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Carl Cephas never left a Video Vault location without having found what he was looking for. Never.
So he took the news that after 25 years the Old Town Alexandria video store is closing pretty hard. “This has truly driven me insane,” says Cephas, who runs the Washington Psychotronic Film Society. “This is like watching a train wreck from across the street.”
Jim and Jane McCabe opened Video Vault, which holds 65,000 titles, in 1985, Melanie Scott founded the Psychotronic Film Society in 1989, and their histories run parallel. Regulars of the film society—-which has hosted regular screenings of oddball, cult, and genre movies in several venues in Washington and Northern Virginia over the years—-used to find many of their films at Video Vault; the store and society shared members.
These days, Cephas screens movies from his own collection at weekly Psychotronic gatherings at the Warehouse. Mostly because of Video Vault’s hard-to-find location (it closed its Georgetown location in the early ’90s, and moved from its prominent Washington Street location in Alexandria around 2004) and the fact that he doesn’t own a car, Cephas hasn’t visited the store in about three years. The society hasn’t screened movies from Video Vault movies in about 10. And he says he can buy many of the videos he wants to screen online.
Not everything though.
Once, Cephas found 35-millimeter footage of a Herschell Gordon Lewis film at Video Vault. When Cephas met the “Godfather of Gore” some time later, Lewis said he didn’t even own 35-millimeter prints of many of his films. If a print belonging to the Psychotronic Film Society was damaged, the members could rely on Video Vault to have its own pristine copy. “We knew they had the rarest films available and that they had the prints,” he says. “We could trust them… They were there for us.”
Cephas, a library technician whose suspension from the Library of Congress was chronicled by Arts Desk in November, wishes that the owners of Video Vault had found a way to keep it running, by raising money to move to a better, or cheaper, location, or by finding some other way to preserve the collection of tapes. “I’m unemployed now,” he says. “But I would’ve worked there for free.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery. The Washington Psychotronic Film Society screens Black Heat on Tuesday, March 9 at The Warehouse, 1021 7th St. NW. The screenings are upstairs.