Vicious Videocassette Boxes!

NOTE: This is an expanded redo of an article I wrote on X-E’s defunct Tumblr account back in 2011. My hunch is that most of you have never seen it, but if it seems familiar… that’s why.

A few years ago, we did a massive cleaning/purging of our apartment, clearing out a decade’s worth of “collected junk” so this place could stop looking like a Hoarders set. During this, I ditched hundreds of old videocassettes. (Literally hundreds.)

I know that sounds wasteful. It was wasteful, but it’d truly hit a point where I needed to restore order to our lives as quickly as humanly possible. Keeping two dozen enormous bins full of mostly-irrelevant videocassettes was not in the cards, no matter how many yard sales or eBay marathons I imagined.

The only “branch” of tapes that survived that purge was my horror collection. Even during the thick of a “GET RID OF EVERYTHING I OWN” mentality, I couldn’t bring myself to trash those tapes. I’ve written about my lifelong fascination with horror videos too many times to get away with it again, but the gist of it is that I don’t look at them as just “tapes.” Some are mementos, others are art, but all are more than the mere means to watch movies in an archaic way.

Here are five of the old scary videos still in my collection – a collection I’ll have until I’m dead or surrounded by fire.

#1: Ghoulies (1985)

The movie: Man with a richly witchy bloodline falls too deep into his new hobby, and ends up summoning a horde of miniscule demons along with his evil, undead father.

The movie as told by the box art alone: Green monster dressed like Webster attacks ANYONE WHO SHITS.

I couldn’t kick off this feature with anything but Ghoulies, which will forever be the movie that reminds me of video stores most.

I’m old enough to have been a kid when video stores were first becoming a thing. Years before massive chains would take control of the market, video stores were largely of the “mom & pop” variety. Our first video store was halfway across the city, but soon enough, a local one opened. It was a small corner store next to the train station. Over the course of six or seven years, I must’ve gone there over a hundred times, with family, with friends, or even alone.

I was super young when it opened, so at first, all I’d really rent were the same five Disney videos. Anything with Donald Duck. But I’d look at everything. The store was small enough to make its “horror section” barely a step away from its “children’s section,” and what kid wouldn’t be entranced by the crazy art on those scary movie boxes?

The Ghoulies box absolutely fascinated me. Renting it was out of the question, and hell, I was even too afraid to look at the back of the box. I’d just stand there, staring at that toilet monster, desperately trying to imagine what the movie might be like. I did this with so many horror videos, and without fail, what I envisioned was SO MUCH SCARIER than the movies actually were.

I mean, you look at that cover, and what do you expect? What could you expect other than two full hours of green monsters biting at asses? (Hilariously, no scene even remotely like this was in the film!)

#2: Phantom Brother (1989)

The movie: A guy’s dead brother returns to kill his friends, or something like that.

The movie as told by the box art alone: Guy dressed like a wedding cake cuts people, to avenge many fallen desserts.

I have never seen Phantom Brother, and actually, I have no idea how it came to be in my possession. From everything I’ve read, it’s a sleazy movie with laughably amateur production values. Still, some of its reviews are actually positive, calling it an effective spoof of the slasher genre.

Frankly, I don’t want to know. I never want to see this movie. I want it to always be the great unknown, as a nod to the so many other “great unknowns” of my youth. The box art makes the film seem even older than it is, and since it was unrated, it may have been one of those movies that the video stores had to keep in their “restricted” sections.

Our old video store had such a section. It was this little area at the back of the store, on a raised platform. You had to walk up two crude steps and go through a saloon-style swinging door to get in there. Even by the time the video store closed for good, I was nowhere near old enough to partake.

Despite those “adults only” safeguards, all of the movies were still plainly in sight. Like, if I was perusing their collection of WWF Coliseum videos, and tilted my head in jussst the right way, I’d see so many crudely drawn nipples staring back at me. The fact the no one made an issue of this is proof that these were simpler times.

I’d imagine that Phantom Brother would’ve been somewhere in that section. Surrounded by breasts and shame.

#3: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The movie: The cannibalistic Sawyer family continues eating people from the safety of their new digs.

The movie as told by the box art alone: Monsters pay for the silver photo package at Sears; go home satisfied.

I have a confession to make. I was the LATEST BLOOMER EVER with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and what got me into it was this box. (Yep. I saw the sequel before the original.)

This happened back in 2003, at a place called Easy Video – one of the last of the local “old school” video stores. Their horror collection was ancient, huge and awesome, but even with so many great boxes begging for my attention, I became utterly fixated on this one. (This despite me not catching its obvious spoofing of The Breakfast Club.)

We watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 that same night, and… wow. I was not expecting that kind of movie. The sequel was an intentionally tongue-in-cheek thing of complete and total excess, over the top in every way. As that was my very first exposure to Leatherface, it was almost too much to handle. Only after seeing the first film months later could I appreciate the sequel for – and I hope you’ll take my meaning on this – being the Gremlins 2 to the original’s Gremlins.

Honestly, though: If you count yourself as a horror fan and haven’t seen this movie… SEE IT. It’s not a happy movie, and it’s not one that many people can watch often, but there’s really nothing else like it, and its “feel” is so much different from everything else under the Texas Chainsaw umbrella. If I’m throwing a Halloween party that doubles as a horror movie marathon, this gets the 3AM timeslot. No matter how you take that, you’re probably right.

#4: Troll 2 (1990)

The movie: Vegan goblins turn humans into vegetable slush so they can eat them without guilt.

The movie as told by the box art alone: God, I don’t know. Thing with an axe. Kid running away. Lots of smoke.

I’ve developed a not-at-all ironic love for Troll 2. (The “Troll II” stylization on the box is technically incorrect.) It’s championed as one of the worst movies ever made, but it’s just so damn fun. There’s a sincere gem underneath the weird lines, plot holes and the “let’s go to the corner store to see if they’re selling smoke bombs” level of effects. I’m not just saying that.

Maybe it’s because I spent a full month of my life working on Troll 2 promos and nothing but Troll 2 promos, but there’s just something so endearing about this movie, even if you haven’t latched onto the lovable actors behind the characters. (On that note, you should watch the documentary. It’s fantastic.)

Let’s say you’re painting. What you’re painting will ultimately be known as the worst painting ever, but when you’re painting it, you don’t know that. Your heart is in every brush stroke. When people look at the final product, they laugh, but the smart ones will at least note that there’s something painfully genuine about your work. That’s Troll 2.

And this box? Forget it. Like the film, it’s hilarious wrong on every front. The tagline makes NO SENSE AT ALL, because the goblins in the film are of the “army” variety, and none would qualify as a standalone boogeyman – let alone the “original” one. Whatever that means.

The kid shown on the box is not the kid from the movie. The monster on the box looks very little like the goblins in the film. I love this!

Oh, and look close at what the kid is holding: A stand-in for a Norfin Troll doll! Troll 2 has ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION to the original Troll, which is made all the more funny when you realize that the original Troll certainly didn’t have a following that’d warrant such a farce. Retrospectively noting that, they tried to hint at a connection to NORFIN Trolls, which, again, is not something that comes into play IN ANY WAY during the film.

If you’ve seen Troll 2, you know that a box this “off” is extremely fitting. It’s the total cherry on top.

#5: Slashdance (1989)

The movie: A beautiful detective chases a serial killer who targets dancers.

The movie as told by the box art alone: Naked girls ward off their enemies with huge guns and crazy eyes.

I realize that this post is already heavy on “video store memories,” but man, that box. Between the age sticker and the hinted-at nudity and gore, this is such a perfect example of the quietly, erm, “erotic” side of childhood trips to video stores.

As a kid, I never realized that movies like this only appealed to a certain segment of adults. I just assumed that all adults watched this stuff, and that there was nothing “weird” about it. It almost seemed like a rite of passage, and I guess it was, but certainly not in the way that I imagined.

I’d spy on the gory horror movies, and the purely adult movies, and the ones (like Slashdance) that mixed the two, and be simultaneously horrified and exhilarated by the thought that, someday, my time would come. As sure as I’d have to get my driver’s license, I’d have to watch movies about demons ripping naked people in half and eating whatever spilled out. It was a strange feeling that’s hard to put into words. Hopefully, many of you get it.

FYI: According to the credits, Slashdance starred “Queen Kong.” That assuredly doesn’t mean what I want it to mean — a literal female gorilla wearing a tiara — but for two seconds, the thought made me feel so alive.

There may be a Part 2 to this. We’ll see. I’ll flip a coin in exactly one hour.