When Taylor Morden moved to Bend, Oregon, five years ago, he noticed there was a Blockbuster Video store in one of the town’s strip malls. The filmmaker assumed it was closed and no one had bothered to take down the sign.
“Lo and behold, not only was it open, there were people browsing for DVDs,” Morden, 39, told The Post. “It was like no one had told them Blockbuster had gone out of business.”
In fact, at the time, there were 12 stores still operating. But the self-proclaimed “movie nerd,” who spent his formative years browsing the rental chain’s racks, thought there could be a worthy story in this holdover, so he convinced management to let him film there in late 2016. Then, the other locations began closing in quick succession, making the Bend store a true unicorn — and a tourist attraction.
Suddenly, it was, as the title of his new film would suggest: “The Last Blockbuster” (now available on Amazon).
Unapologetically peppered with ’80s and ’90s nostalgia, the documentary is a delightful rewind of the movie rental store’s golden era told through the lens of the Bend Blockbuster Video, now independently owned and run and still chugging away amidst the pandemic.
During its heyday, Blockbuster destroyed mom-and-pop shops with its superior technology and shark-like tactics. Yes, Netflix and streaming played a part in its demise, but so did poor business decisions. The chain’s infamous no-late-fees campaign in 2005 cost it more than $250 million in sales overnight, according to the film. Five years earlier, in 2000, it turned down an offer to buy Netflix for a mere $50 million. There was also corporate greed, debt and the 2008 financial collapse.
Morden and writer Zeke Kamm, 49, cushion the hard business storylines with feel-good throwbacks to the video-store era, such as the simple pleasure of reading the back of a VHS tape, something completely foreign to the tech-savvy TikTok generation.
Celebrities make cameos reminiscing about the store, including Jamie Kennedy, who played a video-store employee in “Scream.” Former Blockbuster worker Adam Brody (of “The O.C.” fame) waxes poetic about his love of VHS, the store’s lack of an adult section and the eau de Blockbuster, a plastic-y popcorn scent pumped into locations.
But the real star is Sandi Harding, who has been managing the Bend location since 2004, “when Blockbuster Video had roughly 9,000 stores and over 60,000 employees,” she notes in the film.
Known as the “Blockbuster mom,” Harding is a superhero in blue and khaki, keeping the time capsule afloat with an almost religious devotion. Every Tuesday morning she shops in retail stores for DVDs they weren’t able to get, fixes outdated, dust-covered computers and hand-makes blue and gold winter hats to sell in the store.
“We fell in love with Sandi in the process,” said Kamm. “She told me and Taylor, ‘If this film doesn’t work out, you have a job here.’ It was so sweet, I teared up.”
They did get close. While making the movie, Kamm recorded podcasts in the store with the town’s quirky film critic, and they interviewed tourists who came from far and wide, including a man who drove 15 hours from San Diego and another who flew from Spain just to walk the aisles of the store.
“The Spaniard was in tears. He was so happy to be there,” said Morden.
But the store isn’t just a pitstop for schlocky Instagram fodder. It’s a part of Bend’s culture and a library for movie buffs.
“Why are people still renting from there? Part of it is, they have movies you can’t find anywhere else,” said Morden. “Some of them will never exist on streaming because there is a problem with the rights.”
But, ultimately, Morden says it’s driven largely by nostalgia.
“It’s an experience. It’s reliving the memories of some of the best nights of my life back when I was a teenager in the ’90s,” said Morden.
“That feeling comes rushing back to you when you are in Blockbuster.”