Obscure and Outrageous Cover Art From the Golden Age of VHS


There’s just something about VHS that evokes nostalgic adoration in film nerds. Tapeheads often reminisce about trips to their local video store, where aisles upon aisles of ghoulish box art imprinted itself upon their imaginations.

In our culture of On Demand, it can feel satisfying to grip your mitts on a hefty clamshell and own a piece of physical media. Like crate-diggers, video junkies enjoy the hunt. Then, there’s the aesthetic appeal of the grainy texture that VHS offers and the pride enthusiasts take in rescuing a trash masterpiece from total obscurity — similar to how hip-hop fans helped keep vinyl relevant.

Whether you worship at the altar of home video companies like Wizard and Cannon, or you get your VHS fix thrift-store style, buying up unmarked home movies, there’s something heartening about this shared love of movies.

Inspired by Brooklyn’s Found Footage Festival, which kicks off tomorrow with a showcase of garage-sale vids and other obscure cassette finds, we’re honoring the heyday of VHS with a look back at some of the most outrageous VHS cover art. In addition to the deranged illustrations, we chose these movies based on their obscurity (note: some are now available on DVD), with an emphasis on genre cinema — because mainstream studios wouldn’t make a movie about Phyllis Diller and a demonic poodle. Go forth and explore these homegrown horror tapes and (unofficial) video nasties. Thanks to folks like VHSCollector.com and Critcononline.com for making their scans available.

Invasion of the Bee Girls by Denis Sanders 1973 “A powerful cosmic force is turning Earth women into queen bees who kill men by wearing them out sexually.”

Begotten by E. Elias Merhige 1990 “This gory and entirely visual film tells the surreal tale of the death and rebirth of gods.”

The Zodiac Killer by Tom Hanson 1971 “The San Francisco area is beset by a series of seemingly random murders without motive or pattern. The police are taunted by phone calls and letters. Could the maniac be the violent, truck driver, or the seemingly mild-mannered mailman, or even a cop?”

Streets of Death by Jeff Hathcock 1987 “Hookers are being killed all over the place, their bodies dumped in various parts of the city. Now, it’s up to Officer Kelly Anderson with the help of Detective Grant Jordan to go undercover as a hooker to stop these horrific killings.”

Bleeders by Peter Svatek 1997 “A man travels to an island with his girlfriend in search of his relatives but he finds maybe more than what he wanted to know.”

The Devil Walks at Midnight by Jean Brismée 1971 “Six of seven tourists in a East European castle overnight are victims of a helper of the devil. Is Satan willing to spare their souls?”

Death Nurse by Nick Philips (aka Nick Millard) 1987 “Edith, a murderous, overweight nurse, and her brother run a medical clinic out of the suburban house they share. They take in patients and kill them, continuing to bill the state for their care. However, a nosy county inspector threatens to complicate things for Edith and her brother!”

Slash Dance by James Shyman 1989 “A female cop goes undercover as a dancer at an old theater to catch a serial killer who has been murdering women auditioning for a musical.”

Boarding House by Johnn Wintergate 1982 “A boarding house is reopened years after gruesome murders were committed there. Suddenly, the body count begins once more!”

The Boneyard by James Cummins 1991 “Children turned into zombies wreak havoc in a coroner’s building with just a burned-out psychic, an experienced cop and two coroners to stop the madness.”

Phantom Brother by William Szarka 1988 “A teen-ager is left orphaned by a car crash that wipes out his entire family; he is subsequently haunted by his dead brother.”

Splatter Farm by John Polonia, Mark Polonia, Todd Smith 1987 “Two young twins are sent to spend time at their aunt’s farm. What nobody knows is that the aunt’s handyman is a psycho serial killer who dismembers his victims and stores their body parts in the barn.”

The Keep by Michael Mann 1983 “Nazis are forced to turn to a Jewish historian for help in battling the ancient demon they have inadvertently freed from its prison.”

Cover with swastika.

Miami Horror (aka Miami Golem) by Martin Herbert (aka Alberto De Martino) 1985 “A Miami TV reporter is sent to a local university to do a story on a professor who is cloning a cell from DNA found inside a meteorite. Soon after the reporter leaves, a gunman kills everyone in the professor’s lab and steals the cell for a wealthy businessman. When the reporter learns that he is targeted for assassination as well, he enlists the help of two scientists to discover who is behind the crimes, why they stole the cell, and whether or not the cell should be allowed to continue living.”

Satan Killer by Stephen Calamari 1993 “Widowed, alcoholic cop teams up with an old private detective to catch a laughing serial killer who rides Harleys.”

The Prey by Edwin Brown 1984 “Six campers jaunt off to North Point, where they’re promptly stalked and killed by a ghoulish man who ultimately is just looking for a little love.”

Sledgehammer by David A. Prior 1983 “A young boy murders his mother and her lover with a hammer. Ten years later, a wave of teenage murders plagues the same area.”

Lunch Meat by Kirk Alex 1987 “Six high school seniors on a camping trip are ambushed by killer rednecks who kill their victims & sell the remains to a local hamburger joint.”

Dreamaniac by David DeCoteau 1986 “A heavy-metal musician makes a deal with a satanic succubus to make him successful with women, in return for the succubus being able to feed on the girls.”

Venus Flytrap by T. Michael 1987 “Three street punks — Turk, his girlfriend BB., and his sidekick Wimp — observe two young affluent kids, Ginger and Danny, shoplifting from a record store. On a lark, the street kids invite themselves along to a party at the home of the yuppies’ friends, Rod and Arlene. There the party games turn from strip darts to Russian roulette as it becomes increasingly obvious that the yuppies are playing with the street kids’ emotions.”

Elves by Jeffrey Mandel 1989 “A young woman discovers that she is the focus of an evil nazi experiment involving selective breeding and summoned elves, an attempt to create a race of supermen. She and two of her friends are trapped in a department store with an elf, and only Dan Haggerty, as the renegade loose-cannon Santa Claus, can save them.”

Satan’s Supper (aka Cataclysm) by Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Greg Tallas 1980 “Police detective, Mitchell, investigating the death of a victim of a Nazi concentration camp discovers a nightclubbing playboy who has strange powers over women and is seemingly ageless.”

Science Crazed by Ron Switzer 1991 “A mad scientist injects a woman with an untested growth serum. She dies, but gives birth to a full-grown monster.”

Blood Moon (aka The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman) by León Klimovsky 1971 “Elvira is travelling through the French countryside with her friend Genevieve, searching for the lost tomb of a medieval murderess and possible vampire, Countess Wandessa.”

Berserker by Jef Richard 1987 “Six young adults in the woods run afoul of a berserker, a viking warrior who dons the fur and snout of a bear, and are slain in turn by him.”

Death Screams (aka House of Death) by David Nelson 1982 “Teenagers are stalked and murdered by a maniac at a town fair.”

Dracula’s Last Rites by Domonic Paris 1980 “A small-town funeral director, doctor and sheriff are vampires who suck blood from the recently not-quite-dead on the embalming table and then immediately kill the newly converted vampire.”

Demon Queen by Donald Farmer 1987 “A female vampire goes on a rampage seeking blood.”

Hide and Go Shriek by Skip Schoolnik 1988 “A group of teenagers spends the night in a furniture store for a graduation party. A psycho killer starts to hunt them down and kill them off.”

555 by Wally Koz 1988 “A spate of killings of teenagers by a maniac dressed like a hippie causes a detective to check the records for similar killings.”

Shock Chamber by Steve DiMarco 1985 “A trilogy of horror stories with ironic twists: a teenager tries out a love potion, a waitress gets involved in a kidnapping plot, two brothers plan to cheat an insurance company by faking their death.”

Open House by Jag Mundhra 1987 “Someone is killing off nubile real estate agents.”

Satan War by Bart La Rue 1979 “Unseen satanic forces terrorize a young married couple in their new home.”

Alien Seed by Bob James 1989 “An alien impregnates an Earth woman so she can deliver an alien “messiah” that will rule the world. A newspaper reporter finds out what’s going on and sets out to stop it.”

The Ripper by Christopher Lewis 1985 “An old antique ring turns a college professor into a homicidal maniac when he puts it on. The ring originally belonged to Jack the Ripper, and the Ripper’s spirit possesses whoever wears it.”

Black Roses by John Fasano 1988 “Demons hypnotize the general public by posing as a rock and roll band.”

Mama’s Home (aka Captives) by Gary Cohen 1988 From Oh, the Horror!:

It’s a normal day in suburbia, the paperboy is bringing everyone news to go with their coffee, the sun is shining and mothers are taking care of their babies and hustling their husbands off to a long day’s work. Somewhere way down the road, the sun shines brightly on a bottle of grain alcohol and a family of deranged sleazeballs also trying to accomplish the goals of the day; in this case, exact revenge on your average every day family. Revenge? Something is amiss as the crazies sneak into the unsuspecting family’s home. The housewife is shocked, having no clue just who these people are or what they want. When her mother-in-law stops by for a visit, well, a family’s dirtiest piece of laundry is about to be dug up from the muck and hung out to dry…

Bell From Hell (aka The Bell of Hell) Claudio Guerín, Juan Antonio Bardem 1973 “A young man is released from an asylum and returns home for revenge on his aunt and her three daughters, who had him declared insane in order to steal his inheritance.”

The Brain by Ed Hunt 1988 “Dr. Blake runs a TV show called Independent Thinkers, which is sort of a Scientology-like self-help/religion program. But he’s not making his audience think any more independently — with the help of an alien organism he calls The Brain, he’s using brainwashing and mind control.”

Violent Shit I & II by Andreas Schnaas 1989 & 1992

“A demented, wicked, deformed, cannibalistic killer named K. The Butcher Shitter, escapes from the police and slaughters people in many gory, bloody ways.”

“Drilled by his deranged mother, Karl the Butcher jr. takes revenge for the gruesome death of his father. Anyone who sets foot on the forest has to die. Hold on to your limbs as Karl jr. slaughter his victims to some amazing tunes of terror. Decapitation is just the beginning… ”

Grim Prairie Tales by Wayne Coe 1990 “Two travellers, one a well to do young clerk on the way to a reunion with his wife, the other a scruffy, feral bounty hunter meet at sundown on a lonely prairie and agree to swap stories to pass the time.”

Ben by Phil Karlson 1972 “A lonely boy becomes good friends with Ben, a rat. This rat is also the leader of a pack of vicious killer rats, killing lots of people.”

Blood Salvage by Tucker Johnston 1990 “Meet Jake, an affable country junkman with a spare parts business. But not just auto parts – human parts, too!”

Tales from the Quadead Zone by Chester Novell Turner 1987 “Actress Shirley Latanya Jones returns from the director’s first film (Black Devil Doll from Hell) to be in front of Turner’s camcorder, and reads two spooky tales to the ghost of her dead son, Bobby. The second story features a zombie clown from Hell. When we finally return to Shirley, she kills her hot-headed boyfriend, and there’s a bloody finale as the cops arrive.”

Night Warning by William Asher 1982 “An orphaned teenager finds himself being dominated by his aunt who’s hell-bent on keeping him with her… at all costs.”

The Abomination by Max Raven (aka Bret McCormick) 1986 “An old woman coughs up what she believes to be a tumor. While asleep, the thing crawls inside of her son and reproduces inside him, then causes him to go on a killing spree to feed it.”

Nightmare by Romano Scavolini 1981 “A mental-patient, who is troubled with horrible nightmares, has escaped from his hospital. Now on the streets he can’t help killing innocent people. But there is one family he is more than interested in and when he tries to kill them, he finds that it’s not that easy.”

Spine by John Howard, Justin Simmonds 1986 “A madman stalks nurses, brutally stabbing them to death. In his fevered mind, he believes his victims to be a woman from his past named Linda. Police struggle to apprehend him before he can murder and mutilate again.”

Video Violence by Gary R. Cohen (aka Gary P. Cohen) 1987 “A husband and wife open a video store in a new town, and come to find out that the locals only rent horror films and the ‘occasional triple X’er,’ and make their own snuff videos.”