Written by Francis Brewster, Harvey Fenton & Marc Morris
Published by FAB Press
It is the 1980’s. Video has just become the latest craze for all sorts of movie fans, buffs and non-buffs alike, but it’s become an especially fantastic medium for fans of horror. It seems every Tom, Dick, and Nigel is putting out horror films in some capacity on video tape, and one thing that’s quickly discovered is the more lewd and eye-catching the cover, the more likely it is to be snapped off the shelf by as many potential buyers and/or renters as possible.
Complaints are made. Like all things, they start small; people being offended by titles, subject matter, or language then down to just the artwork itself, and before you know it, the government is stepping in to regulate just what they deem the general public can and cannot stomach, and the Video Nasties era is born.
Despite being a time of massive confusion and over-exaggeration on almost every level of authority, it was also a golden age for those that chose to design the artwork for videos because, pending legal issues or not, the video business was still about making the maximum profit on the minimum investment, and we horror fans were easy meat. I don’t mean that as any kind of degradation to anyone, I know I’ve been suckered in by my fair share of misleading cover art, but horror was the easiest to produce and the quickest to get off the shelf. And it was also the most heavily censored of any genre of film ever released to the public.
FAB Press has once again combined their amazing amount of resources and talent to put together a very thorough and comprehensive guide of the best of the best when it came to outlandish, garish videocassette artwork. Not all the titles seen in these pages ever appeared on the constantly fluctuating list of video nasties, nor are they all on the final 39 that comprised the “official list,” but all of them are indicative of a time in cinema that will most likely never come again, one that most fans were too busy taking advantage of (especially us in the U.S. who dealt with nothing even close in terms of mass paranoia) to notice how significant what was going on around them really was.
Francis Brewster, Harvey Fenton, and Marc Morris all lent their hands to both the discovery of these incredibly rare box art covers as well as to the research that went into the companies that released them, their directors, and just what their status was during the time of the video nasties. FAB once again showcases the fact that they are unmatched when it comes to the width and depth of the information they choose to include in every book, and Shock! Horror! is especially significant when you consider just how rare some of this artwork and information is.
The book is broken down simply; after a brief intro with some history about the movement in the UK to keep the morality of future generations intact by removing all potential harmful material from shelves, the reader is treated to a massive layout (one title per page) of the video cover art this book was made for. Some of it is gorgeous (the original release of The Dunwich Horror is a perfect example), most is lurid and quasi-offensive depending on what offends you (Love Camp 7 springs to mind), but it’s all the kind of art that we just simply will not ever see on the cover of videos (or, as is more realistic, DVDs) again.
From there we’re given a brief breakdown of just what happened during the era in question, which gives just enough info to paint a picture of an overly paranoid nation but doesn’t go into great detail on any specific time period. Then it’s on to the reviews, surrounded by smaller versions of the artwork featured in the first part of the book. Don’t worry, they’re not the typical FAB review (which, while incredibly informative, can get a bit long-winded sometimes) because they focus more on the video distributor’s history and how long the film was actually out for before, in a surprisingly large amount of cases, disappearing forever. The back of the book features an index and an “alternate covers” section.
This is the kind of coffee table book people like my wife and myself would proudly display (if we had a coffee table, that is) because it’s sure to cause all sorts of conversations, shocked gasps, and loud guffaws (as Violation of the Bitch’s artwork still does). The fact that it’s also informative and intelligent is just icing on the cake.
4 out of 5
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