Horror VHS tape covers better than the films they advertised

News Ryan Lambie
16 Aug 2010 - 14:10

Trashy, sometimes artistic and frequently deceptive, 80s horror movie video covers often provided more entertainment than the features themselves. Here are a few of our favourites…

Throughout the 80s and into the early-90s, the VHS tape ruled the Earth. Bulky and unreliable, home videos nevertheless had their own quaint appeal, and visiting a video hire store was, for more than a decade, an adventure in itself.

Attempting to pick out the obscure gems from among the shelves of Z-grade trash was rendered all the more difficult by the loud, brash covers so many films were encased in.

When it came to choosing from the frequently vast selection of horror films available, the selection process became still more difficult. In the 80s, horror video covers were usually hand painted, lurid and sometimes spectacularly imaginative, often masking the utter dross housed on the tape itself. 

Zero-budget rip-offs of better films (frequent inspirations included Dawn Of The Dead, Alien and The Exorcist) were cleverly marketed with carefully wrought taglines and occasionally sensational artwork.

To celebrate this golden era of deceptive marketing, we therefore bring you our selection of great covers that promoted terrible movies:

Dawn Of The Mummy

The cover:

A trashily effective depiction of a glowing-eyed mummy rising from the sands of Egypt, complete with pyramids in the background to ram the premise home.

What you got:

A tepid zombie movie with a side order of bandages. Director Frank Agrama tries to channel the spirit of George Romero, and fails dismally in the attempt. And while the cover doesn't sell the film as anything but Z-grade nonsense, it's infinitely more arresting than the product it promotes.

Mind you, the same could be said of the trailer, which is almost as fantastic:

The Kindred

The cover:

An impressionistically wrought screaming mutant octopus, two brilliantly awful taglines, and a puke-green background, all suggesting (to an early 90s youth, at least) an entertainingly gory creature feature.

What you got:

A forgettable sci-fi horror starring a pained-looking Rod Steiger in an ill-fitting wig and one of the most rubbery mutant creatures ever committed to celluloid. In most scenes, it appears to have been brought fitfully to life by simply shaking the thing in front of the camera.

Nevertheless, there's a certain amount of fun to be gleaned from Stephen Carpenter's underlit schlock, with Rod Steiger providing an amusingly half-arsed performance beneath his (possibly sentient) head rug.

At the very least, watch the trailer below. The spectacular, parting exclamation of "OH MY GOD!" by an unseen protagonist had us in stitches...


The cover:

A green-skinned creature apparently rising from a toilet bowl, with the suggestive tagline "They'll get you in the end!" beneath it.

What you got:

A rare instance of a poster suggesting the scene of a film, the concept of having a demon rise up from a toilet was only hit upon after Ghoulies' completion, forcing director Luca Bercovici to go back and shoot a new sequence to tie in with its marketing campaign.

The rest of the film is a cheap, woefully sub-par Gremlins rip-off with infinitely less lavatorial humour than its promo material (including the VHS cover) suggests. As an adolescent male growing up in the 80s, this was desperately disappointing.


The cover:

Beautifully rendered by legendary Swiss artist H.R. Giger, the cover of Future Kill hints at some form of lethal alien menace along the lines of Predator or, well, Alien.

What you got:

The reality, as ever, was far more disappointing. A movie about a group of frat house students hunted by ‘mutants' (actually just a load of punk rockers) led by a character called Splatter, whose exotic outfit is far less scary than the one rendered by Giger.

Possibly one of the most boring movies ever made, and nowhere near as horrific as its airbrushed cover tantalisingly implied.

The Video Dead

The cover:

Hailing from an era when posters were rendered by artists with paint brushes rather than Apple Macs, the brilliantly evocative artwork for The Video Dead depicted a zombie rising from the shattered carcass of a cathode ray television.

What you got:

Had it been made with a tenth of the creative verve displayed in its cover art, The Video Dead could have been a genuinely satisfying slice of schlocky 80s horror. As it is, the ideas summed up succinctly on the cover are relayed with absolutely no enthusiasm or flair at all in the feature itself.

Zombies emerge from an evil TV set like a lobotomised precursor to The Ring, and proceed to terrorise (and in one curious instance, seduce) the film's collection of amateur actors. The zombies are then hunted down in a woodland clearing by a couple of guys each armed with a bow and arrow. Awful.

Mind you, the trailer's definitely worth a watch. Look out for a cameo appearance by David Bowie at 1:05...


The cover:

Hinting at a darkly effective chiller in the tradition of HP Lovecraft, the eyeless skull in Mausoleum's artwork glowered down at you from the shelf and defied you not to rent it.

What you got:

A zero budget possession horror with some of the most ridiculous dialogue and pacing ever committed to celluloid.

Most memorable for the immortal line "No more grievin', I'm leavin'!", Mausoleum is an otherwise ridiculous exercise in pot-boiling horror, with director Michael Dugan throwing everything he can think of into the mix.

The film reaches its side-splitting zenith when actress Bobbie Bresee's breasts mutate into a pair of (rubbery) flesh-eating demons.

Galaxy Of Terror

The cover:

We're not going to pretend that Galaxy Of Terror's cover is a particularly well-rendered piece of work - it's pretty awful, actually - but it warrants inclusion here for its bizarre detachment from the film itself, looking more like the artwork for a Hammer monster epic like When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth rather than the science fiction gore it actually advertised.

What you got:

Like the Devil, this batty Roger Corman-produced 1981 movie went under many names, including Planet Of Horrors, Mindwarp: Infinity Of Terror, or simply Quest.

Borrowing heavily from better-known and better-made features such as Star Wars, Alien and Forbidden Planet, Galaxy Of Terror placed a group of increasingly neurotic space travellers on a planet where their worst nightmares become physical reality.

Memorable for the appearances of a pre-Nightmare On Elm Street Robert Englund, a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation Ray Walston and a post-Waltons Erin Moran, whose head, brilliantly, explodes.

Of all the films here, Galaxy Of Terror is perhaps the most goofily entertaining, and best enjoyed with a few friends and a lot of beer. Incredibly, its production designer, one James Cameron, would go on to make Aliens just five years later...

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