have loved movies pretty much all my life. One of the most integral aspects in
my overall enjoyment of a film is my impression of it through the film's
advertising campaign, usually through the coming attractions trailer but mostly
through the advertising artwork, primarily the movie poster. Growing up in the 1970s,
I had no way of knowing anything about a film other than what was written about
it in Time or Newsweek or newspapers. The movie poster art, referred to as key
art in the industry, was really all I had to go on in terms of getting a feel
for what the movie would be like. Each week I would eagerly await Friday’s
newspaper as it showcased the advertising artwork of the new releases just
coming out in a much more overt fashion that it did from Monday to Thursday. In
those days, the advertising artwork was just that: it was artwork, designed, conceived and actually painted by an artist. This appears to be something that has gone by
the wayside as a result of the new tools that are available to studios, such as
computers and software programs like Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator, which
make it very easy for just about anyone to slap together homogenized key art
for DVD and Blu-ray covers. This new
type of advertising art appears to have been sapped of the most important
first two movies that I ever owned on home video were Star Wars (1977) and Poltergeist
(1982). I bought these on the long defunct Capacitance Electronic Disc system (CED)
which was designed and manufactured by RCA and sold from 1981 to 1986. The
artwork to these two films in particular made an enormous impression on me as
the oversized, LP-like format lent itself perfectly to the display of these
images. Some of my all-time favorite movies, which I first saw between 1983 and
1984, sported some of the most beautiful artwork I've ever seen: Phantasm (1979), Deadly Blessing (1981), Scanners
(1981)…just about anything horror-film related. With CED, you felt like you actually owned
the movie and that it was yours. It was tangible and you could hold it and
look at it.
first video cassette that I ever rented was Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which I watched on Independence
Day in 1985, because it was not available on CED. I had seen the film
theatrically upon its initial release, but there was something about being able
to watch it on video that was enormously appealing to me. From that point on,
the artwork that I saw on the cover of VHS cassettes, in particular horror
movies, left me salivating in the video store aisles. After getting my driver’s
license, my friends and I made innumerable trips to local and independently
owned video stores to both rent movies and gaze at and admire the cover artwork
of all the boxes on display. This was my generation's equivalent of going to
the local drive-in and, just like the local drive-in, the independent video
store, in the year 2015, is nearly extinct.
long overdue and beautifully illustrated new coffee table book, appropriately
titled VHS Video Cover Art, is now
available from Schiffer Publishing. Compiled
by Tom “The Dude Designs” Hodge, it showcases nearly 300 pages worth of VHS
sleeve artwork from movies made in the 1980s and 1990s. The covers are derived
from the British VHS releases of these films and are broken into six genres: action,
comedy, horror, kids, sci-fi, and thriller. Being an admirer of these types of films, which are both cult movies and
forgettable flops (of the “so bad it’s good!” variety), what is truly amazing
to me is the number of films presented that I personally still have never even
heard of. A lot of the titles included have artwork that is very different from
the American VHS releases. Case in point: Searchers
of the Voodoo Mountain (1985), which is better known in the States as Warriors of the Apocalypse. Like a lot
of the schlock movie posters of films of the 1950s and 1960s, these colorful
cover art were sometimes better than the actual movie they were designed to
advertise. Fifty years ago, a movie poster was drawn up and the film was made
on the basis of the title and the poster. I’m sure the same held true for some of these VHS titles as the
availability of home video created a perfect opportunity for studios to make
movies that were released directly to VHS, completely bypassing cinemas
Each page of this beautiful book displays the film’s title, the company that distributed the film on VHS and best of all, if known, the name of the artist. In the action section, movies such as The Avenger (1987) boast a guy with muscles and a beautiful young blonde with big 80s hairstyle; Deathline (1986), which is not to be confused with Gary Sherman’s brilliant Death Line (1973), features a character clearly inspired by David Carridine’s race car driver from Death Race 2000 (1975); Enforcer II (1986) directly rips off the key art for the Sylvester Stallone actioner Cobra from the same year; Fireback (1986) is one of the countless Rambo wannabees made 30 years ago; and Lightblast (1985), which stars Erik Estrada(!) before he began pushing tracts of land in his Glengarry Glen Ross-like infomercials (A.I.D.A.!) The one common denominator among all of these titles? Everyone on the cover is grasping a gun!
The comedy section boasts the usual testosterone-fueled teenage sexcapades of the 1980’s. Dreams Come True (1986) was painted by Italian artistaEnzo Sciotti, who is responsible for some of the best Italian horror film art for films by Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento (his work for Luigi Cozzi’s dreadful Paganini Horror (1989) is an example of the ad art triumphing over the movie). Oddballs (1984) and Sour Grapes (1986 – also done by Signor Sciotti) make all the visual puns about sex that one comes to expect from such fare.
The horror section is, as you can well imagine, also highly colorful and imaginative. Nightmare Vacation (1984) is a strange cover for the film better known in the States as the infamous Sleepaway Camp; Spookies(1985) promises horrors that look fairly ludicrous; and The Wailing (1987) features female nudity, making good on the axiom that sex sells.
I don’t know who Peter Billingsley offended, but the kid on the cover of The Dirt Bike Kid (1986) looks nothing like him. He does on the American poster, but on the British cover it looks like he ran into a pane of glass! The Go-Kids (1986) is a ridiculous title for the Henry Thomas outing The Quest, but the cover art is spectacular. Did you know that 1977’s Japanese sci-fi epic Space Wars, aka The War in Space, is one of the best space war movies ever made? No? That’s what the cover of the box says! And with a Wookie-like creature sporting Viking horns, how could it not be?
The sci-fi section includes Land of Doom (1985) and Wheels of Fire (1985), obvious Mad Max rip-offs, but the artwork is terrific; R.O.T.O.R. (1987) is an even more blatant Mad Max clone, going so far as to mimic the titular character’s stance with a gun, albeit in the reverse direction.
Rounding out the book is the thriller section, with the Franco Nero favorite Hitch Hike (1987) and Fair Game (1986) being just two of the stand-outs.
What is beautifully acknowledged and so eloquently stated in this book is the sentiment that all cineastes can understand and appreciate: as nice as it is to watch clear, high definition copies of the films that was grew up watching on VHS, the activity of viewing movies on DVD, Blu-ray, Hulu, Netflix, etc. somehow deprives us of the experience that we had of going to the video store, looking at the VHS cover art and the synopses, taking the film home and watching it, and having that feeling be a part of how we felt about the movie we were watching. Our opinion of the film was tied to our experience viewing it and what was going on in our lives at the time.
This book was obviously a labor of love and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It belongs in the library of all diehard cinema aficionados. Even if you aren’t a fan of these films, the artwork alone is truly something to behold and appreciate. I hope that there are follow-up volumes in years to come because there are thousands of titles out there.
Click here to visit Tom “The Dude Designs” Hodge’s website.