Paradise Lost … and found

Shop brings movie oasis to cult-classic-thirsty Chico

GONZALEZES ON FILM <br>Manny and Nelly Gonzalez have ventured into an ever-shrinking club: that of mom-and-pop video store owners. Their video and DVD rentals focus on the cultish and the classic.

Manny and Nelly Gonzalez have ventured into an ever-shrinking club: that of mom-and-pop video store owners. Their video and DVD rentals focus on the cultish and the classic.

photo by Tom Angel

To the connoisseur of cult movie curiosities, these are the home viewing best of times, and they are also the worst of times. As DVD becomes the de facto format for home viewing, it seems that every week sees the release of another handful of titles that were once considered unattainable to the average obsessive of the obscure.

Of course, the ever-increasing deluge of new titles makes it virtually impossible for even the most compulsive fanatic to keep pace, leaving only the option of renting. Even then, to the moderately discerning horror hound, sniffing the aisles of the corporate video chains (which have pretty much succeeded in driving into extinction that rare oasis of obscure titles, the funky little mom-and-pop video store) for an evening’s celluloid satyricon can be an exercise in frustration. For every single copy of the re-issue of Re-Animator or Repo Man that manages to sneak onto valuable shelf space of the local HollyWhereBlock, one sees 20 copies of Dude, Where’s My Car? taking priority. Perhaps even worse, when you finally decide on that copy of Re-Animator, is to arrive home only to find that it is missing a huge chunk of the juicy bits.

“People don’t believe me when I tell them that, when places like Blockbuster have the movies, they get edited,” says Manny Gonzalez, who with wife Nelly has planned for more than a year and a half and toiled steadily for the past two months to see this week’s grand debut of Paradise Lost Specialty Video & DVD, literally the second coming of the mom-and-pop video store.

“I try to get the absolute uncut editions, the director’s cut. The Last Temptation of Christ, Lolita, even Showgirls. I even got a list of the movies banned from Blockbuster, and that was one of them—the NC-17 version, although I’m not sure what the point of the R-rated version would be.”

Located in the front of an imposing concrete-block building at 330 Flume St., the storefront holds quite a bit of history. “This used to be the original Enloe Hospital,” reveals Gonzalez, as ghoulish faces on video covers look down over his shoulders. “You know how the temperature is nice and cool down here? It’s rumored that this used to be the mortuary. So, it kind of fits.”

Of course, recent history haunts the site as well. “I see some people walking by, and they give us the dirtiest looks. They haven’t seen the inventory yet, they’re just passing by.” He pauses reflectively. “Of course, this was the Feminist Women’s Health Center not too long ago. … But mostly people have been really excited, when they see what we actually have.”

What they have is a gore-nicopia of obscure titles, a virtual United Nations of the ghoulish, with such suggestive names as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Spain), Evil Dead Trap (Japan), Living Dead Girl (France) and Nekromantik (Germany).

“Troma films represent us pretty well. Also zombie films, like from (Italian goremeister) Lucio Fulci, one of my favorite directors. Stuff that you wouldn’t normally find in your average video store,” Gonzalez said. “I guess it could be seen as extreme, because we’re not used to it here. If you were to go to another country, directors like Fulci, Jean Rollin, Mario Bava and Dario Argento are huge—you see these titles everywhere. Kids are watching them. These are some of my favorite directors, but I never see them here. If I do see them, they are incredibly cut up and censored.”

Other sections include Asian Pulp, featuring early titles by such Hong Kong directors as John Woo (before he lost his cred to Hollywood), Banned and Bizarre (with such titles as the controversial Ilsa series), an adult section (18 and over, thank you), and an eclectic music section.

“We have a wide variety of music videos, Ray Charles up there next to Sepultura, Motorhead and Buena Vista Social Club. … Everything shares the same wall,” he said.

Especially important to Gonzalez is the Documentary section, which ranges from the Old School predecessor to reality TV, Faces of Death, to profiles of such cult icons as John Waters and Bettie Page, to the award-winning movie from which the store takes its name, Paradise Lost.

“It’s my favorite documentary, so far.” Gonzalez admits. “I love documentaries. Waco: Rules of Engagement just blew me away; I was ashamed of myself because I had no idea any of this was going on. I just believed what I saw on the news, just swallowed it. I want to get a lot more documentaries, and I still haven’t seen all these.

“I’m not saying that you can’t find some of these titles at Hollywood Video or All the Best; we’re just more specialized,” Gonzalez pauses. “It’s definitely not for everybody. What’s interesting to me is to get titles from other countries and see what they consider horror, what they consider comedy—it’s so outlandish and different from ours.”

Although an independent video store seems, in this day and age, an odd choice as a startup family business for a young couple with two small children, the Gonzalezes believe that it fits their needs.

“After the kids were born, we really couldn’t go out anymore—not that there was anything [out there] to see, except at the Pageant,” explains Manny. “I can’t say what got us started, but I wanted to see more, to see something different.

“We didn’t want to repeat ourselves; we already have three or four family-oriented video stores here in Chico,” Nelly Gonzalez chimes in from the next room, where the children are keeping her occupied. “Chico has a really good artistic community, but there wasn’t anything someone like us could choose from, as far as video stores. So we saw the niche for this.”

The Gonzalezes’ game plan seems to be a fairly simple one, yet one seemingly forgotten or discarded as superfluous by the chain rentals—customer satisfaction and convenience.

“We don’t consider ourselves to be experts or critics in any way, so when people come in here, we want them to know that we’re on the same level, that I’m not some condescending asshole who thinks he knows more about movies than they do. I get that sometimes, the video store clerk who thinks his opinion counts more than mine. It’s the same as Music Store Attitude; it really bothers me, and I don’t want anyone to worry about that here. I haven’t seen a lot of these movies myself, so when they see them, I want to know myself if they recommend them.”

And yes, they carry Clerks.

Gonzalez’ observation is that most people really want a video only for that night, to return it after they get off from work the next day, so he has established a very simple rental plan: Everything in the store is two bucks for two days (tax included). “I just wanted to eliminate confusion, no new-release prices as opposed to older titles or DVD versus VHS. If you already know what you want, you already know what you’ll spend,” Gonzalez says, then adds apologetically: “We do require a credit card number. I really didn’t want to do that, but we had to cover our ass. A lot of these titles are rare, hard to find or out of print. A friend of mine who helped me out a lot setting up used to own Longfellow Video, and he filled me in on the horror stories that he went through.

“I want to keep it like it is, small, but also keep it fresh,” says Gonzalez, when asked what direction he sees the store heading in the future. “I want to get new titles all the time, but also to sell off the movies that are just sitting there. Test the market to see what people really want. I want to have a recommendation box, and I’m really hoping that people will take advantage of that.

“If nothing else," he adds. "I’ll have this really sweet video and DVD collection."