Like many horror fans who grew up in the 80s and 90s, a large chunk of my formative years were spent roaming the aisles of my local video store. On Track Video in Stephens City, VA was the definition of “ma and pop” store, from its adorable video cassette train logo (get it? On Track Video!) down to the faded beaded curtain that separated the normal store from a room of carnal knowledge. Left of the beaded curtain and next to the science fiction section was where I stayed, slowly and meticulously examining the three long rows of tightly packed horror films. And while On Track Video had classic genre flicks like JAWS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they specialized in the more extreme and exploitive selections. This was the reason I had watched every single Herschell Gordon Lewis movie by age 16.
While these movies and filmmakers had a profound impact on me, the box art did as well. In many cases I can still recall the specifics of each cover, even if I never actually watched the movie. The art (deceptive though it may be) is what caused me to watch the movie in the first place. And for a select few films, the art has become a part of my psyche, still frightening, intriguing or exciting me to this day. Here are the
10 VHS box covers that have had the biggest effect on me.
The point of the VHS box cover was make you want to see the movie regardless of the film’s plot or quality. In that regard, ELVES should have won a CLIO Award (those are like the Oscars for Marketing). Every kid in my school wanted to see ELVES! The box art made it look like GREMLINS…but scarier! In actuality, rubbery and expressionless Nazi hobgoblins battle a lumbering, chain-smoking Dan Haggerty. But oh, that box art is divine!
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (1986)
I saw this VHS long before I ever saw any of the TCM movies. I was captivated by the TCM 2 cover the most out of the series. The characters were just so weird looking. And whereas most horror movie boxes feature the atrocities in some type of black shadows to obscure and intrigue, these guys were hanging out in broad daylight.
And of course, as an adolescent of the 80s, I had already seen THE BREAKFAST CLUB a hundred or so times. It confused the hell out of me that these monsters were striking similar poses. This may have been the first time I was confronted with the idea of parody.
With dozens of scary sharks lurking on endless VHS covers, I had grown to accept and embrace JAWS and the knock-offs, but what the fuck was this? This weird behemoth fish monster completely blew my mind. The movie is not so good. I really want someone to make the flick this cover is actually advertising.
A BELL FROM HELL (1973)
This box art freaked the bejeezus out of me. Did that guy rip out his own eyes?!? I finally got up the nerve to rent this one when I was a young teen, still far too young to understand the gothic nature of this slow-burn plot-heavy horror drama. I re-watched it years later, and now rank it as one of my fave Spanish horror films.
I always loved VHS covers that did something more than just sit there. For instance, the FRANKHOOKER cover screeched out a staticky “Wanna date?”, or the DEAD PIT cover with light-up eyes. But my favorite was always the BLEEDERS cover which featured a fluid-filled sack to give you a tactile demonstration of just how oozy the movie was going to be.
Granted, this movie did not come out until 1997, long after the height of VHS culture. But it was still so fun and gushy. The movie is a b-grade mutant monster flick based on HP Lovecraft’s THE LURKING FEAR. I still have my VHS copy with the gushy cover. Much of the red fluid has dried up over the decades, but I will never part with it.
THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972)
Very catchy title, and though clearly they have been through hell, these ladies have perfectly feathered hair. This is a fairly standard insane backwoods family style slasher, but the cover is a work of art!
STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR (1989)
I love seeing descriptors like “Truffaut, Hitchcock, and De Palma” on a Troma movie. This artwork is somehow captivating, sexy, and artistic, all while having very little to do with the actual movie.
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)
Starring Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee, the film is a little dry compared to the lurid box cover. It falls more into the science fiction realm complete with weird amputation nightmare sequences and what may be the longest chase scene in the history.
Awww, that’s so cute. He’s wearing suspenders! And I will never use the toilet again.
THE BODY SHOP (1972)
This was by far one of the more extreme box covers, and I was absolutely fascinated by it. It was so bloody and visceral, just sitting quietly on the shelf mere feet from OH HEAVENLY DOG and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The movie is an updated version of FRANKENSTEIN with a Herschell Gordon Lewis level of bad gore effects. And, it even features HG Lewis himself doing the film’s intro.