Hit the rewind button with me as I revisit the video store and pluck some of the most indelible VHS covers from my youth and reminisce on why they still leave an impression after all these years…
Looking back after all of these years, I can’t be completely sure that Zombie was the only Lucio Fulci title I ever encountered on VHS. Between the half-dozen stores I frequented, it seems unlikely that this would have been the only one stocked on the shelves; however, if you ever stumbled across this one at a young age, it’s easy to understand how it would have overshadowed, well, everything else. Few covers tap into the primal, almost fucked-up nature of commanding attention from a store shelf quite like this one: that indelible rotting skull, two taglines, a title that says it all—and this is before you flip it over to the back to find more gory mayhem. Not that I needed much coaxing beyond all of this, but a blurb in John McCarty’s Official Splatter Movie Guide cemented it: I had to see Zombie, which ironically went on to be the only Fulci movie I’d witness until the DVD era, when I stockpiled his titles and finally started to watch them at the suggestion of Brett H., Fulci’s most loyal acolyte on the old Friday the 13th Forum, where this website more or less got started in the first place.
I don’t know what it was about this one, but the cover art for The Blob practically haunted me each time I strolled to the back corner of Video King, a mom-and-pop store that boasted over 30,000 movies in its inventory. Something about it was just so stark and weird that it gave me a moment’s pause each time I passed it on my way towards the shelves that housed Freddy, Jason, and the Universal monsters. I’m not even sure if I ever actually rented the tape from Video King itself, and, if I did, it was after years of working up courage to do so. This is a great example of art that, quite frankly, doesn’t look like much; however, this was the alchemy of the VHS era on display since all it took was one killer image and a child’s overactive imagination to make a movie feel legitimately scary or forbidden.
You know your boy is gonna give Freddy a shout-out here, and, honestly, I could have gone with any of the first six Elm Street VHS covers, all of which were in steady rotation throughout my childhood and teenage years. But I’ll go with The Dream Master here, specifically the back cover, which prominently features Freddy with his chest-of-souls. Sure, the front delivers the killer poster art, but something about the back just screams “late-80s nonsense sequel,” from the overwhelming flame aesthetic to the choice of gnarly screen caps highlighting the things that mattered most to any 8-year-old looking to stuff his weekend with cinematic junk food: Freddy and gore. My relationship with this one actually came full circle earlier this year, when I stumbled upon an ex-rental copy at a flea market and added it to my collection for decorative purposes.
This one’s all in the tagline. It goes without saying, but to just about any kid frequenting the horror section of his or her video store, Freddy and Jason were the kings. Yes, the likes of Michael and Leatherface loomed, while Chucky, the Leprechaun, and others would come along to vie for our attention. You always came back to the Big Two, though, or at least I did. So what better way to capture such a one-track imagination than to call out the reigning titans of terror right there on your cover, like Night of the Demons did? I never claimed to be the most sophisticated child, so this kind of brazen hucksterism sucked my right in. Luckily, it wasn’t just empty posturing: I did, indeed, have a hell of a time with Angela and crew throughout my childhood, as this one became a frequent rental and put me on the lifelong journey of appreciating just about everything Kevin S. Tenney ever did.
This one’s sort of operating on the same principle as Night of the Demons, only, instead of a tagline, we’ve got an exploitative title. Again: I was apparently the easiest child in the world to impress, so just mashing up the words “nightmare” and the number 13 in a title was enough to absolutely guarantee a rental. Nevermind that the title, the tagline, and the rest of the cover art are all kind of generic nonsense that ends up feeling like misdirection in retrospect: for whatever reason, this sucker leaped right off of the shelf of my local Pic-A-Flick video (where they actually let you take the tapes home in the actual clamshell!) and into my VHS, where it revealed itself to be more of a low-rent TV thriller than the slasher mayhem I more often craved. Considering its impressive cast (headlined by James Brolin and Louise Fletcher), it’s somewhat surprising that this one is still stuck in VHS purgatory; I’m not sure if it’s still in Paramount’s library or not, but it sure would be cool to see this one emerge on disc at some point.
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