When you enter the new Graveface Records & Curiosities and Terror Vision at 1829 N. Milwaukee, the first thing you see looming in the doorway is a giant plaster Christ with a vacantly grinning bunny head. Amidst the disarray of the still under construction project are bins of Swedish death metal records with animal skulls scattered on top of them, two-headed stuffed calves, and various half-boxed twisted objects that don’t admit to easy identification.
The real thing-that-should-not-be is farther in, though. Snake through dim passages and terrifyingly low ceilings, and you eventually descend into a basement. There, emerging from dim corners and obscene angles, is a terrifying torrent of unknown and unholy video.
Odd Obsession has returned to Chicago.
Brian Chankin’s legendary video store opened on Halsted across from Steppenwolf Theatre in 2004. Chankin had been recording and collecting obscure horror, foreign, low-budget, indie, bootleg, and limited release films since he was seven or eight. That metastasized into a more than 25,000-video collection which became the heart of Odd Obsession. “I was just interested in anything that was interesting and hard to find,” Chankin told me by phone.
As Ben Sachs wrote in the Reader, the store was a haven for budding cinephiles and weird culture obsessives. Devotees would wander in and stay for hours, volunteering to stock shelves in return for free rentals.
Before streaming, Odd Obsession was one of the few places you could find films like Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire (1971) or the schlock anti-classic The Astro-Zombies (1978). Even post Netflix, films in the collection like Trent Harris’s The Beaver Trilogy (2001) remain almost impossible to see. (What is The Beaver Trilogy, you ask? It’s three short films about an Olivia Newton-John impersonator from Beaver, Utah, named “Groovin’ Gary.” The first section is a documentary about Gary. The second and third movies are biopics in which Gary is portrayed respectively by Sean Penn and Crispin Glover.)
Those who loved Odd Obsession were passionate. But, unfortunately, they were also relatively few in number. Chankin was almost completely uninterested in purchasing new movies to bring in more casual customers. “I honestly never really knew how to run a business,” he says.
The store lost money year after year, shifting venues repeatedly. The end was already coming, but COVID put the final stake in the store’s undead heart. Disillusioned and exhausted, Chankin closed the store in 2020. He shifted his full-time focus to Deadly Prey, an amazing gallery that features movie posters by Ghanaian artists.
But even as Odd Obsession died, Chankin hoped for a resurrection. “I didn’t want to have any sort of sale of the movies. I thought at some point, something could happen with them.”
Enter the weird culture entrepreneurial vortex known as Ryan Graveface. A Chicago native, Graveface moved to Savannah in 2010. There he runs a bewildering array of businesses: indie record label Graveface Records, scuzzy horror video and soundtrack label Terror Vision, a Graveface Museum with oddities and space for Graveface’s extensive John Wayne Gacy memorabilia collection.
Graveface had been an Odd Obsession customer and fan. When he decided to open a storefront in his old hometown, he knew he wanted Chankin’s video collection to be part of it.
Chankin didn’t want to run the store, but he was excited to have the movies made available again. Not least because putting the collection on display means it’s no longer boxed up and inaccessible. “On a personal note, on a selfish note, I’m going to be happy to be able to just kind of see all the movies out there again, and take them home and watch [them] myself,” he told me.
Graveface’s current plan is to have his own records, videos, posters, and other merchandise available for sale in the front of the store. He’ll also have a Graveface Museum which patrons can tour for a cover price. That’ll include, he says, a reproduction of John Wayne Gacy’s prison cell with original authentic works by the serial killer.
The Odd Obsession collection will be available for browsing as part of the museum experience for casual visitors. More dedicated aficionados can become members and rent from some 15,000 titles on a monthly plan.
“Odd Obsession made no money,” Graveface says ruefully. “So that’s why it’s down here and an attraction.” The hope is that treating Odd Obsession as one part of a larger weird culture experience will make the video store more sustainable than it’s been in the past.
For now, though, it’s great to have one of Chicago’s more obscure cultural treasures lurking in the city’s nooks and crannies once more. If you want to see Crispin Glover’s Olivia Newton-John impersonation, head around the bunny-headed Jesus, past the John Wayne Gacy display, and watch your head down the stairs. Odd Obsession has got you.