Interview by Jonathan Raab
House by the Video Store (or “HBTVS”) is not just another YouTube movie review platform.
Sure, there are a few one-shot vlogs of the late twenty-something Corey Higdon, thick Viking beard and shaved head, squinting in the dark while he ruminates on his latest DVD or Blu Ray pick up. But that’s where the similarities between HBTVS and the deluge of other guy-in-his-mom’s-basement review shows stop. [Editor’s note: Corey asked me to point out that he does not live in his mom’s basement. He lives in his friend’s basement. Big difference.]
“There’s Spookies reviews out there, but none of them look like ours,” Corey told me during our interview. And he’s right.
Most HBTVS videos are slickly-produced, fun, comprehensive, and nostalgic trips down the well-worn aisles of shocker cinema’s hallowed rental store past. Corey wouldn’t look out of place chewing on razor wire on an amateur wrestling promotional one-sheet somewhere. But don’t let that—or his self-professed lack of a college education—fool you. The guy is smart, with a sharp recall memory, and encyclopedic knowledge of horror, schlock, shock, weird, underground, and independent cinema.
But it wasn’t until recently that he got to put those unconventional talents to use.
“I was sitting in my room, and I had this notebook full of ideas for years of stuff I wanted to do, whether it be t-shirt companies or distribution, or just talking about horror movies online,” Corey told me. “I just got a new job that I hated, and a friend of mine from high school contacted me.”
That friend—one of the founders of TheOfficialGeeks.com—asked if he’d like to help him produce a horror-focused culture and review channel and website.
Corey jumped at the prospect.
“I’m the horror guy, especially in my area,” Corey explained. His hometown, near Louisville, Kentucky, may not seem like a hotbed of countercultural production and appreciation—and, well, it isn’t. But Corey has developed a reputation for his knowledge of all things horror, and his friends Aaron Arney and Chad Cook had the technical expertise to launch a new website and online show. They just needed Corey’s topical expertise.
“Better now than never.”
While launching HBTVS has been a dream come true—reaching a growing number of fans across the world, including in the UK and Australia—it’s still very much a start up. Corey works at a glass factory, producing shower doors. HBTVS is his true passion, an outlet of his creative desires and passion for horror.
Being the host of a review show fits right in with his love for all things cinema, and is a happy medium between the dreams of an aspiring filmmaker and the economic realities of the millennial generation.
“I would have loved to go to film school,” Corey said. “I had the opportunity to go to film school around Louisville. I didn’t pursue it, because I didn’t want to get backed up paying student loans all my life.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped Corey and his friends.
“I can have just as much fun without going to school.”
How did Corey develop his fascination with horror cinema?
“I had a really free childhood,” he told me. “My parents weren’t bad or anything—I had really great parents—and they just got me a whole lot of freedom. A lot of my friends were pretty jealous of it. I was allowed to watch anything I wanted. If I wanted to watch something, my father’s whole approach was, ‘Let him watch it, see how he reacts to it, if he doesn’t like it, then he won’t watch it anymore.’”
This live-and-let-live approach to movies wasn’t without its faults. Although Corey appreciated (and still does) the freedom he had, he acknowledges watching whatever he wanted at such a young age did have its drawbacks.
“I lied my way through getting to see a lot of movies at a young age. I remember hearing that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist were the scariest movies in the world from my aunt and my mother. When I was about seven years old, I talked my dad into watching—I don’t know how a seven year old talks his dad into watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist—and I promised him I would sleep in my own bed.”
How did that work out?
“I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t really understand the movies. I knew what I was seeing, but it took years of sleep from me. It screwed me up really bad. But at that time I was just really obsessed with movies I wasn’t supposed to be watching, especially because I was so young. The goriest movies you can think of, to just about anything. I really thank my parents for that, because it kept me watching stuff like that my whole life.”
That obsession blossomed into his own creative streak. Like many people with creative aspirations, there comes a point where you have to decide what’s more important: financial success in a life-consuming career, or the ability and time to share your passions.
“I had a great job between three to five years where I was making amazing money, but I was working all the time. And then one day I didn’t have that job anymore. It was about a year ago . And I was sitting around thinking, I want to do something that I want to do. I spent way too much time investing in a company that really didn’t care about me, and ultimately I’ve got nothing to show for it.”
When Arnie and Chad approached him with the germ of the idea that would grow into HBTVS, they looked to other old friends to help bring the project together. While they built the website, another friend, Sean Blevins, who worked for a local news station in Louisville, brought filming and editing expertise to the table. Their friend William Capps also had editing and writing experience.
Now, Corey is the face of a team that promotes horror culture in professional but authentic ways.
HBTVS is, in his own words, “a video store for reviews.” The name of the site and the show is a reference to a specific film—the underappreciated Lucio Fulci slasher/haunted house film House by the Cemetery—as well as a call back to rental store culture of yesteryear.
“The video store was something when I was a kid, where all of this obsession started. I’m sure like a lot of kids, my dad would take me to the video store, wherever it was—there was Red Giraffe, Blockbuster, Movie Gallery, they were a dime a dozen during that time when I was a kid. I’d say ‘alright dad, see you later!’
“I’d walk in, go to the floor, grab all the big boxes, VHSs, the covers that were cool to look at, and pile them up on the floor. The people that worked there didn’t really like that too much, but every time I was there I would just have this pile of movies, but end up leaving with one.
“It’s something that I really miss. Redbox, digital, Netflix, and all that stuff is really cool—I’m not gonna lie, I watch movies any way I can get them. But there will never be anything like the video store boom of the 80s and 90s. I felt like a piece of me died when all those went down.
“There was a Blockbuster in our area that had been there well before I was a kid. And it had just recently closed down within the last year. And I rememebr just feeling so sad.”
That store? It’s now a mattress company.
I asked Corey about his thoughts on those surviving rental stores. There’s a couple here in Denver, where I live, but they are few and far between.
“Everything is going to be digital eventually. You probably couldn’t have a comeback videostore, because of things like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and because all those things are out there now, nobody is going to bother going to the store.
“The only way a video store is going to exist is for specialty type movies.”
Corey was careful to give a shout out to one of his local favorites in the Louisville area.
“Wild N Woolly Video, and they carry regular releases, new releases, just the normal stuff, but they have everything underground you can think of. I still go in there all the time and find stuff that I had no clue that existed. And that place does great. And I think that’s because they have that underground type catalog and underground following.”
For much of the twentieth century, movies would play in theaters, and then disappear. Now, with the proliferation of home video services, multiple formats, and the digitalization of back catalogs, alternative and underground cinema is experiencing a very underground comeback.
“One of my favorite things about going to horror conventions is seeing the bootleg movies,” Corey said. “Movies that people have forgotten about, and that were just lost over time.
“I want people to know about them. I want to be the guy who says ‘Hey, you should watch this movie, this movie is fun, I know you’ve never heard of it, it’s never been released [stateside], but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be watching it.’”
Is Corey himself an aspiring filmmaker, or his he content to review and promote the work of others?
“Since we were kids, Shaun [one of the HBTVS contributors] has always had a camera in his hand. And for the most part, anyone else who had a camera in their hand, I was always the guy that was in front of it. I could tell you right now, I’ve got a VHS tape. I think I was nine or ten years old, and I made a movie called ‘Rage of the Spatula Cannibal’. And it was about a guy who killed people with a spatula and ate them. Making movies is something I’ve always wanted to do. That’s why we have this whole website thing going on. We’re constantly throwing ideas at each other.
“I’m a big fan of trailers. I can’t come up with whole movies, but I can come up with bad trailer ideas. We’re always trying to find time to film anything. Eventually we’d like to release a full-length movie. We’ve got tons of ideas and stories, and small screenplays that we’ve been sitting on for a long time. Eventually it’s something that we’re going to end up doing. We have another business on the side. It’s called Last Rites Media. My whole dream with this was—I want to make movies, whether be directing or acting.”
Last Rites, while still in the early development phase, could be the next big thing for Corey and his friends. They may use the platform to produce their own films, or distribute the work of others among the underground scene.
In the meantime, the focus of the team is to produce more reviews, interviews, and content.
“We started out just doing reviews, now we’ve got top five lists, our vlog up this past week where it’s just me giving updates, what’s going on, whatever I’m doing, whatever I’m watching.”
More near-term projects might include hosting local events in Louisville, including drive-in double features. You’ll also see Corey, mic in hand, camera close behind, at horror and fantasy conventions, looking to grab another great interview with horror icons, like they did recently with Tales From the Crypt’s John Kassir.
“I want to be involved in the culture with other people who like horror movies in general. I love talking to people, I love meeting people.”
To sum it up—who are the people behind HBTVS?
“Just a bunch of movie nerds trying to live out their dream. Once we get this going, we’ll see where Last Rites Media goes.”
While the project just launched this year, Corey has high hopes for its future.
“If people say they wouldn’t want to make money off of doing something like this… fuck you, you’re stupid. Know what I’m saying? You’re stupid. Why wouldn’t you? I was afraid of sounding like an asshole. But if it could happen—who wouldn’t want to turn their passion into their job? If not, I have a cool-ass hobby that I get to do.”
That said, Corey and the House by the Video Store Team will keep promoting the culture regardless.
“If ten people like my site, I’m happy. It’s just something fun that we’ve always wanted to do.”
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