If you were around during the 1980’s and owned a VHS player a trip to the video store was probably something done a few times a week in order to check out some good to awful films you hadn’t seen previously or had caught in a theater and wanted to experience all over again. The better video rental shops were part museum, offering up box after box of wildly re-imagined art that didn’t always match what was on those tapes you wanted to rent. From scantily clad ladies beckoning you to pick up that case to painted explosions that guaranteed at least if the film was atrocious stuff would blow up really good, it was a boom time for “B” movie fans. Over in the UK, movie fans got even wilder cover art to ogle from a wide range of artists of assorted talent covering genres from sci-fi and horror to comedy and assorted exploitation flicks.
Whether you’re a fan of the period or just want a great art book to show off to friends, Schiffer Books’ VHS Video Cover Art ($34.99) comes very highly recommended. Compiled by Tom ‘The Dude Designs’ Hodge (a great movie poster artist inspired by this period), the 12″ x 9″ hardcover book is 264 pages of eye-popping artwork. Some of it great, most of it cheesy to an extreme. Here in the US that cheese factor is most likely going to be the appeal to many buyers who may only know some of these films through their western movie posters and/or VHS cover art which was more often than not straightforward studio commissioned art and photos.
The book is split into categories covering the Action, Comedy, Horror, Kids, Sci-Fi, and Thriller genres, so you documentary fans are out of luck I’m afraid. Including the foreword by Justin Ishmael, an opening and closing by Hodge and some credits pages, there are only six pages to read. The rest is all full color retail box art presented one cover per page. Some of the covers are in near immaculate condition while others have rental stickers and some shelf wear. This is actually a great thing to see because it means these videos were enjoyed (or hated) by the masses before their covers ended up between these covers. It’s also interesting from a historical perspective to see how these types of movies were marketed by smaller publishers who had to get really creative during a decade plus when too many movies were landing in video stores every week.
Good art or bad, certain themes appear throughout the categories that make for some laughs. Action flicks almost always have some sort of firearm or airbrushed explosion on them, Most of the adult comedies and horror films with women in lead or other roles exaggerate the amount of flesh on display (even the rotted undead flesh in some cases) and don’t get me started on the amount of Star Wars pastiches here. The funny thing is reading the back of the packaging where some movie descriptions stretch both your patience and sense of wonder. Reading about scary films that weren’t at all scary, sexy films with not much sex appeal and action films where awful action scenes and hammy dialog deliveries killed any fun to be had made me chuckle a few too many times. Conversely, seeing Eye of the Tiger, the original Evil Dead, Star Crash and even the infamously wretched R.O.T.O.R get the arty treatment made me appreciate them all the more.
Probably the best thing here is seeing all these good to lousy films get the great to lousy art treatment made me dislike the current movie poster/video cover art scene all the more. Hodge has done some great “retro” poster art for a few films, so he’s my current hero of the film advertising scene. Hopefully both his work and this book he’s put together will inspire a new breed of artists to pick up some paintbrushes and airbrushes or create digital works that do more to sell a movie with that same sort of overblown visual exaggeration even the most expensive (but still predictably dull) trailers can’t provide.