Video store sells movies so bad they’re good

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Christo­pher Spat

TAMPA — There is a place where the video store never died. Where movie posters plas­ter the walls and a gi­ant nov­elty VHS tape hangs above the check­out counter. Where, on a re­cent af­ter­noon, the owner placed an or­der for more in­ven­tory via an hon­est-to-good­ness tele­phone.

“I’m sorry, I just have to get his or­der in to­day,” said Mike San­dlin, owner of Grind­house Video. He turned his at­ten­tion back to the ven­dor on the line. “‘Pup­pet­mas­ter,’ right, I need two of those …”

There are racks for the “staff picks” and a small, adults-only room, ob­scured by a beaded cur­tain. There are nearly 2,000 square feet of shelves lined with DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.

There’s an en­tire room of VHS tapes.

Who would buy those? Al­most on cue, a man in a beanie walked into the room and be­gan pluck­ing tapes like “Elvira: Mis­tress of the Dark” and “The Mummy.” San­dlin shrugged and pointed at the guy.

“A friend of mine told me about this place. I come here as of­ten as I can,” said Hunter Bar­nett, 32. “With Hal­loween com­ing up I’m try­ing to get as much hor­ror, mon­ster, any­thing themed like that, that I can.”

Grind­house Video is not fam­i­lyfriendly Block­buster re­born. It has been open for five years in an un­re­mark­able strip mall on Martin Luther King Jr. Boule­vard. The store does have a wide se­lec­tion of used, main­stream movies in all gen­res — “The Peanuts Movie” sits next to “Pineap­ple Ex­press.”

But the soul of the place is hor­ror, mostly the ob­scure stuff and cult clas­sics hard­core fans seek. Need a copy of “Dude Bro Party Mas­sacre III,” “Can­ni­bal Claus” or “Blood Diner”? You’re cov­ered.

Same if you want an “Omen” Tshirt, a “Chucky” poster or an au­to­graph from the di­rec­tor of “Hu­man Cen­tipede II.”

The store car­ries other gen­res of ex­ploita­tion flicks and B-movies, too. It’s the kind of stuff that’s so bad it’s good, marked by bizarre plot points, sex and sen­sa­tional vi­o­lence, movies once shown non­stop at the “grind­house” the­aters from which it takes its name.

The niche has brought Grind­house cus­tomers from all over the world, San­dlin said, even though un­til re­cently he had only in­vested $250 in ad­ver­tis­ing.

The rap­per Slug from the hiphop duo At­mos­phere has been in the store to buy movies for his tour bus and gave San­dlin VIP passes to his show. San­dlin said one cou­ple trav­eled from Aus­tralia to Or­lando for Dis­ney World. When they heard about his store, they made a de­tour across the state to visit Grind­house.

“I’ve had peo­ple from Ja­pan, Europe, lit­er­ally com­ing to Tampa be­cause of the store,” he said. “It’s be­com­ing a bit of a des­ti­na­tion be­cause there’s noth­ing like it.”

Grind­house Video is among a hand­ful of stores in North Amer­ica

that stock new re­leases by Vine­gar Syn­drome, Ar­row Video, Shout Fac­tory and other com­pa­nies giv­ing new and out-of-print films high-qual­ity DVD and Blu­ray re­leases, some­times lim­ited to a few hun­dred copies.

Many have never been avail­able on a disc, and they’re un­likely to ever show up on Net­flix or Ama­zon Prime. The store even keeps a well-stocked rack of rare hor­ror movies filmed in Tampa.

San­dlin buys so many movies from those dis­trib­u­tors that they’ve come to know him. That helps him get pri­or­ity on more lim­ited re­leases.

Detroit’s Chris Ge­orge, who runs the web­site the Movie Sleuth and seeks out video stores around the United States, vis­ited Grind­house while va­ca­tion­ing in Clear­wa­ter Beach. He called it a “mag­i­cal uni­corn” for the breadth and vol­ume of its in­ven­tory.

“There are maybe three or four stores like it in the coun­try,” he said. “No­body has what he has.”

San­dlin, 45, got a taste for cult films as a teen dur­ing the ’80s rental boom. He’d rent the same movies again and again, stuff like “Mi­crowave Mas­sacre” and “Franken­hooker.”

“It was all about the box art,” he said. “Some of the worst movies had the best art be­cause they had to sell it. So you would just rent stuff based off the art­work, and then you start lik­ing all th­ese re­ally bad movies.”

And while San­dlin does sell movies on­line, it’s the brick-and­mor­tar shop that brings in the ma­jor­ity of his in­come. He’s as sur­prised as any­one.

“I did like $2,000 in sales on Satur­day,” he said. “I make a liv­ing sell­ing re­ally ter­ri­ble movies.”

UNIVER­SAL/COURTESY

When a se­rial killer’s spirit in­hab­ited a chil­dren’s doll in 1988’s “Child’s Play,” a hor­ror movie icon was born.

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