First Set Report, Exclusive Photos: Slime Time at “THE LAST VIDEO STORE”
Stepping onto the set of THE LAST VIDEO STORE in its early stages of production is basically like stepping into a time machine headed straight back into the late-‘80s/early-‘90s peak era of home video, and good ol’-fashioned mom-and-pop video rental shops.
FANGORIA’s visit begins on a warm, slightly overcast Saturday afternoon. After being led on a wild goose chase by the typically unreliable Google Maps app, this writer finally pulls over in front of an old Porsche/Land Rover dealership to retrieve directions from Matt Novak, event coordinator of Edmonton, Alberta’s annual DEDFest horror-film festival—who has been working with Edmonton-based independent filmmaking collective The House of Heathens on LAST VIDEO STORE, the highly anticipated feature-length extension of their same-named 2013 short film.
Novak leads the way inside to the main shooting area—a 20-by-45-foot structure that’s plain enough on the outside for one to be completely floored by the spectacle situated within its 8-foot-high walls. Beyond a heavy-red-curtained entrance lies the incomparable nostalgic warmth of rows upon rows of strikingly realistic faux VHS tapes, immediately transporting this visitor back to the fondest experiences of childhood—those that transpired within the dusty, peculiarly scented aisles of the local Five Star Video.
The tightly knit House of Heathens crew busies about, setting up a scene in which the two main characters, Kevin (Kevin Martin) and Josh (Josh Lenner, pictured above and below), are being threatened by an evidently evil analog presence that is taking over the video store. The characters get into a shoving match as Kevin, the shop’s owner, declares his impenetrable loyalty to the movies and consequent inability to abandon the place—and the conservatively clad Josh fights for the survival of himself and his newfound film-loving mentor.
As the crew breaks between takes, Martin—the real-life owner and operator of one of Edmonton’s last standing independent video-rental outlets, The Lobby DVD Shop—sits down to share some insight into the film and his character. “Basically, the movie takes place in the not-too-distant future, where nobody would know what a video store is,” he explains. “My character was raised in the store by the original owner because my parents couldn’t afford to pay the late charges anymore. It’s very ironic that I work at an actual video store while we’re making a movie about one. My whole schedule has been real store by day, fake store at night…and repeat. I don’t even know how much of it is acting, because I’m basically just playing a grumpier version of myself.”
Elaborates on the buddy dynamic between Kevin and Josh, Martin eventually makes the inevitable STAR WARS analogy: “I’m the brains and Josh is the brawn,” he says. “Josh is Bruce Campbell, if I had to cast a well-known actor in his role, and I’m a really poor imitation of Steve Buscemi—without the acting chops, obviously. Whenever we get into a sticky situation, it’s going to be either Josh’s muscles or my knowledge that gets us through. Josh is definitely the Luke Skywalker. It’s his story, because his character grows up from this lost orphan with no friends, and by the end, he knows exactly who he is and what he needs to do. I’m the lesser, skinnier, retracted version of Han Solo, obviously. So it’s a fun dynamic.”
Fango returns to the set for a few more shots of the initial aftermath of the VHS monster invasion, which has Lenner sprawled on the ground covered in dirt and chunks of debris after enduring a violent explosion. He then picks himself up to discuss the arc of his role in a bit more depth: “Josh was born to be the hero he will progress to be later on in the film. He starts out as kind of a nerdy, dweeby person who only knows how to obey rules. Then he’s introduced to Kevin and stumbles upon the last video store. Kevin sort of brings him out of his shell. He figures out exactly what he needs to do, especially when it comes to saving the store—even though it’s technically his fault that it is now being overrun by this monster.”
Specifically, Josh, a brainwashed, pious delivery boy, arrives at The Last Video Store with a mysterious package containing an unlabeled VHS tape that eventually transmogrifies into the otherworldly, ‘80s-inspired creature. “He brings the package to Kevin, and Kevin inserts the VHS tape into the VCR,” Lenner explains. “Then these two guys have to deal with the consequences—especially Josh.”
To get a better idea of what this cassette creature looks like, Fango heads into a shop at the rear of the building to get a few words with the FX team, led by double-dutying director Tim Rutherford (pictured below left with Martin), who’s helming THE LAST VIDEO STORE with Cody Kennedy, and House of Heathens newcomer Sean Roberts. The two who are laboring away at a workstation covered with industrial-sized cans of liquid latex, various shades of acrylic paint and remnants of deconstructed VHS tapes.
“We’re naturally putting crab legs on a VHS,” Rutherford says, “and we’re going to bring some of these tapes to life through classic hand-puppet techniques, along with editing and modern visual effects compositions. It all comes together pretty well between Cody’s editing style, which is very fast and kinetic, and my kind of goofy approach to contemporary effects, like slime and ooze. We should be able to get one hell of a combination effect that blends old technology with the new way of doing things without CG-ing people into boredom.”
At this point, from the looks and sounds of things, THE LAST VIDEO STORE could very well be the ultimate viewing experience for those of us who grew up during the pinnacle of the home-tape craze, and subsequently developed an insatiable appetite for the endless array of direct-to-video B-movies that particular era spawned. “All I can say is, it’s going to have a lot of slime, a lot of bad one-liners, some cool animatronic puppets, tentacles, robots and wizards—and analog gods,” Martin concludes. “Charles Band, eat your heart out. This is right up your alley, buddy!” You can keep up with the production at its Facebook page.