As a video store clerk in the mid-‘90s, my favorite thing to do was re-shelve the horror section. The box art was truly second to none. After work, I would spend what felt like hours on end doing reconnaissance on what I’d seen and what I needed to see. And naturally, all of those decisions were made based on the cover art. In some cases, VHS artwork would tell us everything we needed to know about a film. But other times, it would provide little, if any, information pertinent to what the flick was actually about. And that was all part of the fun, for me.
With that in mind, I’d like to take a stroll down memory lane and look back at some of the most misleading cover art of the VHS era! Read on for my top ten picks and please let me know in the comments section if I missed any of your top contenders for most misleading VHS artwork!
The House on Sorority Row
This one really stands out for me because The House on Sorority Row VHS artwork almost makes the film look like a feature-length adaptation of a tawdry romance novel. We don’t really get an accurate depiction of what this revenge-fueled slasher had in store for us from the box design. But going in not knowing exactly what you’re up against can make a great first time watch that much better. When I finished watching it for the first time, I was delighted that I’d unearthed a flick from a bygone era that I liked way more than I was expecting to.
The VHS artwork for Dead Alive doesn’t show us Lionel or his mother or the Sumatran rat-monkey. But maybe it didn’t need to. The cover art is pretty rad on its own and word of mouth prepared me for what I was getting myself into long before I actually watched this gory, delightful, zombie flick from a young Peter Jackson!
I love the VHS cover design for Chopping Mall so much. It is absolutely perfect as is. But that’s not to say that it isn’t a little misleading. The front cover doesn’t really give us a look at the Killbots or any of the cast members that stow away in the mall overnight. You can’t infer more than a very general idea as to what the film is about from the artwork. But I think it still did its job. The moment I laid eyes on the front cover of Chopping Mall, I knew it was for me. And I haven’t fallen out of love with it since that first viewing.
Satan’s School for Girls
This made-for-TV horror movie really tried to sell the presence of Satanism and goopy carnage with the bow of its VHS release. But Satanism isn’t really explored much until the denouement and the carnage is nearly nonexistent. Minor deceptions aside, I still have a major soft spot for this picture. Getting to see television producer extraordinaire Aaron Spelling working with two future Charlie’s Angels (Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd) in a witchy horror-mystery about a cult at an all-girls boarding school was more than enough to keep me entertained. And what it lacks in carnage, it makes up for in (unintentional) camp.
Critters is probably my second favorite installment in the tiny but malevolent creature subgenre, with Gremlins claiming the top spot. What really surprised me the first time I saw this flick is that I was expecting gargantuan monsters but, instead, got the pint-sized Crites that were perhaps enlarged on the box art to show texture? Either way, Critters is an undeniably good time and even boasts at least one solid sequel.
It’s hard to think of a horror film that made more of an impact on me in my formative years than Fright Night. Judging by the cover design, it almost seems to suggest that this is more of a ghost story than the slick, meta vampire flick it is. But Fright Night is a staple in the vampire genre and potentially misleading or not, I wouldn’t change a thing about the artwork.
Sleepaway Camp II
I love how bold the VHS box art is for Sleepaway Camp II. It does show us Angela, who is, for all intents and purposes, the star of the film. But she’s carrying a hockey mask and a razor glove in her backpack. This seems to hint at a showdown between Angela and some of her better-known contemporaries. Although the garb makes an appearance, it’s in a scene that is bordering on copyright infringement. Either way, this is my favorite Sleepaway Camp sequel and the first film in the series I saw. So, the artwork certainly drew me in.
The VHS artwork for House certainly does a good job of depicting the ghostly elements contained within but it slyly subverts expectations by disguising the fact that this is just as much a story about the evils of war and the wounded psyche of a vet who is having trouble processing the horrors he saw during his tour in Vietnam. Regardless of how much the cover art doesn’t show us, this is one of my favorite mid-eighties horror comedies.
Poor Marty. All he wanted was to fit in with the popular kids at school. But, instead, a cruel prank left him badly scarred, physically and emotionally. And after escaping from a mental hospital, all he wants is his pound of flesh. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from looking at the artwork that has roughly nothing to do with anything that happens in the film. If you’re a fan of this underrated slasher, check out the Vestron Video Blu-ray. It’s a great transfer of the film and it’s packed with terrific bonus content.
I am not certain that I have adequate words to express how much I love this film. It is a camp classic with a bizarre storyline about sociopathic children born during an eclipse. The cover art makes loose reference to one scene in the film but tells us next to nothing about the pint-sized psychopaths at the center of the storyline. This one seems to have flown under the radar for a lot of people. It was shelved for several years after it was in the can and, due to budgetary constraints, didn’t get a lot of fanfare upon its release. If you haven’t seen it. Please give Bloody Birthday a look. Lovers of so-bad-it’s-good cinema will not be disappointed. Also noteworthy: the film stars the lovely Lori Lethin (Return to Horror High, The Prey) who is one of my all-time favorite scream queens and a wonderful human.