i recently came across a rather amazing book, shock! horror!: astounding artwork from the video nasty era. i think i’m fairly knowledgeable of ’70s and ’80s horror, but it appears i missed a rather interesting piece of history from the early 1980’s in the UK – the era of the video nasties.
when the VCR first appeared in the united kingdom, there was plenty of regulation to control the content of films during theatrical display — but little to control content when films were displayed in the home. due to a fear of piracy, major studios were reluctant to release films in the new format (similar to what we’re seeing now with downloadable video), so to fill the void low-budget studios flooded the new market producing primarily horror and soft-core porn. the laws finally caught up with the VCR in 1985, but in the preceding years neither a film’s content nor its cover art had to conform to any clear set of standards. the DPP (director of public prosecutions) list was created, which was a constantly changing list of banned tapes. seizures and destruction of tapes became a frequent occurrence.
to a large degree, the content of the films on this list is unremarkable. most are imported US or italian films and surprisingly, many of them don’t contain anything modern audiences would find particularly shocking (although there are exceptions). what is remarkable is the cover art of many of these films. to attract rentals through controversy, many of the tapes use cover art meant to titillate and shock and are usually far more effective than anything contained on the tapes inside.
shock! horror! contains a huge number of covers from this era, and i thought it would be interesting if we took a look at some of them. there are so many, however, that i’m going to break this into several posts over the next few weeks and group them into genres.
first up: zombie films
who is charles hamm? and why does he get better billing than j.r.? it’s an italian film so i’m pretty sure ‘chuck hamm’ is unlikely to be a common name. unlike a lot of the covers we’ll be looking at, i actually remember seeing this as a kid and it wasn’t bad.
that is really… gross. flesh eaters x… or maybe that x is the rating? or punctuation? regardless, that’s a pretty groovy cover. i question the choice of font colors, particularly against that background image, but then again they did warn me… nothing will prepare me for what i’ll SEE.
there is so much to love about this. every thing about it just screams ‘this forest will very likely cause you to experience fear to some degree.’ the slack-jawed fellow is really selling it. i think what i love most though is that this is a zombie movie — and i’m not sure i would have ever guessed that without looking it up.
ok, winner. hands down. i love the image of the zombie… he’s got the whole ‘hostel-asian-girl eyeball’ thing working for him. but the tagline is the clincher. ‘death was the only living thing.’ it takes a lot of talent to come up with something that poetic and nonsensical. and if that weren’t enough, it’s filmed in DEAD colour! how can anything presented in DEAD colour be bad?
another fulci zombie epic, but i haven’t seen this one. the title reminds me of the hannibal lecter line… ‘what do we covet? do we seek out things to covet? no. we begin by coveting what we see every day.’ these zombies didn’t crawl from their graves and go traveling caravan-style across the countryside to find a big city to invade… no, they were lazy and just went for the first place they saw. the house next to the cemetery.
i’m not really sure what i’m supposed to take away from this. 1879 was a really important year? bloody hands really leave a mess? rope is coming back as a fashion accessory?
blonds have more fun. and they’re dead. and they don’t center their titles very well.
this one kind of plays into the next genre i plan to tackle… nazi movies. at least i think it has something to do with nazis, since they put that swastika up there. i really feel sorry for the poor guy stuck in the middle of the desert at the brink of death who thinks he’s found salvation only to find the living dead sitting under a tree next to the pool.
are those 3 supposed to be the zombies? they look more surprised than anything else, like they just woke up and found someone stealing their stereo. in the ocean. and what’s with the tagline? we’ve already established the is . now you’re going to claim the flesh is but the dead are ? this film is also known as zombi 4… and zombi 5.
i didn’t notice until now that there’s definitely a water theme in all these. i never knew zombies loved the water so much (altho i do have fond memories of that zombie/shark fight from zombi 2). also — zombies lake? is that possessive (i.e., this lake was bought and paid for by a zombified corpse)… or is it a lake inhabited by zombies? if the latter, wouldn’t it just be ‘zombie lake’ then? still… i really like the eric stoltz look-alike in the back, who seems to be the only one with functioning eyeballs.
i do believe someone took inspiration from a slightly more well-known zombie film’s tagline. however, i would love to see the earth ‘spit out’ a zombie. the rainbow in the corner is a nice touch… it’s comforting in a way and will probably take the edge off whatever that ‘warning’ is on the reverse. i also admire the usage of ellipses… and the sporadic use of capitalization. this is actually an alternate cover/title to fulci’s occasionally brilliant zombi 2.