Cardiff’s VHS Rental Shops – Part 2 – Clifton Street & Splott Road

Carrying on with my occasional reminiscences of the VHS shops of my youth, I’m stretching the net wider, beyond Broadway to the far-reaching realms of Clifton Street and Splott Road (and a couple of other nearby locations). Ok, so not that far really, but all still important to my fondness for these long gone entertainment hot-spots. If you’ve landed here and want to start at the beginning, the introduction to why VHS was so important to me is here, and part one my tour of my favourite Cardiff VHS stores is here.

3 or 5 Clifton Street – The Italian Stallion

3 or 5 Clifton Street, home of an old VHS Shop

3 or 5 Clifton Street, home of an old VHS Shop

Starting closest to home, this shop was close to The Clifton pub, but I can’t recall its exact location. It was definitely on that first block between Broadway and Sapphire Street. I think it was either number 3 or 5 Clifton Street, but it could have been closer to Sapphire Street as well. As my first instinct was The Clifton end, I’ll go with that! The front of the store was white and black, and the inside was quite bright and airy, it may have been House of Beauty in this photo. Where ever it was, this shop had a good range of titles and was open for a few years around the mid 1980s. I recall lots of the titles they had on shelves there, and that it was one of the stores with some older titles that had survived the Video Nasties’ purges.

For a time they had a copy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, its minimalist red, white and black cover was as visually striking as it was unforgettable. At the time I never got to see it being too young and when I was old enough, it had gone from the store. When I eventually saw the film, it was on a bootleg bought via small ads in a horror fanzine and it wasn’t far off being re-released fully uncut here in the UK. I also distinctly remember them having a copy of the mondo documentary Being Different in the store, another tape with a striking cover, and like Texas Chain Saw it was one I didn’t get to rent from there. We didn’t really use this shop that often compared to the ones on Broadway, despite it being so close.

I remember they also had a load of adult titles towards the back of the shop, their lurid looking covers were really appealing (most of which were nothing to do with the actual film, more of which later). However, there’s one title I really strongly remember from that period, and it should have been in with the adult titles but was there nestled within the main titles just inside the front door. That film was Italian Stallion staring none other than Sylvester Stallone in some soft-core adult action.

The UK cover of Italian Stallion

The UK cover of Italian Stallion

You have to remember that back then Stallone was a massive star, he was everywhere with posters for the various Rocky films and Rambo ten-a-penny in the video shops and cinemas. To see him in a seedy skin flick like this was quite a shock, especially with the raunchy nude shot on the back of the case. I suspect the film was in with the general titles in a cynical ploy to sell it on the strength of Stallone’s star power at the time. I certainly recall it having the red rented triangle on it quite often!

It made an instant impression on a youngster like me, and to this day I’ve never seen the film but recall the VHS cover like it was yesterday. Also, the saucy shot on the back has been etched in my mind and makes me smile every-time I see Stallone being a ‘hard-man’ so to say! If you’re interested, you can see the back here, and whilst that’s not the UK cover, the two shots on it are the same ones as was on the back of the UK VHS. Needless to say, the film would often be picked up and the back cover admired and quickly put back on the shelf…

I’m not sure when this one closed, I think it may have been gone by the time I was working at the Lo-Cost on Clifton Street, next door to the old Wooloworths, which sets it prior to 1987. Such was the life-span of many of those old VHS shops we were so fond of, many of them had around a four year innings, with only the odd one or two staying open longer.

115 ish Clifton Street – Re-Released Nasties

115 ish shop on Clifton Street

115 ish shop on Clifton Street

This shop stood roughly in the middle of Clifton Street, opposite the previously mentioned Woolies and Lo-Cost store that I’d worked in. I’m unsure if it had a name and what that name was. This one lasted up until the late 1980s, possibly just about into the 1990s. It was quite a dark shop internally, with a dark blue paint-job on its frontage. I don’t think it opened till after the 1984 VRA (Video Recordings Act) that put pay to the Video Nasty films that I was so keen to track down. It had a relatively unmemorable selection of titles, bar three which have stuck in the memory ever since, for all the wrong reasons.

The Video Nasties were taken out of circulation around 1984/85, after many prosecutions and raids on VHS shops around the UK. However, some smart distributors didn’t let this put them off, they had a plan! A number of the less extreme titles started to re-appear on the shelves of the VHS rental shops, with similar covers, but these were in fact heavily edited versions of the films. As pre-internet teenagers, we had no way of knowing this was the case, so seeing these titles on the shelves again was a real surprise. The fact that they the carried official BBFC 18 Certificate logos should have been a giveaway, but I was young, uninformed and hopeful. Unsurprisingly, the money flew from my hands, and the tapes flew to my house for an eager watching. The three titles in question were Alien Contamination, Evil Speak and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (under the AKA The Living Dead).

The BBFC 18 mid 1980s VHS covers of previously banned films.

The BBFC 18 mid 1980s VHS covers of previously banned films.

I believe that both Contamination and The Living Dead were re-released on the European Creative Films label and Evilspeak on the Apex Distribution label. The one thing the three films shared were that they were missing substantial amounts of the nasty footage that had got them banned. I remember watching Contamination and feeling quite perplexed. Lots of scenes didn’t make sense, things happened in the cut sections that were referenced in the uncut bits, making for a disjointed and relatively bloodless viewing experience.

Not long after that, I scored a copy of the fully uncut version of Alien Contamination. As to how I scored it, strangely it turned up on a tape with the infamous Faces Of Death in a drawer in the office in the Lo-Cost I worked in, right opposite where this VHS shop was. I don’t know how it got there, I suspect one of the bosses’ had bought it in for one of the other staff members to enjoy. Needless to say, I borrowed that tape, and on watching it, I was surprised at the difference in the versions. That first one I’d watched from the VHS shop was cut by almost six and a half minutes! If you don’t mind the gory video stills, you can see what was cut here. Whole sequences had been removed from the 18 certificate version I’d rented, which was an ongoing theme in videos for a long period in the 1980s and 1990s.

Evilspeak was likewise a major disappointment. Shorn of three and a half minutes of the gory mayhem that had got it banned, after renting the tape from this shop I was once again left scratching my head as to how this had found itself on the Video Nasty list. As for The Living Dead, I recall watching that late one night with my father. The film was such a crashing bore, there was no blood and guts in it whatsoever. It was missing over two minutes of footage, which if you check the BBFC site shows the fun that was removed:

  • Removed shots of the policeman’s mutilated body.
  • Removed all footage of flesh-eating.
  • Removed shots of zombies on fire.
  • Removed the killing of the Doctor with an axe.
  • Removed a nurse being eviscerated and her breast ripped off.

A zombie film with no flesh-eating… Go figure! My dad never forgave me having him sit through that film. I had told him it was a good one before we’d started, although I’d never seen it myself and knew it just by its reputation. He would moan about it every now and them. “Good, like that zombie film with the bloke on the bike?” I wasn’t impressed either, but subsequent viewings of the full uncut version have really changed my opinion on it, it’s a superbly unnerving rural horror film, all the better for having been shot in the British countryside. Classic stuff with a prophetic message about man’s messing with nature.

So, there it is – with these three films my over-riding memory of that shop is sheer disappointment. It was the place I remember for BBFC approved neutered Video Nasties, but beyond that, I have very little memory of the actual store itself. Surprisingly though, it often crops up in those occasional VHS shop dreams I have, only when I visit it there I often find hidden gems, rather than the eighteen badged, censored VHS I actually got from the place.

127 Clifton Street – Blockbusters

Once the dreaded Blockbusters at 127 Clifton Street

Once the dreaded Blockbusters at 127 Clifton Street

Ok, the less said about this place, the better. One of the longest surviving VHS rentals, I was using this shop right into the early 1990s. Blockbusters was a massive, international ‘pile-them-high’ VHS chain that ruled until the last decade when Netflix, Love DVD and other Video On Demand services made them irrelevant.

Being corporate behemoths brought its own issues for fans of obscurer stuff like me. Sure, you could get your hands on the latest blockbuster no problem, and there was also a relatively decent back library, however, it was all modern stuff (1988 onwards), so the chances of finding a nasty or obscure work were nil. I mention it here for completeness more than anything.

The only thing I can put my finger on renting from there and remembering as a positive Blockbusters experience was John Woo’s The Killer. This store may have lasted into the twenty-first century, I don’t know when it closed. I don’t miss it either or ever really think about it in the same breath as the other stores mentioned, despite having spent a lot of time in there trying to find something to watch!

21 Splott Road – Ring Binders Full Of Films

The folder rental shop at 21 Splott Road

The folder rental shop at 21 Splott Road

Of all the VHS rental stores I’ve mentioned here, this is for me the most bizarre. I only went here once, but it had an impact on me as it was nothing like any VHS rental shop I’d been too before or since. I think it was located at 21 Splott Road, where the My Dentist is in the photo to the left. I have no idea what it was called either. I recall it having a brown frontage, with half-frosted windows, so as from the outside (at least at my height) you couldn’t see in. This is one of the earliest stores I visited as well, if not the first, then probably the second, so we’re talking 1981 / 1982 ish.

I think I went there with one of my school friends who was a member. You entered from the street into what can best be described as a doctor’s waiting room. There was a counter at one end, much like a receptionist, and all around the body of the store were tables and chairs. I recall it being sparse – there were no racks of VHS on the walls, and no posters up either, only mountains of black A4 ring binders. On the low coffee tables were piled up the black binders and you’d sit down, pick one up and start flicking through. Inside in the plastic slip sheets were the covers of the VHS they had to rent.

Now, it was a long time ago, and while I remember the folders themselves, the form of the actual covers inside them escapes me. I think they may have been photostat copies of the covers, rather than the originals, which makes me wonder if this was a legitimate VHS rental store. There’s a good chance they could have been passing off pirated copies, which would explain why this store wasn’t there long. Pirate VHS were everywhere back then. Heck, the first time I saw Blade Runner, it came out of the boot of a mobile pirate rental VHS tape supplier who routinely stopped on our street. It wouldn’t surprise me if this place were playing a similar game, given its lack of signage and the accoutrements of a typical VHS store.

Once you’d flipped through the binders and found the title you wanted, you’d unclick the folder’s rings and take the sheet out to take it to the counter to be served. I can’t remember if we actually rented a film at that time, I suspect we’d just gone in to look what they had. I’m pretty sure I’ve not imagined this place, but no one else ever seems to remember it. I’d love some more background on this store, as like I said, it’s really stuck with me despite only having gone there once. If you ever visited and can confirm or deny what I’ve written above about it, please leave a comment below.

56 Splott Road – M and M’s Video Rentals

The old M and M VHS at 56 Splott Road

The old M and M VHS at 56 Splott Road

The M and M was at 56 Splott Road and a store I would often use, despite it being the furthest walking distance of my regular rental establishments. It was a narrow but long store, with red plastic tape racks running the length of the shop. They didn’t have large numbers of copies of the latest releases, like Blockbuster, but they had a vast range and some ancient and obscure titles. This was a regular visit around the mid to late 1980s and into the early 1990s. I’m not sure when they shut up the business, but it was probably there into the latter half of the 1990s.

As you entered the store from Splott Road, to the left were the newer titles, with the newest ones being at the end furthest away from the entrance, where the counter was. The left-hand side was mainly comedies, romances and thrillers, up to newest titles section. However, the right-hand side got most of my attention, as that’s where the horror and more obscure cult titles lived.

The 4 nasties on the shelf at the M and M.

The 4 nasties on the shelf at the M and M.

While they didn’t have any full-on banned Video Nasties, they did have some titles that had initially been lumped in with them and later passed as fit for UK consumption. The not-quite-nasties tapes I had from there included the British schlock horror classic Xtro, Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse, dull slasher Terror Eyes and the early Michael Ironside starring thriller Visiting Hours. All four of these films were similar in the fact they weren’t that nasty. They had their moments, but ultimately were quite tame and would probably be rated a BBFC 15 by today’s standards. Still, it was a little trove of films that I got to see thanks to M and M, along with many other older titles they carried.

Now, that side of the store ended in a darkened corner, away from the horror, which was stocked with its logical, often mentioned partner, the sex section. One of the good things about the M and M was that they were never fussy about age verification. You wanted and 18 certificate tape, you got an 18 certificate tape. I don’t recall ever being challenged on my age in there, which came in handy for this next sorry little tale of VHS rental, that’s stuck in my mind to this day. I mentioned earlier about the adult titles with their lurid but misleading covers. Well, this story is also about that.

Now, a lot of cheap, old rubbish found a new lease of life on VHS, and cheap as chips re-releases of old titles was common. If you picked up these original VHS titles, you’d often see a painted cover which made them look amazing. However, on examining the back of the cover, there was small print that stated something along the lines of “cover art not necessarily representative of the film’s content.” So, basically, we’ve created this fantastic cover art to flog you a donkey from 1974 that you would never have picked up otherwise. And yes, I fell for it time after time.

So, there I was in the full flush of mid-teen youth, a curious fella wanting to know more about the ways of life with limited means of doing so. Being in such a state of mind, I was increasingly finding myself drawn to the adult corner of the store, lured in by the naked, writhing bodies pictured on the VHS covers in that section. However, as a youngster, I felt just that little bit too embarrassed to actually try and rent an adult title on my own. I churned it over and over in mind but never gone through with actually picking up a tape and taking it to the counter. We’d jokingly asked if we could rent an adult title in the VHS shop at 3 or 5 Clifton Street, only for the bloke behind the counter to set us straight on the not-likelihood of that happening. Then the tape had not actually been taken to checkout, we’d pointed to the adult corner and asked. No, it would take an act of bravery the likes of which none of my circle of video friends had ever dared.

I don’t know how many times we talked about getting an adult tape, how many times we talked about what to expect and how many times we almost picked it up and took it to rent. Eventually though, it happened, and I was the man in charge of procuring the tape. We rented what we thought would be the most salacious title, going by its front cover, which showed lots of 1980s men and women in an orgy-like composition, with lots of skin and female bits on show. The film was called The Wife Swappers – I can see that cover now. It was black framed with the photo image in the middle. A couple of us had banded together, found an opportune moment to take it and view, and that was it. I stood there with the adult title in my hand along with the rental card and £1.50. The guy behind the counter gave me a knowing look, took my money, gave me the tape, and we were away.

I think there were three of us there to view the film on that day, and we hurried back to the house to watch the title with it cradled in our arms. The curtains were drawn, the video inserted some eager teens believed themselves in for a saucy treat. Then the film started. We looked at each other agasp. What the hell was this crap? What we’d rented was a pseudo-documentary made in 1970 that had a psychiatrist talking head shots and next to no sex or nudity going on. I remember there being lots of shots of people walking around swinging London, and the odd bit of kiss and cuddle, but that was it. So innocuous was it, in fact, you can watch it on YouTube these days. Given their strict rules on sexual content, it tells you a thing or two about how tame the title was. Don’t believe me – you can see it here.

As you can imagine, we were not very happy about this, and took the title right back red-faced, and returned it before our parents came home and spotted it. At a later date, I’d pick the case up again to look at the cover, annoyed by its false advertising. There on the back, I spotted the small print. “Cover photographs not representative of the film”. Well, that made sense, and I suspect the other titles in that corner were similarly disappointing. Such was the ignominy of ‘The Wife Swappers’ rental, I never tried any of the other adult tapes in there to find out.

That disappointment aside, the M and M was a great store. Alongside it wide range of titles and lack attitude to age control, the prices of the older titles weren’t OTT which meant I would often go there and pick up a few tapes at a time. Sure it was a long walk to get there compared to the other stores mentioned, but it was always worth it.

32 Pearl Street – City Of The Living Dead

32 Pearl Street today

32 Pearl Street today

This was a news agents, rather than a VHS rental place, but they held a rack of rental titles in the store for a period. I’d use the shop for sweets and drinks sometimes, when loitering about around with friends, several of whom lived on Pearl Street. When it closed it was converted from retail to a house sometime in the early 2000s, but I’m not sure how long they kept the VHS rentals going when it was a shop as it was off my beaten track by that point.

I was in two minds about including it, as I never rented from there. But, I’ve decided I will as there was one title in there that I always recalled, another of those BBFC re-certified nasties that cropped up in the mid 1980s. The title was Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead, which has always been a special film for me as it was the first of his infamous Zombie munchers I ever saw, and remains a favourite to this day.

The heavily cut Pacesetter VHS of City Of The Living Dead

The heavily cut Pacesetter VHS of City Of The Living Dead

They carried the mid-1980s re-release, which I was on the Pacesetter label as pictured to the right. As it happened, I had scored my self the pre-certified version of the film on a youth club visit to Ireland (that trip will feature at some point in the future, as will the video store there.) The version I had was the pre-certification release on the Inter-Light VHS label. Although it was cut, missing the film’s most infamous scene, it was the most complete version available (legally) at that time. It was missing the entirety of the infamous head-drilling scene, but all the other bits of gruesome gore, including a lady famously barfing up her intestines, were intact.

These later BBFC approved versions had pretty much stripped out any of the remaining gore in the film, missing another minute and twenty seconds worth of material on top of the missing minute from the version I had. That official 18 certificate really was a kiss of death in the mid 1980s! All this despite the fact the film never made Video Nasty status, unlike Fulci’s other zombie classics. I mention it here just on the strength of remembering the cover, and because it was a title I never saw in any of the other VHS rental shops at that time.

140ish Carlisle Street – The Exorcist

Shop at around 140 Carlisle Street

Shop at around 140 Carlisle Street

I don’t recall being a member of this store or what it was called, I think it was a friend who held the membership. This was quite a small rental shop, with a limited range. I don’t remember exactly where it was on Carlisle Street, so this is a bit of a guess location wise. I think it was possibly the house featured in the photo to the left, which has subsequently been converted into a residential property. I remember that it was sticking out from the homes on the street, as is this one, and it’s roughly in the location I remember it and nothing else on the street looks similar.

The UK Pre-cert of The Exorcist.

The UK Pre-cert of The Exorcist.

This store was there in the mid-1980s, as I can recall them carrying Evil Dead 2, which would mean it was open circa 1988. I don’t remember them having any nasties in there, but the one title they did carry which I never saw anywhere else in Cardiff at that time was The Exorcist on Warner. I can roughly recall where it lived as well, to the right of the entrance from the street, up on the top shelf. I’m not sure why, but The Exorcist wasn’t widely available on VHS in the latter half of the 1980s. I’d wanted to see it since I’d heard the graphic descriptions of the film breathlessly described to me by a horror film-loving girl in my primary school around 1981 / 82. She shall remain nameless, but she will be forever thanked for showing An American Werewolf In London at her 11th birthday party, which was way worse than anything I’d seen before and gave me nightmares for a week (I still love it!)

I had meant to sign up to that shop to get my hands on The Exorcist but never got around to it. Later it disappeared from the shelf, and I never saw it again on VHS until it was re-released in the 1990s. The first time I actually got to see it was at a midnight showing at the Monroe cinema on Albany Road in Cardiff around 1990. The Monroe was a brand new venue built on the site of my old favourite cinema The Globe, which was demolished in the mid-1980s. Ironically, after being shut for years, the Monroe is now once again known as the Globe, but now it’s a live music venue. But anyway, that store has always stuck in my mind for that one film.

Somewhere On Moorland Road – Dawn Of The Dead

Dawn of the Dead from somewhere on Moorland Road

Dawn of the Dead from somewhere on Moorland Road

This last place is not a shop, but it’s left an indelible memory when it comes to the good old days of VHS. I only visited this place the one time. I can’t recall the exact address, but I think it’s one of the houses in the photographed stretch on Moorland Road. I remember going down some steps to the front door of the house, and these have steps down from the pavement. The point of the visit to this house was to score one of the films I most wanted to see at that time, a copy of George A. Romero’s zombie epic Dawn Of The Dead.

The UK VHS release of George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead.

Now, as mentioned earlier, pirate VHS tapes were quite common and in circulation everywhere. After the nasties had been removed, the only hope we had of seeing them was via bootleg copies. A friend gave me a list of pirate tapes that his uncle was selling off. I think the uncle had run his own pirate rental service at some point but was now retiring and liquidating his stock. The majority of the list I was given was big Hollywood fodder, but also on there was my holy grail, Dawn Of The Dead, going for a fiver.

Well, at that point in my life a fiver was a big deal, I was either working at the Lo-cost on Clifton Street or as a bottle boy at the Three Brewers on Colchester Avenue, where a fiver was more than my weekly wage. But, I had to see it, found the money and arranged with my friend to go visit and pick the tape up. It was a quick transaction, done on the seller’s doorstep, and finally, I had it. Dawn Of The Dead. Sadly though, the version I’d bought was the UK release which was cut by a few minutes and missing some of its significant gore scenes.

Although not classified a video nasty and banned, Dawn was impossible to find easily during the second half of the 1980s. Of all the video stores I visited, I never once saw it on the shelves anywhere. The film exists in a number of different cuts, and the UK VHS initially was the trimmed theatrical cut. Still, even in its cut form, the film made an impact on me back then. It wasn’t long after I got that version that it received an official re-release on VHS in the UK. The 1990s release was an even shorter version than the already trimmed UK theatrical cut which I had the pirate copy of.

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 1990s that I got to see the full uncut version (known as the director’s cut) which bizarrely was airing regularly on the UK satellite channel Bravo at the time. I got my boss at work to record it for me as I didn’t have Satellite TV. That’s the second time a boss in a retail job helped me to see an uncut version of a film, following Contamination turning up at Lo-cost.

Dawn Of The Dead is still one of my favourites, it’ll find its way onto my screen every so often, as I never tire of the film and its atmosphere. That first bootlegged tape I purchased also came with an unexpected bonus. There was roughly an extra hour on the end of the tape being a 180-minute blank, and being the sort of person to check the end of tapes, I was pleased to find that it contained two-thirds of the adult title Debbie Does Dallas. Given my disappointment following the tame Wife Swappers rental, this was a big, big win.

And Finally

I suspect I may have missed one or two rental locations in the above area, but those listed above all have a special place in my thoughts. It’s hard to express the excitement that these stores held for me. The artwork, the atmosphere, the discoveries and the thrill of the hunt for those tapes that had slipped through the net; thinking about all these really gives me a nostalgic buzz. Next time, I’ll be travelling further afield and looking at shops in the Cathays and Albany Road area, as I often had a good trawl around there when visiting my nan and gramp’s house, and have a few specific memories of the shops and tapes I had there.

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