Let’s have a moment of silence for the granddaddy of commercial video stores: Blockbuster first opened its doors in 1985 today. Whether you rented films at your local mom and pop shop, or ventured to the chain that has been steadily fading into obscurity, movie memories were made in the aisles of those stores thanks to the visual impact of DVD and VHS cover art. VHS has been making a comeback, with multiple documentaries and limited-edition videotapes being produced in recent years, and the format reminds us of the heyday of horror cinema. With Halloween around the corner and outrageous VHS box art on the brain, we hunted for some of horror’s most deranged cover images — the gory, creepy, and bizarre artwork that beckoned to audiences from the shelves of video rental stores everywhere. Travel back to the days of VHS, below, but be warned that some images may be upsetting to horror newbies.
Otto was locked away in the loony bin, but now he’s ready to return to work. The cover for Guido Zurli’s gets right to the meat of the matter.
A murderer with a penchant for power tools wields his in the faces of these teen girls on this phallic cover.
The posters, artwork, and television ads for Charles Sellier’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, featuring the movie’s killer dressed as dear old Santa Claus, pissed off parents around the world. The PTA tried to ban it from theaters.
B-movie god Jim Wynorski featured a bag of body parts on the cover of Chopping Mall’s VHS.
A famous video nasty, Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer earned its title, in part due to the explicit cover featuring a real-life man gushing blood and screaming in pain as an unseen lunatic drills into his skull. The image caused an uproar aimed at the Advertising Standards Agency. This was one of those VHS boxes that frightened children walking the aisles of video stores.
The image on the Frankenhooker VHS isn’t particularly weird. It does, however, feature a talking component. When people pushed a button on the box, the reanimated hooker’s famous line from the film was heard: “Wanna date?”
No one can ever say that horror filmmakers didn’t utilize the image of a meat grinder to its full potential.
Insane farmers harvest humans for their blood. The cheery rainbow logo hovering over a morbid scene seals the deal on this cover.
Flesh-eating cockroaches and horribly suggestive cover art that will chill anyone from New York City to the bone.
When the distributors changed the cover art of J. Lee Thompson’s slasher Happy Birthday to Me, featuring a boring knife in a cake, fans went nuts, urging the company to use the gory original artwork.
The legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis was known as the Godfather of Gore, and the VHS cover art for his 1965 film about an artist who uses human blood to paint his canvases is not for the squeamish.
Just a little necrophilia on these Jörg Buttgereit VHS covers.
We just voted Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust one of the greatest grindhouse movies in cinema, and the cover lives up to the film’s extreme reputation.
Goremeister Lucio Fulci brings one of his murder sequences to the cover of The Beyond VHS.
Another real-life gore cover for a film about a cannibal cook.
William Girdler’s movie desperately wants you to know that meathooks can be sexy, too.
Sure to make your brain hurt just looking at it.
Creepers by Italian horror master Dario Argento was the title for the American version (truncated) of the director’s Phenomena, starring Jennifer Connelly. This bizarre image is the Stefon of VHS covers and has everything: a disembodied head, a razor-wielding chimpanzee, and a creepy house.
Another image that was burned into the minds of young horror fans everywhere, the cover for William Lustig’s sleazy, gory Maniac delivers on its title.
Is there anyone who actually likes worms? And worms slithering out of your showerhead are doubly disgusting. Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm, an MST3K favorite, gave audiences the creepy-crawlies just by looking at the VHS box.
Rape-revenge horror classic I Spit On Your Grave drew viewers with its outrageous taglines: “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition… but no jury in America would ever convict her!”
The art for Juan Piquer Simón’s Slugs goes straight for the gross-out.
Why yes, that is famed chainsaw crazie Leatherface and his cannibalistic family posing in the style of the Breakfast Club group photo. The sequel to Tobe Hooper’s horror classic, starring Dennis Hopper, is over the top in every way — and the VHS box art captures the film’s bizarre combination of humor and horror.
A pictorial of cause and effect: playing with dead things gets you eaten by zombies.
B-horror/post-apocalyptic sci-fi from the 1980s at its finest: roller-skating nuns in thongs (led by a Mother Superior figure called “Mother Speed”), a hot tub baptismal, oodles of nudity, metalhead thugs, bad dubbing, and hand puppets. The cover is a fantastic teaser.