, this time an arty Francis Ford Coppola outing based on the teen staple novel by SE Hinton. It was all teen angst with an existential tinge and shot in, like many spotty angst ridden teens probably wanted their lives to be, black and white.

3. Repo Man

This chart starts to read like the 10 coolest films you could rent in the 1980s. This was Alex Cox’s directorial debut and it seemed to come from literally nowhere. Smart, souciant, funny, hip… Repo Man was a film made by someone who loved films, or rather loved cult films.

4. Taxi Driver

The Raygun remembers being desperate to watch a copy of this film for ages, scouring video stores to find one to rent. And, when we finally came across it, jumping for joy. A film that legitimised our watching of VHS after VHS release.

5. Betty Blue

More soft porn for students (see number one). Only this time it was even more credible – Beatrice Dalle was hotter – and crazier – than Kim Basinger, and we all droned on about “amour fou” when all we really wanted to do was watch Dalle getting it on.

6. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

From a time when it possibly didn’t seem as commonplace as it does now, and from a pre-Internet era when cults such as the one surrounding Rocky Horror Picture Show happened naturally. Enabled lots of semi-goths to up their camp quotient and live out their fantasies, all in the safety of their own home.

7. Blade Runner

Still as cool as ever and again, in the 1980s, not nearly as ubiquitous as it now is. In fact, these rentals will have derived purely from the original version, that is viewed now as the inferior take on Scott’s sci-fi classic.

8. National Lampoon’s Animal House

We had a rule when renting films during the school holidays round our way as impressionable teens (and children of the video nasty era). A few horrors, something a bit classy, something a bit, ahem, risqué, and, always, one comedy for laffs between the assorted slayings. And it would generally be one of the same handful. One of these was, of course, Animal House. We could still recite this film word for word, despite not having seen it for, ooh, a good 20 years or so.

9. Fawlty Towers (any)

From the early days of BBC releases, when Fawlty Towers in a rental-sized box carried a dealer price of something ridiculous like £80. Given its longevity over the years, and its life at DVD and beyond, still the crown jewels in BBC Worldwide’s catalogue.

10. Annie Hall

The anti-Animal House, if you like. If you wanted to impress someone, or show that video wasn’t just about death, mutilation etc, you’d have got this in one of those jet black, glossy Warner rental-sized boxes. One we can still quote liberally, and one we have revisited throughout the DVD years too.

The next 10, incidentally, included Palace’s own Diva, Blue Velvet, Apocalypse Now (we still remember the excitement of renting this for the first time), Midnight Express (somewhat inexplicably popular with me and my renting pals, given that its horror was infinitely more real than anything else we viewed, but enough to give us an unwarranted fear of going to Turkey ever since) as well as more predictable rental fodder such as Mad Max 2, The Terminator (a bona fide video phenomenon that fed back into theatrical), Back To The Future, Crocodile Dundee,  Ghostbusters and Romancing The Stone.