Oh goodie, it’s finally time to dust off one of my favorite recurring features from last year’s Halloween Countdown! Vicious Videocassette Boxes!
As y’all know by now, I have a pretty immense VHS collection, with an especially strong lean on horror movies. There are eight hundred reasons for that, but here are the most important three:
1) Horror movies remind me of old video stores more than any other genre. As a kid, I’d look at those videos with a mix of fascination and revulsion, never renting but always being so damn curious. Just knowing that those “evil” movies were in the same store as me made trips to Bill’s Video Realm so strangely exhilarating.
2) A lot of horror movies feel more effective when you watch them on VHS, and that’s not just the nostalgia talking. The tinny audio and bleached colors are mimicked by so many of today’s moviemakers for a reason: They add to the effect. Horror is the one genre where distortion is typically a plus. (So long as it’s an “accoutrement” and not a “mask,” anyway.)
3) THE BOX ART RULES.
#3 is, of course, the reason for this series. As the title suggests, “Vicious Videocassette Boxes” is less a celebration of good movies, and more a celebration of fabulously spooky box art. (Hell, my VCR isn’t even connected right now. My primary reason for collecting horror videos is that I simply enjoy looking at them.)
Here’s the next batch of five. (Scroll to the bottom for links to the previous volumes!)
#16: WCW Halloween Havoc (1991)
Halloween Havoc was an annual pay-per-view from World Championship Wrestling. For all the shit that fans give WCW, they were the only wrestling company that knew how to rock Halloween. With bizarre matches that never would’ve flown at any other time of year, this video is for the 1991 version of the event… which featured what’s easily one of the weirdest matches of all time.
The boring main event pitted champion Lex Luger against challenger Ron Simmons, but the REAL reason to watch this show was the “Chamber of Horrors” match. This involved teams of four maiming each other in a weapons-enhanced cage match, but here’s the catch: The only way for a team to win was by frying someone from the opposing team IN A GODDAMNED ELECTRIC CHAIR.
No, they seriously did this. I won’t go into great detail about who got the juice, but I will say that it involved a 360-pound wrestler having to act like he was being electrocuted, complete with prop explosions and simulated convulsions.
It was gleefully atrocious, and in such poor taste. (Nowhere on the box are the specifics of this match described. I guess “Watch a Wrestler Get Executed!” raised too many red flags?)
#17: Terror on Tour (1980)
I’ve never seen this movie, and actually have no idea how it came to be in my possession. In fact, it’s still shrink-wrapped.
There are two reasons why I haven’t seen it. One, I exist in a bubble and need to be dragged kicking and screaming into any and every new thing. Two, it seems to go for a lot of money on eBay. I like to think of this video as an incubating fifty dollar bill.
Judging by the description and photos, I’m missing out. If I’m following things correctly, a band that isn’t KISS but might as well be KISS is blamed for a series of murders. The members of this band look like Gene Simmons mixed with Dr. Frank-N-Furter, so whether they’re the killers or not, I’m a fan.
Some quick Googling reveals that Terror on Tour is as cheesy and sleazy as I prayed it was, with gore, nudity and a band full of evil clowns. Okay, yeah, I think I need to watch this.
#18: The Massacre of the Burkittsville 7 (2000)
We’ve all seen The Blair Witch Project, a huuuge movie that was actually even bigger than many of us remember. (Hell, I could do an entire series on how it’s one of the earliest and still-best examples of viral marketing, where a little sneakiness on the internet led countless thousands to believe that what they saw in theaters was “real life” footage.)
The movie inspired tons of videos and TV specials that ran close enough to its motif to profit from it. Somewhere along the way, Artisan realized that they could just do that themselves.
The Massacre of The Burkittsville 7 includes two shorts with severe ties to The Blair Witch Project. The first, The Burkittsville 7, is a mockumentary purportedly meant to disprove the legend of the Blair Witch… all while doing just the opposite.
The second, Shadow of the Blair Witch, is again a mockumentary, this time dealing with the lore from the movie’s sequel, Book of Shadows. Both features began their lives as promotional TV specials and ended them as DVD bonus features. It’s nice to have them on a dedicated videocassette, if only because I’m 100% sure that I’m the only person in the whole world who does. Go me.
#19: Return to Horror High (1987)
Don’t let the title fool you; Return to Horror High isn’t a sequel. A schlocky horror-comedy, it’s deranged and fun and probably as popular as a “lesser” ‘80s horror movie could be. Perhaps that’s because of its then no-name star: George Clooney.
This is another of those “scary” boxes I distinctly recall seeing in video stores. I’m reminded of how I always took the box art so incredibly literally. Here I saw a skeleton cheerleader, and assumed that skeleton cheerleaders were the crux of the entire movie. (A rare case when what I thought was comparatively tame to what actually happened in a film.)
I didn’t get around to seeing most horror movies until I was bordering on adulthood, and to this day, I get a big laugh out of seeing those “knew-but-never-watched” movies for the first time. The plots I’d envisioned were always based on the box art alone, and 99 times out of 100, I was completely off.
In most cases, whatever I imagined was so much worse than the movies actually were. That was part of the thrill of sneaking a look at spooky video boxes as a kid. I’d see a skyscraper-sized devil clutching a headless woman in his giant hands, and then spend years believing a movie with that in it really existed.
#20: Amityville 3-D (1983)
I had to watch Amityville 3-D several years ago for work (really), and developed quite a soft spot for it. Watching 3-D movies in 2-D is always a blast (again, really), but it’s especially great with horror movies. I don’t think the eyeball scene from Friday the 13th Part 3 can be topped, but there are moments in this one that come close. (Fact: That zombie lady who springs out of the haunted well was the entire reason Steve Wilhite invented the GIF format.)
The front of the box is pretty awesome, because it had to be. Remember my spiel from an earlier article: Horror movie box art was especially important because many people made their rental choices based on that and that alone.
Sometimes, though, the real killer stuff was on the back of the box. This was one of those cases:
My absolute favorite thing in the entire movie is that demon. (I mentioned that I had to watch this for work. Back in 2011, Amityville 3-D was part of a horror marathon that we were doing a promo for. I fought tooth and nail to include that monster in it, with such obscene passion that my old boss still jokes about “the poor old Amityville demon.”)
But thinking back to how I would’ve reacted to this image in the early ‘80s? Wow. The screengrabs and promo stills used on horror video boxes were obviously going to pluck from the nastiest scenes, but as a kid, you don’t consider the idea that you’d need to sit through long chunks of nothing to get to those brief moments. You see a demon in a pool, and suddenly Amityville 3-D is 105 minutes’ worth of demons in pools. Oh, if only!
I’ll be continuing this series later in the Countdown, but if you want to read scatterbrained thoughts about fifteen other videocassette boxes right now, check out the previous editions!