I have a new roommate moving in and there’s a bunch of his boxes in the living room. One of these boxes is filled with books, and I couldn’t help noticing a few of the spines on the top. I’m a serial book browser.
Now, there’s a difference between “going through new roommate’s things” and “browsing new roommate’s books.” I’m always snooping bookshelves, and it’s more fun than snooping the medicine cabinet. I tried it once. I thought I’d see what the big deal was about snooping in the medicine cabinet. So there I was in someone’s bathroom; I opened up the medicine cabinet and took a look. It didn’t do anything for me.
But this box of books–there was one title that really got my attention, a book called Shock! Horror! Astounding Artwork from the Video Nasty Era–a book of 80s horror movie artwork. (Something tells me this new roommate and I will get along just fine.)
When VHS came to the UK in 1979, it was new, unregulated, and out of control. Entrepreneurs started up video labels in their basements, and without the money to license big movies, they sought out the cheapest, no-budget Z-movies to license. The book chronicles these UK horror videos in the early 80s, “a vibrant, naive time when home video was still an exciting new concept, and the companies supplying consumers with films to rent tried every trick in the book to make their product stand out on the video store shelves.” Shock! Horror! presents the glory days of horror video artwork, which was outrageous, gory, and INSANE.
Eventually, the British government got a whiff of the filth on the rental shelves, labeling the videos as “nasties.” I don’t doubt that some of these videos contain some questionable-bordering-on-snuff footage (particularly along the lines of animal cruelty). By 1985, the government handed down a whole bunch of laws, regulations, and fines, and most of video labels disappeared. The luckiest of the films were banned, drawing attention to them, but most of these films were simply banished to obscurity–though some have endured the long haul to DVD.
I wanted to show you a few of my personal favorites from this book. Captioned are the country and year of production. The video release date for all of these are UK, 1980-1985.
Pardon my pictures, which do the art no justice.
Cries in the Night (Canada, 1980)
I love this–a classic rotted corpse in the cellar.
Invasion of the Blood Farmers (USA, 1972)
Another thing I love–a good, old-fashioned hokey premise. What’s up with all these contemporary scary movies with complex plots based on some complicated myth, where the protagonist spends 30 minutes of the film researching some arcane history and knowledge? Do you think the local teenagers had to translate the esoteric Sumerian Bibles in order to find out why the Blood Farmers were planting chicks? No. There was just a whole lot of pitchfork stabbing and digging.
E.T. n (USA, 1968)
This one has a great story. According to the notes, Spielberg’s ET was unavailable in the British rental market at the time, but was one of the most requested and pirated movies. Trying to be slick, the video label Darlton retitled an old 1968 B-movie, “Nightfright,” replicating the ET artwork for the box. Naturally, they were swiftly sued and shut down by Universal Pictures.
Satan’s Altar (Italy, 1980)
I also have a soft spot for adorable little demons. If this guy closed his mouth and stopped drooling, he’d even be cuddly.
Pigs (USA, 1972)
My favorite. Hands down. The tagline alone wins that Oscar. This is what we call a hook. What on God’s green earth did that pig eat?
The Driller Killer (USA, 1979)
One of the more notorious of the video nasties, so I had to include it here. I’m generally not a big fan of gore or slasher movies, and here I’ve included mostly artwork that’s cartoonish and laughably strange. But Driller Killer sorta makes me smile. I can’t say for sure, but that’s gotta be one hell of a drill bit to go through the skull.
Cannibal Holocaust (Italy, 1979)
Another one of the more infamous video nasties, and I can’t condone this cover that’s vaguely racist, but the artwork is truly stunning. And I’m wondering if the pig helped eat this too.
The Corpse Grinders (USA, 1971)
Back to the covers that are more my pace–bizarre. This art leads you to almost think the cats are somehow responsible for the corpse grinding. Just having the grinder front and center with the reaching hand would be eye-catching, but then there’s also this psychotic cat in the forefront. Why? A-ha. This must be how they make Fancy Feast.
The Blood Spattered Bride (Spain, 1972)
After I chose this as a favorite, I learned this movie is also one of Tarantino’s favorites, referenced in the movie Kill Bill Vol. 1. I haven’t seen any Tarantino films (I’m not a movie buff), but I do appreciate a guy who wears his obscure references on his sleeve.
Massacre Mansion (USA, 1975)
This is a movie about eyeball transplants, instantly qualifying it for my list. I wonder what would be in Massacre Mansion’s medicine cabinets. I’d definitely pull up to this house to ask if I could use the bathroom after getting lost driving in the forest. Then I’d browse their bookshelf and discover the ancient Sumerian Bible…