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Interview with Frank Granda Jr. of Unique Video  by Andy Lalino
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LETTERS
Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our eighth calendar year!
Number 380  (Vol. 8, No. 27). This edition is for the week of July 2--8, 2007.


An Interview With Frank Granda, Jr.
of Tampa's
UNIQUE VIDEO Cult Movie Store
8350 N. Armenia Avenue Tampa, Florida

by Andy Lalino

A very long time ago there thrived an exuberant era, when the grindhouse epics of 42nd Street were now available down the block at your local video rental store. Notorious sleazoid cinema such as "I Spit on Your Grave" and "Snuff" where no longer giddy whispers of anticipation between Fango-reading young males, but now an acquirable reality, thanks to home video. The ma & pa video store at the corner became our Grand Central Station and changed our lives. It gave both cine and sleazo philes a forum to rent and discuss their treasured findings in an inclusive atmosphere.
    The great grandaddy - and lone survivor - of that heralded time is Tampa's own Unique Video rental store.
    Set in a nondescript strip mall on the corner of Waters and Armenia, Unique Video is home to hundreds of offbeat titles, catering to those with discerning tastes. Love art films? Foreign? Sci-Fi? Mondo? Unique Video is your new best fiend. You'll find they carry all the hard-to-find titles (many of which are out-of-print) and more.
    Once you walk by the "100 Tears" poster hanging outside, entering the store for the first time is like passing through Heaven's Gates. To the immediate right is an unparalleled selection of banned Mondo films, from "Faces of Death" to "Inhumanities". I personally guarantee you will not find a larger Mondo selection anywhere on this planet.
    Beyond the Mondo, I'd recommend strapping on a drool bib as you strut by shelves totally devoted to hero filmmakers: Dario Argento, Jean Rollin, H.G. Lewis, John Waters, Lucio Fulci, Jess Franco, and more. In fact, blood-red signs clearly distinguish which shelf is keeper of its signature director. There aren't just run-of-the-mill titles; for example Lewis's infamous "Blood Feast" is set alongside his lesser-known works, such as "She-Devils on Wheels" and "Something Weird". You'll also find Ed Wood's latter-day sleaze epics: "Love Feast" and "Necromania", proving obscurity is divine in this shop.
    For those customers desiring a walk down memory lane, Unique Video still has a sizable collection of VHS tapes for rent, in addition to their strange and wonderful DVD titles. It's a load of fun glancing at the ancient clamshell boxes - some faded by the noon sun - and delighting at the cover art produced at a time before Photoshop. A William Grefé fan? UV has both "Stanley" and "Impulse" (starring William Shatner) on VHS. A Something Weird Video junkie? You won't find a better selection of old SWV videos anywhere. Got the hots for Misty Mundae? You'll find all her naughty hits on both DVD and VHS.
    Frank Granda Sr., the man you're most likely to meet when visiting Unique Video, is very proud of the film collection available for sale and rent. He informs that a majority of the films have handwritten index cards underneath them. As he explains, these cards were authored by his son, Frank Granda Jr., who is the actual owner. They include brief explanations of the plot and the more notorious aspects of their content ("Banned in 46 countries!!! Shocking beyond belief). Frank Sr. states that it's one of the signatures of the store.
    Another aspect of Unique Video that the Grandas showcase a special section devoted to local filmmakers, one one of the few places customers can actually rent (or purchase) a local production. Most of the space is devoted to the films of local talents Joel D. Wynkoop and Tim Ritter, but also look for "Rot" by Marcus Koch, and in time Granda promises to carry "100 Tears" once its released on DVD.
    I'd now like to take a minute to reflect on how time passes each one of us by. During the home video boom of the early '80s to now, many independently-owned video stores have met a sad fate. The big corporate chains (who shall remain nameless as not to give them a plug) have seen to it that only they dominate the rental landscape. But yet, one - and only one - indie store has managed to survive the years, and thankfully it was Unique Video. In fact, it continues to thrive despite being only a few feet away from two major chains! My own personal reflections about the success of their longevity is that it's because of the Granda's sincerely appreciate the films they offer, and the fact that people who are bitten by the bug of seeking out the weird, the tasteless, and the foreign will always go out of their way to discover that curious little shop that caters to their unique tastes. A place of refuge from the everyday, the mainstream, and the nauseatingly normal.
    That place is Unique Video. And, like Crazed Fanboy, it's one of the two best resources in the Tampa Bay area for the cult/art film enthusiast, and we should be thankful that we have them. If you are perchance a student of the University of South Florida, or are a Tampa Bay resident, make it a point to stop by and say hello to Frank Sr. and check out the astounding selection this little shop of horrors offers. You'll be an instant addict.
    The following is an interview with Frank Granda Jr., owner of Unique Video.


Andy Lalino: Please tell us about the origins of your store. How long have you been Unique Video?

Frank Granda, Jr.: The concept for Unique Video probably started about the time I graduated from college. I had obtained a Master's in Theatre Arts and was traveling around the country, performing in many plays. I had always had one of the largest collections of cult movies in my private collection, that I knew of. I had been collecting odd titles since I was 13 years old. By my mid 20's, I was tired of traveling to be in plays. I started teaching Theatre Arts. Still, I had a passion for cult films. I was having a hard time finding places to rent, or even buy the films I was looking for. I finally decided to use my savings, to create a store, that I was always trying to find myself, but never could. It was 1987 and I opened Unique Video.

Andy Lalino: Have you always been at the Waters/Armenia location?

Frank Granda, Jr.: No, from 1987-1992 we were located on Armenia, but near to Hillsborough Ave. next to the now defunct Armenia Nursery.

Andy Lalino: Did Unique Video begin as a specialty rental store from the start, or did it evolve into that concept?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Yes, Unique Video was conceived from the start, as a rare film specialty store. It was always my intention for people to find the films at Unique Video, that no other place had. We have suceeded, with now over 6,000 rare DVD's and VHS titles.

Andy Lalino: Selected shelves at UV are dedicated to counterculture directors, such as Argento, Waters, Jess Franco, Jodorowsky, etc.. who's idea was that?

Frank Granda, Jr.: As I've indicated above. I have always been a personal fan of underated, counterculture, cult, and controversial diectors. Some of my other favorites are ; Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, David Lynch, Ruggero Deodato, Pupi Avati, Jean Rollin, Larry Clark, Joe D'Amato, Umberto Lenzi, Tinto Brass, Just Jaeckin, Nicholas Roeg, as well as DePalma, Craven, Miike, and several others.

Andy Lalino: What's the most popular genre with your customers?

Frank Granda, Jr.: I would have to say that depending on the customer, if they enjoy art cinema and award winning foreign films, it is our extensive foreign sections. If the customer is a cult-film fan, then it is those sections belonging to the director's mentioned above.

Andy Lalino: You have the absolute BEST selection of rare Mondo Movies I've ever seen. Are you personally a Mondo Fan, and do you have any "unique" Mondo rental stories you can share with us?

Frank Granda, Jr.: No, I'm not a particular fan of Mondo. However, I do research to find out what Mondo Films are the hardest-to-find and the MOST horrifying, and I purchase the Uncut versions of those titles from different countries, to put them on Unique Video's shelves. The only story I can remember off hand, is when a representative from the company that distributes The Faces Of Death series, was in our store one day, and he said that Unique Video carried titles that HE did not own, in the series. Like Faces of Death Part 5, and Part 6. Which were never released in the U.S.A.

Andy Lalino: Unique Video has seen many National and Local celebrities, such as Conrad Brooks, Bob Ross of the Tribune, Steve Purcell of the St. Pete Times, Dread Central's Uncle Creepy, walk through your doors. Can you share any celebrity stories, and can you tell us what other celebrities you can claim as customers and fans?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Yes, we are proud of many of our fans and customers. Some of our fans that do not live in the area include : Barbara Steele (actress from Black Sunday, They Came From Within, and many other Italian horror films) She sent us a nice picture with a note to Unique Video after hearing that we have so many of her films. We have it in a frame in the store. Also, Brad Pitt who I've known from press junckets, gave us a signed picture to put up in the store. Local celebrities like the talented Marcus Koch, Joel D. Wynkoop, etc..

Andy Lalino: You have a special section in the store for local filmmakers. Can you share some stories with us in regard to those patrons, such as Marcus Koch, Corey Castellano, and Joel D. Wynkoop?

Frank Granda, Jr.: We have provided an area for these filmmakers movies, from when they first began making them. As a way to give their work exposure. I believe it has helped them and their work to be seen. Look at the result. 100 Tears is Koch's best work yet. Similar to first time director Alfred Sole's Alice, Sweet Alice, also made on a shoestring budget, but showing huge talent nevertheless.

Andy Lalino: Legend has it that when UV first opened its doors, far-right wing groups actually muscled away potential customers, rebelling against the subject matter of the films you carry. Is this true? And can you tell us about it?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Yes, it is true. For the 1st year we were opened. We received many threatening letters telling us we didn't belong in Tampa. Many calls asking us when we were getting out of here. Even visits from some men in 3-piece suits, walking around with big yellow note pads, writing down our titles, and talking to each other outloud about how "this or that film should get us in trouble."

Andy Lalino: Even with a Blockbuster Video directly across the street, and a Hollywood Video next door, you still manage a loyal customer base. In fact, it is reported that many Blockbuster and Hollywood Video employees, visit UV to partake in your rare, out-of-print titles. What's your secret?

Frank Granda, Jr.: It is true, that managers as well as employees of the stores you've mentioned are members of our store. The secret is the hard-to-find, Banned, and controversial titles, those stores will NEVER carry.

Andy Lalino: Out of all the Great cult/art films you carry, are you partial to a particular director(s) or movie(s)?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Oh God, the often asked question that is so difficult for me to answer. Since I love so many, for so many different reasons. I guess if I had to narrow it down, it would be by genre. For Horror, it would be Dario Argento (especially his early work) For Comedy, it would be John Waters (also early work) and Pedro Almodovar (also early work) For erotic/gore Camp, it would be Jess Franco, Tinto Brass and H.G. Lewis. For stylish euro-trash, it would be Jean Rollin, Bigas Luna, Mario & Lamberto Bava. For American sleaze, definitely Larry Clark (especially his Banned fims like "Ken Park").

Andy Lalino: Can you give us some reflections on the great heyday of the independent video store of the early 1980's?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Yes. The early stores were so exciting. One I remember was called Future Video on Bush Blvd. in Tampa. You would buy one VHS movie for $80 to become a member. Then, you could come back as often as you wish, and for an exchange charge, trade it in for another title. You would always actually own the one title you presently had. The other "scandalous story" I remember, was about a video store on Kennedy Blvd. owned by film critic of the Tampa Tribune Bob Ross and his family. It was called Tampa Video Station. It was eventually shut-down by the police, because back when XXX rated films were not allowed to be rented in a family store, Tampa Video Station was caught doing it. It was the first time a video scandal like this appeared in the Tampa area. Bob Ross was always very bitter about video stores, as a result of this incident.

Andy Lalino: What is your opinion of the DVD format?

Frank Granda, Jr.: DVD is Great. Sound, picture, and overall picture quality cannot be beat. (Except, of course, by HD-DVD and Blu-Ray which are just newer forms of DVD.) However, do not believe for one second that DVD outlasts VHS. It does NOT. I have VHS tapes that are 25 years old, and they play like new still. Since the tape itself is never touched by a person's hand, it will last forever if you treat it right. Unlike, DVD's that are actually handled (therefore, often scratched) and often ruined within the year. This is never discussed by most people.

Andy Lalino: What's the strangest thing that's happened to you since the store's been open? Any crazy characters as customers?

Frank Granda, Jr.: God, so many you wouldn't believe it. We've had customers with strange and exotic pets like Armadillos, and huge pythons come into the store with them. The python incident caused a mini-riot of other customers, even though the python was very friendly. The armidillo, tried to climb up the store shelves.

Andy Lalino: What does the future hold for Unique Video?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Hopefully, good things. More people finding out about how different we are when they come inside. More and more DVD's and VHS titles from around the world to astonish our customers. A place where true film fans can come to be amazed. Some of our customers have been with us for 20 years. Now, that's a film fan.

Andy Lalino: What's it like running a specialty store with a father/son team?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Just Great! You see, my dad, Frank Granda Sr., is the one people always see in the store. He's great with customers. He was a media specialist for over 40 years before he retired. He loves to put sections, categories, genre's in perfect harmony and order. He loves helping people find what they seek. He is the great organizer, the film library decorater, the communicator......I on the other hand, am the film expert. The buyer, the searcher of films from every corner of the globe. The one who writes the brief synopsis on every movie box card, the reviewer who used to find films when I wrote my column in the newspaper. The push-the-envelope guy, who caused the St. Pete Times film critic Steve Purcell, to blush, almost weekly, when we had a Siskel & Ebert television style review show in the early '90's. I'm the one who does not believe in LIMITS. I despise any form of art Censorship. I do not handle "fools" well. If you are someone that is offended by my store, I'm the person who would ask you to leave it, and not to return.

Andy Lalino: If you could send a message to potential customers who have not yet visited Unique Video, what would you tell them?

Frank Granda, Jr.: First, I'd tell them to check out our web site at: www.myspace.com/uniquevideo. I would then tell them that they have to come to the store, between the hours of 5pm--11pm (we have teaching jobs during the day, so we can't open the store early. Although, the years we did open early, we never had daytime customers. Our customers seem to be of the nocturnal/midnight movie variety.) People MUST spend at least 2 hours looking through the vast selection of rare titles, while INSIDE the store, to truly appreciate how UNIQUE the store REALLY is. There is NO substitution for what you'll find while INSIDE.

Andy Lalino: Can you tell us any other interesting facts about UV?

Frank Granda, Jr.: Only that you can actually see, and take home to watch, Unique Video compilations on DVD and VHS, showing you scenes from many of the strangest, and most controversial films in the store. These compilation DVD's and Tapes, have scenes from many VERY controversial titles we carry. UNCUT scenes, therefore they are not lent out to minors. They give customers a taste of film titles they never heard of. People are always able to call us at (813) 935-2083 and ask us anything about rare titles. Since the store space is limited, we have 100's of titles in storage, that will be brought in, if you just request them.

Thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions about Unique Video. It was a pleasure.



"An Interview With Frank Granda, Jr. of Tampa's UNIQUE VIDEO Cult Movie Store" is ©2007 by Andy Lalino. All photos used courtesy of Andy Lalino.

All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.

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