Defending B-grade films: How Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal helped me get my first job

B-grade films remain Saeed Saeed's choice of entertainment today, here's why

Chuck Norris as Matt Hunter in 'Invasion USA'. Alamy
Chuck Norris as Matt Hunter in 'Invasion USA'. Alamy

A favourite pastime of friends and family members when visiting my house is checking out my streaming recommendations – the feature in which platforms I subscribe to suggest films I might like based on my previous viewing habits.

So what do my platforms recommend for me – someone my loved ones think of as relatively well cultured? Does the acclaimed David Fincher film Mank make the cut? Or perhaps the lauded legal drama The Trial of the Chicago 7? Maybe even Bridgerton, for bit of fun?

Death Wish?” my friend said, incredulously, as he flicked through other choices.

His laughs got harder as his attention turned from the recommended section to the "watch again" list. Both lists reveal a litany of titles which, at best, can only be described as of dubious quality.

I am talking about vintage action films starring Charles Bronson (the aforementioned Death Wish and Murphy’s Law) and Van Damn (Kickboxer), as well cheesy comedies featuring Tom Selleck (Mr Baseball).

“This is not even B grade,” the friend said. “I learned to just call these ‘Saeed stuff.’

The ‘dodgy’ section

He is right.

My attachment to such films is more sentimental than escapism.

These forgotten action heroes, such as Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren and Don “The Dragon Lee” Wilson, even helped me score my first-ever job in a video store.

It was 1994 and I was living in a small suburb in Melbourne, Australia.

Newly arrived on the continent with a single mother, our family finances were understandably tight.

However, each week, my mum would manage to give me five dollars to rent my choice of film from the local Video Busters.

As a child with a short attention span, I needed something with as much content as possible to keep me occupied over the next seven days.

This meant forgoing the new releases ($6 overnight), mid-tier titles from the early nineties ($3 for three days) and heading right to the dusty shelves in the back of the store.

This was my playground: the $1-weekly videos were full of strange and colourful titles, only matched by their gaudy sleeves.

I still remember the cover for the1978 horror comedy film Piranha, in which a smiling woman floats blissfully in the sea while below, the menacing fish is poised to nip at her heels.

I can recall being spooked by the vicious hairy tarantula commanding the sleeve of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), as well as the jovial group shots of Police Academy one to four (I couldn’t yet afford the remaining fifth and sixth instalments).

With my long-term happiness at stake (a week feels eternal as a 13-year-old), I spent hours in what I later learned was dubbed the “dodgy section,” trying to make the perfect selection.

I picked that piece of knowledge up from staff members, eventually, when I landed a job at the store myself a few months later.

It was initially more community service than actual employment.

Let me explain: after weeks of hounding, my mum eventually relented and handed over six gleaming bucks so that I could rent my first ever new release.

I still remember that Saturday, swaggering into the video store and straight past Michael Dudikoff’s American Ninja in the dodgy section and towards Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

That early teen arrogance, mixed with a goldfish attention span, resulted in me forgetting to return the video before a rare family getaway to the coast.

We returned home to an answering machine full of increasingly angry missives from the video store manager, Paul, and an eventual $84 fine.

With my mother refusing to pay the fee, she negotiated that I could work it off by washing the near 2,000 videos in the store every weekend for a month.

So there I was, back in the dodgy section again, humbled and wiping the flecks of dust from Chuck Norris’s beard while he brandished two machine guns on the cover of Invasion USA.

Owning your stuff

As it turned out, I did my job a little too well.

From cleaning the videos each week, I managed to retain a good memory of the store’s layout and I relished in finding customers' queried titles within seconds.

The more obscure the video, the more I enjoyed the challenge.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension? Well, right this way sir”.

Marked for Death with Steven Seagal? No problem, my friend. And while you like your action, have you seen Missing in Action III with Chuck Norris yet?”

Impressed at my enthusiasm, and perhaps even relieved that he had found someone knowledgeable enough to promote titles from the dodgy section, Paul gave me my first job as a clerk.

It was a position I held for six years and is partly responsible for my interest in pop culture, and in turn, entertainment journalism.

I occasionally relive those cherished and simpler times when I stream the nail-faced character Pinhead frightening couples in Hell Raiser (1987), or when Seagal threatens his nemesis in 1990's Hard to Kill by stating: "I am going to take you to the bank Senator Trent.... The blood bank".

This is, indeed, “Saeed stuff” and it's bad-tastic.

Updated: February 26, 2021 02:17 PM

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