The Ten Best VHS Covers of All Time

I grew up in the Bronx where it was almost impossible to walk down the street without bumping in to a video store. There was one on every single block. They were the Starbucks of the bygone age. And nine times out of ten they were mom and pop stores. Low budget places just looking for a quick buck to make off of the big VHS craze of the eighties and nineties. This was before Blockbuster and Hollywood video began taking over these places and running them out of business. As a kid my parents were always off attending to financial affairs and on many occasions they’d leave me and my brother to spend the day with my cousin at the local video store “JR Video” (No relation). My aunt worked there for almost five years and we’d spend the entire day there running around the big store, watching low budget horror movies on the television mounted on the ceiling and playing in the back closet where they stored all of the VHS tapes and I could still remember looking out the back door in the end of the closet and seeing the poster for “Basket Case” glimmer in the sunlight. This is the place where I was basically exposed to movies of all kind.

Mostly though I was exposed to an immense selection of cult and obscure horror films; which isn’t too surprising since they put the horror movies up front for display to influence potential renters. Obviously the horror movies had the most creative artwork on the VHS boxes. Some of them were absolutely wacky and weird, while others were just horrifying. The most interesting one was always “Near Dark” and “Dawn of the Dead” because they didn’t give away too much of what was happening in the films. For a little kid, these VHS covers just sparked my imagination and I’d invent stories to go with these pictures.

Once the video stores disappeared, so did the creativity and very few of the original artwork for these VHS movies were actually kept for re-release on VHS and then in DVD. Major studios lack the actual balls to provide creative artwork for their releases of classic films and often times they just alter stock pictures of the movie’s cast or just badly photoshop elements from the movie. Only the indie distributors are willing to properly create some dazzling artwork for their releases but often times those movies are terrible. Looking at the recent lame posters for the remake of “Nightmare on Elm Street” I found myself reminiscing about the VHS covers that often sparked my creativity and left me up at nights. These are only a few of them. The few I could find, actually.

I used to see this VHS cover all the time and it always managed to draw my attention. I’d stand around looking at it for a while and just figure out what this movie was actually about. Seeing it years later, I think there are basically two sides of this cover that are wrong and right. The wrong aspect of this cover is that it does no justice to the movie at all. The later releases adapted the famous demons with glowing green eyes emerging from the ramp draped in shadows sequence, while this basically makes the movie look like a cheap monster movie with some horned ghoul probably terrorizing a group of people in the woods.

It speaks nothing of the plot or the concept. However, on the right side, it does reveal what the demons look like without the form of a human being. The jagged teeth, beady eyes, and horns all basically represent the gist of what these monsters are all about, and it’s a pretty blunt image that tells you what you’re getting if you decide to buy or rent it.

While I do commend it for basically being an interesting if flawed image, it doesn’t exactly sell the actual film very well. In spite of being a very fascinating image from my youth I prefer the new image of the demons emerging from the blue hell as we saw in the movie. That was a freaky scene, wasn’t it?

A Nightmare on Elm Street
It’s a real damn shame that later on when Wes Craven’s classic horror film was released on DVD, that they basically took out the original art and just replaced it with a picture of Freddy’s body standing in the shadows or among a background draped in red. I don’t see why the studios can’t post the original box art for the DVD’s and Blu-Rays. Quite obviously a stock picture, it really lacks the absolutely haunting art that could be found on the original VHS of the film. The original picture is much more epic and representative of the constant fuzzy line between fantasy and reality in the movie.

Sometimes reality feels indistinguishable, and it’s something Craven excelled at in the original, which the art captures what with Nancy looking up on horror in bed as Freddy Krueger’s claws drip down over her. The fantastic art mixed with the tagline “If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all” just seals the deal completely for anyone looking to rent this film. It’s a damn shame the studios never caught on to this and kept the art. And even if they couldn’t keep it due to copyright issues or something, the least they could have done is make new art or present a variation of it. But that’s asking for too much these days, it seems.

Chopping Mall
This is a case where the cover for the movie is actually better and creepier than the movie itself. Based on the image alone I spent many years trying to find this on television to no avail, and when I finally was able to, I found that it was far from anything the picture actually resembled. The hand holding the bag looks human and seems to be wearing a spiked gauntlet glove of some kind, and holding a bag filled with human body parts. Little did anyone know that the actual robotic menaces looked like something out of a bad episode from “Battlestar Galactica.” Later watching the movie it’s tough to buy that the robots in the movie are actually a serious threat, but sure enough the movie insists on it.

The cover art was always a lot of fun to look at because it pretty much sums up what the movie is about. A killer robot on the loose in a mall mutilating people. It also helps that the title is pretty damn clever and rolls off the tongue. You also have to love the tagline: “Where Shopping can cost you an arm and a leg.” While the reactions to the movie is split considerably, the art is so well done and interesting, even if it’s a dated representation of the eighties. I wonder if with the rise of online shopping people would go to a remake of this. Hmmm.

Friday the 13th
When I was a kid I tried to hand draw everything I could get my hands on, and I always tried to copy the picture presented on the VHS. My mom’s copy was a bit ratty at the time but nevertheless I continued trying to copy it detail to detail. It’s an excellent interpretation of the concept of the movie. A bunch of campers in the middle of an abandoned summer camp and they’re basically being hunted by someone with a penchant for carrying blades and handheld weapons. While the cover does make it look a little like a typical slasher on first glance I prefer to think of the film as a whodunit with a surprise ending that’s absurd but still rather shocking.

The future covers of the sequels copied the art with different variations and alterations (particularly Part two where Jason was introduced), but this art is effective all on its own and remains one of a kind and rather iconic. You have to appreciate how they could have made this look like any slasher and instead tried to push the angle that this was more of a murder mystery than an actual typical slasher flick. I’m not going to lie, it is basically a rip-off of “Bay of Blood,” but it’s still one of my favorites, and the VHS art is just immaculate. Later it was replaced by an altered variation of the picture that just doesn’t quite work as well.

Night of the Creeps
This is a case where Fred Dekker’s film is given some great treatment that his films actually deserve. First there was the iconic “Monster Squad” art and then “Night of the Creeps.” The latest much requested DVD re-release does the original concept simply no justice and just butchers the original cover art barely acknowledging that this is more of a zombie movie than anything. It’s a shame because fans were asking for the out of print movie to be released for years with the original art in tact and they just hand us horribly a photoshopped picture instead of the original art.

As a kid I remember looking at my mom’s copy of “Night of the Creeps” on VHS and marveling at it. It was spooky as hell and resembled a cover to “Vault of Horror.” It was just such a perfect image encapsulating the premise of the movie. A male zombie covered in blood, dressed in a tuxedo and holding flowers standing at the back door with a shattered window pane. And to top it off, the cover enlists a variation of the excellent one liner delivered by Tom Atkins: “The Good News is your date is here… the bad news is he’s dead!” Good thing I own the bootleg DVD with its original art.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This was yet another case where the original art should have remained in the re-releases… or at least this version of the cover art anyway. While the VHS has had some great variations on the art (including the original poster featuring Leatherface pinning a woman against a wall), and even the DVD and Blu-Ray did the film justice (with the iconic still of Leatherface holding up his chainsaw in the sunlight), I was most familiar with the art pictured here. Originally bought from a cashier’s window (where we got most of our movies oddly enough), this movie was just a mystery since I was old enough to watch horror movies.

My mom always forbade us to watch it or even look at the box, but whenever the occasion arose I’d sneak away with it and look at it and try to figure out why this man with the chainsaw has a mangled face. The back of the box claimed this was all based on a true story (not entirely true) and stuck to the faux-realism, that the movie enlisted with the narration from John Laroquette, by explaining the events in the movie like a crime report, and on the front it’s a rather excellent picture of Leatherface dressed in his suit wielding his chainsaw draped in a blue background with Marilyn Burns’ face gazing in sheer horror in back of him. It’s a pretty impressive picture.

Fright Night
Later ripped off by the makers of “Return of the Living Dead II” for use on their posters, the original art to “Fright Night” is rather fantastic and the aforementioned copy just pales in comparison. Of course with the re-release of it on VHS later in the nineties it was reduced to a painfully ridiculous photo of a key surprise scene in the movie, so it’s irritating if you’ve never seen the movie and are treated to a giveaway of what occurs in the second half. But for those who remember the original art it is something to really marvel at that pretty much widens the line this movie has connected to the original Hitchcock film “Rear Window.” It’s a perfect representation of the plot.

There’s a large picture of a house in a Suburban neighborhood draped in trees and over it looms an incredible cloud made up of the faces of vampires amidst the moon light that’s dwarfed by the pure evil force. The finishing touch is the shadow of Jerry Dandrige in the lit window on the top floor of the house. It’s a really great image and perfectly hints at what the movie is all about. Thankfully the later DVD releases kept the original art in tact merely darkening it a bit which is still pretty effective. It also helps that underneath the great art is a damn good horror movie.

April Fool’s Day
This is without a doubt one of the greatest home video covers/movie posters I’ve ever seen for a horror film, barnone. Not only is it incredibly creepy, but perfectly sums up the sick and twisted humor implemented in this horror film that serves as one big “Gotcha!” to horror audiences. Watching it for the first time almost ten years ago on Cinemax, I was very disappointed by it because it wasn’t the gory slasher film I thought it was going to be. I wanted blood and got almost nothing.

I may have to re-watch it. I used to glance at this poster all the time in the video store and always loved the symbolism and wink at the potential renters. There’s the entire cast of characters having a blast in the background as a young woman stands in the foreground in a fancy dress holding up a wine glass with a knife behind her back and (this is my favorite aspect:) her ponytail made up in a braid resembling a noose. My god it’s brilliant, and still makes me smile when I look at it on the internet. If this doesn’t turn you on to the movie, then I’ve given up on you.

Sleepaway Camp
I remember looking at this VHS a lot when my mother (who happens to be a diehard horror fan) owned it. It was a pretty ratty box but the cover was absolutely amazing to me at the time. The knife held by a hand jabbed in to a teenager’s shoe was effective enough, but then there was the letter to home on the front that was just mind blowing. Though the DVD re-release fails to include it, on the back of the VHS there was no summary of the movie or pictures but a large letter from a camper who was writing to their parents about the sights they’ve seen and the people they’ve met. And halfway in to the letter it reads something to the effect of: “Campers are dying all over the place and I’m scared.

I think I hear someone coming to my door–” and then it simply gets cut off and you can see blood along the paper and desk the camper was using. It was quite an effective image and pretty much explained the concept of the movie without the monotonous summary or giving away the surprise ending (which many public domain releases of the DVD did by featuring the final scene of the movie). It was so cool I read it many times and even copied it on to paper to read back again and again. It’s a shame not many companies take the effort in doing something so fun and gimmicky anymore.

The Company of Wolves
This is the only film in the whole list that I haven’t seen. But I intend to soon. Granted since that is the case this entry will sadly be shorter than the aforementioned films. I remember peeking at this picture on the catalogue for “Movies Unlimited” that my uncle owned back in 1993. It was a small black and white picture but I found it to be so damn freaky to look at. The picture of Red Riding Hood walking alone in the middle of the night as a wolf is emerging from the mouth of a man in the distance is just surreal and rather horrific to ponder on.

It’s a great twist on the fairy tales we’ve read. From what I’ve heard about the movie, it’s not strictly a horror film per se as it is more of a dark twisted fantasy film and a metaphor for menstruation or something, I don’t know. Even if the movie does end up stinking, I still love the cover art for it. It’s creative and darn disturbing. Thankfully most of the editions released later on DVD kept the original art and variations of it.