If you came of age in the home video era, your viewing preferences were undoubtedly influenced by VHS cover art. I still vividly remember my first trips to the video store - a magical place filled with strange, often lurid images advertising hundreds of unheard-of movies. I was immediately drawn to the horror section. I was too young to rent horror movies, but I nevertheless spent the majority of my time in the video store perusing the cover art. Today, I'm going to blatantly steal a page from B-Sol's The Vault of Horror blog (which is, quite simply, the best horror-themed blog on the net) and post my own Top 10 list of horrific VHS box covers.
#10 House (1986)
Sometimes it's the simplest things that stir the imagination. This image of a severed, rotting hand pressing a doorbell worked on me because I instantly wondered what the hand had been attached to... and what was on the other side of the door.
#9 Halloween II (1981)
For years, I thought that the Halloween series was about a talking pumpkin. As a little kid who hadn't yet been introduced to the notion of serial killers, that was scarier than the truth. And you have to admit that it's a pretty damn sinister-looking pumpkin.
#8 Rabid (1977)
I absolutely agree with B-Sol's selection of the Scanners box cover as one of the best. This image from David Cronenberg's previous film Rabid works for the same reason. My 6-year-old brain couldn't imagine what was happening to the woman in the photo... but, as the tag line advised, I prayed it wouldn't happen to me.
#7 Hell Night (1981)
Once again, the box cover recommends prayer in response to the horrors in the picture. As the son of a minister, perhaps I was more susceptible than most to the phrase "hell night." When I finally saw the movie years later, I was sorely disappointed that it was not about demonic torture and endless darkness.
#6 The Evil Dead (1981)
This one may have impressed me for some of the same reasons that Hell Night did. It also stirred up my fear of the living dead. I imagined that this was what happened to people who wandered through cemeteries at night...
#5 Blood Beach (1981)
This one was even more terrifying than The Evil Dead. One could expect to be sucked into hell if you were dumb enough to go wandering through a graveyard at night... but during the day, on the beach? What had this poor, half-naked girl done to deserve that? The blood red sky suggested all-out apocalypse.
#4 Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
Anyone who's seen this film knows that it is filled with haunting images, but this box cover has no "art" to speak of. Instead, what impressed me was the subtitle: "The Other Side." The back of the box featured an image the Freeling family bathed in white light, their eyes wide and staring. I inferred that they were looking at "the other side" and that, if I watched this movie, I too would see where people went when they died...
#3 Phantasm (1979)
Judging by the box cover, I didn't know what was going on in this movie. After seeing the film at least half a dozen times, I still don't know. The cover art seemed to promise a coffin, a creepy old preacher, evil monks, a possessed person, and a crystal ball. All elements that set my imagination to work. And of course there was that blood red sky thing again.
#2 Mausoleum (1983)
When I first saw this image, I didn't even know what a mausoleum was. The title was enigmatic, even exotic. I thought maybe it was the name of the giant skeleton creature that was trying to draw me in. All these years later, however, I've never seen the film. It can't possibly live up to the impression that the cover art made on my 6-year-old psyche.
#1 Fear (19??)
B-Sol chose Zombie as his favorite VHS box cover. My favorite was designed by the same twisted folks at Charles Band's Wizard Video. At this point, I've already confessed my deepest childhood fears (of darkness, death, decay, graveyards, the living dead, premature burial, demonic possession, etc.), so this image should pretty well explain itself. Again, I haven't ever seen the film... I don't even know if it's available anymore. Whatever the case, I prefer the movie in my mind.
Runner Up: Ghoulies (1985)
I'm not going to make a case for this as great cover art, though I must say that it scared me as a kid (what worse place could there be for goblins to exist than in the bathroom where we are all at our most vulnerable?)... I thought I would mention it here because the tag line makes such a great conclusion to this blog post. I studied that box cover for years before I was old enough to get the joke...