My continuing spiral of boredom has recently moved away from revisiting childhood animated favorite to remembering the video box art of the classic ’80s VHS and Beta era. In attempting to remember a specific film I came to the CHUD message boards with nothing but a description of the box art, and I was not disappointed. Turns out the movie was called Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (thanks again Darkmite). The process led me to this wonderful site: Critical Condition, a depository for era video box cover scans.

For those of you too young to remember, the early days of home video were rocky at best, and the bulk of the market wasn’t exactly ‘top of the line’ Hollywood entertainment. The process of getting the rights to release movies on the format, not to mention production of the actual cassettes, was expensive, and the more well known the product, the higher the cost was likely to be. Because of this exploitation cinema sold the quickest. Soon home video basically killed the Grindhouse and the drive-in, and became the place to discover the grossest, goriest, trashiest, and most outrageous movies. The overall quality of the product remained the same, however, and distributors had to find a way to sell this stuff. The classic sales pitch that is the movie poster thus evolved into the home video box (though the original poster art was commonly used), which at the time came in all sorts of sizes. As a child this box art was a constant source of fascination due to the forbidden nature of the films themselves. I had to use my imagination to conjure a terrifying plot surrounding these garish images. Then when I was old enough I started renting and buying these films, partially based on childhood memories of the indelible artwork.

What follows is a quick journey through some of the best and worst samples of this nostalgic artform, broken into categories for quicker absorption.

The Disappointments:
Box art that makes promises that will never be delivered upon.

Horror Planet is best remembered under the vastly superior title of Inseminoid. Norman J. Warren’s schlock masterpiece features a lot of great violence, but budget constraints made a giant clawed, laser-eyed monster impossible. In fact, the vast majority of the film plays out more as a standard stalk ‘n slash, with the human carrier of the alien seed killing off her crew by hand. Most of the people that rented this tape in the day were likely disappointed by the lack of laser eyes.

Forbidden World (aka: Mutant) is another fun little Alien cash-in, with a mean streak of gore and nudity, but this cover art (which was used for the original theatrical poster as well) has absolutely nothing to do with the actual film. There are monsters attacking women, but the women are never chained to rocks, and the alien itself looks a lot more like H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph than a giant, bat-winged spider thing.

“They’re men turned inside out! And Worse…they’re still alive!” Unfortunately Screamers (not to be confused with the Peter Weller film with the same name) is better known as The Island of the Fishmen, directed by Sergio Martino. That’s Fishmen, not Inside Out Men. It isn’t a terrible film, but this is a cut version, and there aren’t any screaming men turned inside out.

I can think of two things wrong with that title. First of all, there isn’t a massacre (a bit of a killing streak at best), and even worse, there are no living dinosaurs in Dinosaur Valley. There is, however, a whole lot of nothing else, save a little slave trading.

Boarding House may be the worst film to see any kind of video release I’ve ever seen. It’s that bad. You almost have to see it. However, there’s no reason to expect a woman to be pulled into her bed by some kind of demonic hand.

Monster Hunter is better known as Absurd, and was recently released on DVD under the title Horrible from Mya Entertainment. It’s actually a very fun slasher romp from sleaze king Joe D’Amato, but the Wizard Video box’s promise of zombies (most of which have been recycled from the poster art of other films) is never delivered upon, unless one considers the unkillable murderer a zombie, in which case there is one solitary walking dead threat. For more details on this particular film please see this blog entry.

I Don’t Think He’s Gonna Save the Day: Unlikely looking action heroes.

I don’t know anything too specific about this particular Rapid Fire (there are about 700 movies with the same or a similar title), but star Ron Waldron’s wrist looks like it might just snap under the weight of that very heavy weapon. Unless this image is to scale…

Action heroes aren’t required to know how to dress, but boy if this outfit doesn’t scream “I’m not up to this”, I’m not sure what does, though I suppose the lack of helmet says something about his wild sense of abandon. White Fury could also win an award for ‘Most Unfortunate Double Entendre Title’. I’m sure there were plenty of disappointed Aryan Brotherhood types renting this one over the years.

N.I.A.: Ninja In Action, Ninja Hunt, and Ninja Kill appear to star the same actor, one Richard Harrison. Pardon me while I doubt the skills of any ‘ninja’ that spends that much effort feathering his hair. And what the hell is he wearing in the second two? Did he kill Sub-Zero and Scorpion, steal their clothes, and do a little mix and match? Apparently Harrison is credited with suggesting Clint Eastwood to Sergio Leone for Fistful of Dollars, so he gets a pass. There’s also the possibility he’s the real deal and could beat my ass.

Ninja Kill is a contender for best tag line, though – ‘Break Ninja Law – Suffer Ninja Justice!’

Um, Those Aren’t Roller Blades:

Why are there more than two films with this problem?

You Don’t Say: Titles and Art that Say it All.

To start this section off right I pose the question: Is there any better vendetta than a Raging Vendetta? I haven’t seen this film, but I don’t really need to know anything else about it.

“What do you think, dear, should we rent a movie tonight? How about this one? It looks good, right? What is it about? I dunno, unrequited love?”

Apparently this one could also apply to the ‘Disappointment’ category. Directed by Paul Naschy favorite Miguel Iglesias, Rape (aka: Desnuda Inquietud) sounds kind of like a melting pot of standard Spanish exploitation, Carrie, and The Exorcist. I’d actually be curious to check it out some time.

‘You Don’t Have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre’ screams the front of the box. The back of the box says even more – ‘It’s Exactly What You Think It Is’. Mil Gritos Tiene la Noche was intended as a genuinely terrifying answer to Halloween, but the American distributors realized they had a cult smash in the making after previewing screening found a susceptible college crowd. Retitled Pieces, the ad campaign followed the film all the way to its video and special edition DVD release. Truly one of the most entertaining slasher movies of all time.

I’m assuming, based on this cover art, that Night of the Kickfighters is about guys who tear off their shirts and start impulsively kicking the air during a full moon. It also appears their toenails become blade-like and tear out of their boots. The ‘Night of the’ handle evokes George Romero’s zombie movies, so I’m also assuming that the heroes are forced into some kind of farm house that they have to board up to against those deadly kickfighter kicks. I wonder if they became kickfighters after being kicked by already turned kickfighters.

The Park is Mine (aka: Commando in the Park) is summed up on as “A Vietnam vet (Tommy Lee Jones) takes forceful control of Central Park to remember those who served and died in the Vietnam War”. Well, that’s not obviously Tommy Lee Jones based on this art, but everything else seems pretty obvious. Well, except for exactly how taking forceful control of Central Park will help remember vets. Wasn’t this kind of the plot of The Rock?

I personally giggled at this one for hours.

‘Mary Thinks There is Something Alive Under Her Bed. Mary is RIGHT!’ I think Mary and whatever’s living under her there might both want to consider getting away from the bed right now, it looks a little burny. I’m just not sure if it’s even possible to go to sleep at a time like this, but the title is pretty honest.

You Don’t Say?: Titles and Art that Don’t Make Sense.

Is that an ampersand, or an ugly ‘S’? Apparently the producers of this particular VHS release weren’t sure which of the film’s titles to go with – The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals or Mummy’s Curse of the Jackal. They decided to make no sense instead of making a choice.

Where…where are the other five?

Why is that carpet brandishing a knife?
Because of the Cats
Oh…wait, what?