The 13th Floor

Art Is Subjective, So STOP Nitpicking Cover Art

Look, art is subjective. Any art, whether it be movies or music or an actual drawing or painting, is subjective.

Clive Bell, who coined this phrase, once said, “We have no other means of recognizing art than our feeling for it.”

If you’re on this website, then you no doubt, like me, are a huge horror fan. It’s probably ingrained into your DNA and a big part of the person you are. All of us can go around the table and talk about the first time we saw A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or THE EXORICST. Or perhaps we can recount stories of our encounters with legends such as Wes Craven or John Carpenter or Robert Englund. And for each and every one of us, our story is going to be uniquely different. We all bring something different to those experiences we’ve had, because of all our life experiences leading up to them. And you have every right to have those feelings for a specific piece of art, encounter or anything otherwise.

1984 A Nightmare On Elm Street 013

However, with the astronomical growth of the Internet and, in particular, social media as of this last decade, it’s amazing how as not-so-anonymous users, we’ve developed a certain sense of entitlement over the things we love and have passion for, and are very quick to judge, diminish and in some cases execute those opinions. Again, that’s not to say we shouldn’t be passionate about things (in this case, horror and our love of it). But where do we draw the line and just acknowledge gratitude that we live in a generation where it’s much easier to find a kindred spirit online, as opposed to the way it was in my awkward teens, where I wandered the halls of my high school, and cleverly hid my copy of FANGORIA in between my Trapper Keeper for fear that a classmate would see it and tell everyone how much of a weirdo I was?

We live in glorious times where we don’t have to hunt for things the way we used to. There is so much at our fingertips. And there are so many ways for us to consume content, that it’s ridiculous that we can press a button on Amazon and a mere few days later watch a pristine version of THE MUTILATOR on a 60-inch TV in high def.

Here’s the thing – like most of you, I keep tabs on all the indie labels that are acquiring and putting out Blu-Ray releases of the best, the most obscure, and the just plain old odd horror films of yesteryear. I have no problem stating that the fine fiends over at Scream Factory are among my personal favorites (and friends), mainly because they are fans, themselves, and the level of care & quality that goes into their releases clearly illustrates that.

But here’s what spurred this essay. Earlier this week, they revealed the newly commissioned artwork for their upcoming release of Bob Clark’s 1974 masterpiece, BLACK CHRISTMAS, by Joel Robinson, who also recently did a stellar job with their new cover for TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. I love BLACK CHRISTMAS. I watch it literally every December as the holiday season approaches. I’m fortunate that it plays every December on the big screen here in Los Angeles and I’m able to experience it that way with an audience. But that hasn’t stopped me from buying the film multiple times on every format, as I intend to do with this upcoming version. My initial impression of the image below? Wow. That’s awesome!

Black Christmas Cover Art

I couldn’t imagine any other response, especially if you’re a “fan” of that film, and I was shocked to see a barrage of complaints in the comments section, primarily focusing on the fact that the face of the killer, Billy, is for the first time ever, fairly prominent and clear. In the actual movie, you don’t really ever get a good look at him, but it’s never a secret that Billy is a random maniac, and not one of the main cast of characters we come to know during the duration of the film. Seriously, BLACK CHRISTMAS, one of the best most celebrated horror titles of all time is getting a brand new restoration and special edition Blu-Ray, and people are bitching about an artist’s rendering of the killer for the cover like it’s the end of the world?

Let me go point by point so as to understand this properly. This cover is a slipcase, meaning that the actual inner sleeve inside the package is reversible and can be switched to showcase the original theatrical poster art. So, if you don’t like it… just toss the slipcase and use the theatrical key art.. Problem solved!

Oh, but it gives away too much about the movie? Look – here’s a cold, hard fact. The home video business, in regards to physical copies of old genre titles, is a very small, niche business these days. Not nearly as lucrative or expansive as it was at the height of the DVD market. Most people download movies, store them in the cloud, or stream them on services like Vudu, Flixter or Netflix. Scream Factory, as well as fellow labels Severin Films, Synapse, Twilight Time, Arrow, Kino Lorber, Olive and so on and so forth, are licensing these titles from big corporate studios and releasing them because they too love movies and want them just as bad as you do. If they didn’t, most likely, a lot of these titles would never see the light of day as a US release & if they did, they wouldn’t have any of the bells or whistles they deserve. (I’m not going to delve into imports, and multi-region players and all that other stuff, because I don’t own one, and like most of the general population, we rely on buying region A titles that are released here.)

What happens when one of the big studios puts out their own titles? Nothing, really. For example, Universal Studios recently put out four ’80s comedies from their library on Blu-Ray: THE BURBS, THE MONEY PIT, THE GREAT OUTDOORS and THE DREAM TEAM. All four are in high def, and completely barebones, minus a trailer. There is nowhere you can go online to vent directly to whomever burned those discs about the lack of bonus features, or the fact that they just lazily used the theatrical key art and that’s it. But you know what? I’m just happy to have all four on Blu-Ray now!

Uni-Blu

The amazing thing about these specialty labels is they do put a lot of hard work forth into giving you more than just the above scenario. They don’t commission artists and come up with new covers just because they think it’ll help them “push more units.” They do it because they think it’s cool, and it’s a fun way to re-present a title you’ve probably already bought a couple of times before. It’s also a great thing that we get to interact with the people behind these labels directly, and on a regular basis. So, when I see people constantly giving them shit every single day, I don’t understand what that’s intended to accomplish, other than a blatant attempt to put people down for doing their jobs.

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My point being: be humble. You’re getting something rather than nothing. Do you know how long it took me to track down a copy of BAD TASTE uncut on VHS? Or the European cut of ARMY OF DARKNESS? I had to wait until a freakin’ Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors convention rolled around again, and back then, those were usually once a year! But I never complained. Because part of the joy of obtaining those titles was the thrill of the hunt, and I’m also well aware that there are far worse problems in the world than a cover putting a face on a killer from a 40-year-old movie.

An example of online fans altering artist Joel Robinson's work.
An example of online fans altering artist Joel Robinson’s work.

If a new special edition came out of the original HALLOWEEN, would people argue and complain if this image below was somewhere on the front art? Does it give away Michael Myers to those that have never seen HALLOWEEN?

tony-moran-Michael

Do people complain about limited edition Mondo Prints giving away too much? What’s the difference really? Oh, well the cover bothers you? Let me ask you, how do you display your movies? I assume you have shelves like the rest of the world and they look something like this when you look up at your collection?

Blu-Wall

99.9 percent of the time, your Blu-Rays and DVDs are going to be displayed by their spines. If you barely get to actually see the cover, why would it bother you so much?

If you’re still collecting physical media, then you no doubt have already seen and/or owned BLACK CHRISTMAS. So that image is not a spoiler. It doesn’t change the content within in any way, shape or form. “But, it shows too much!” When I order a Big Mac from McDonalds, sit down and unwrap it, I would never have the nerve to look at it and be like, “you know, there’s too much lettuce showing here. That’s not the way it’s supposed to look. I’ve been eating Big Macs for decades and this lettuce changes the intent of the inventor of the Big Mac. I’m going to bitch about this, because it’s not exactly to my liking.”

BigMac

Other complaints I’ve seen? Why are you putting this out? I already HAVE it! Fair enough. But look, it’s up to you whether you want to buy it or not. No one is forcing you. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD has to be one of my all-time favorite zombie movies. I owned the original VHS, followed by the DVD, and I got the first MGM Blu-Ray. I’m fortunate that I live in a city that has several used record and video shops still, so I can always sell off old DVDs for a few quick bucks and upgrade. (It’s more of a hassle, but you can do the same via Amazon or eBay.) I think the latest Scream Factory version is by far the definitive Blu worth owning and I wrote about why right here. One of the first comments on my Facebook page was from a friend that said, “nice write up. But I’ll just stick with the edition I have already.” And that’s fair! You don’t have to buy the new one, if you’re already completely satisfied with whichever version you have.

You, of course, have the right to voice your opinion, but to berate the company, the artist or the people involved in these releases repeatedly is just disrespectful. There is a way to voice your disagreement over something you’re passionate about, but there’s no need to focus so much negative energy by constantly hammering that disapproval on those little companies. Just don’t buy the product. Move on with your life. Enjoy other things.

Or you know what? Better yet? Rather than harnessing and focusing all that energy to complain about the cover artwork to a 40-year-old horror movie, think about perhaps doing something more productive with that time. Like supporting any one of the following charities and doing something that benefits society as a whole. Just think about that instead.

American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, The Ali Forney Center, Alley Cat, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Mend Poverty, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, weSpark, Helping Hands For The Blind, Alzheimer’s Association, Farm Sanctuary, Planned Parenthood, Operation USA, Charity: Water, Adopt Together, The Sweet Stuff Foundation, Serious Fun Children’s Network, The Happy Hippie Foundation, North Shore Animal League, Blessing Of The Sick, Food For The Poor, Lunapads, Childhelp, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Camp del Corazon, Children Of The Night, Royal Family Kids, World Food Program, American Forests, March Of Dimes, Plan International, Beagle Freedom Project, Lollipop Movie Magic For Hospitals, Hero Initiative, Lupus Foundation Of America, Mission K9 Rescue, Ability First, Special Olympics, To Write Love on Her Arms, Rainn, Shane’s Inspiration, The Myelin Project, Greater Birmingham Humane Society, O’Neill Sea Odyssey, Rettsyndrome.org, The Roots Of Music, Tipitinas Foundation, Scares That Care, Heifer International, Wana Duma Children’s Project, Project Survival’s Cat Haven, Chimp Haven, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, PATH – People Assisting The Homeless, Pecan Recreation Center, The Trevor Project, Starkey Hearing Foundation, Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation

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