Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Lost Artwork of the VHS

In the early 1980’s, the home video market was just starting out. The concept of being able to go to a store, rent a video for the night and take it home to watch was a pretty nifty idea. This is something that we take for granted now with cable, satellite, internet and businesses like Netflix. But back then it was totally new and not everyone had the ability. However many “average joes” were able to take part in this little piece of home entertainment after a few years. As a kid, we got our first VCR around 1985 or so, I remember spending a lot of time browsing through the rental titles at several local video rental stores. What always caught my eye was the box art.

As important as movie poster art, the video rental box art was a key element in attracting patrons and enticing them to rent a movie and take it home for the evening. It was the box art that on many occasion told my brain “you must watch me!” Many times the box art was better than the movie it advertised. Sometimes the box art had nothing to do with the movie it contained! My favorite type of artwork could always seem to be found on the “big box” releases. These were movies that came in an oversized box and usually had a large clamshell case or plastic tray to hold the VHS tape. It seemed to me that “bigger was better” because it gave room for more detail and the mostly lurid artwork seemed to jump right off the shelf at you.

I thought it would be fun to pick a title and post my thoughts and some memories of these classic but not classy pieces of work. Consider this a “part one” of an ongoing series at the Celluloid Coffin. A retrospective of all things gaudy and horrific when it came to renting VHS back in the day.

“Make Them Die Slowly” was an Italian cannibal flick directed by Italian maestro of sleaze, Umberto Lenzi. Filmed in 1981 and released to home video shortly after, this big box terror was one of the most elusive rentals for me. No one had this one on their shelves and when asked if they would stock it, I was usually greeted with a solid “No”.  I finally rented it for the first time in 1989 while making my daily commute to a community college about 30 minutes away from my hometown.

The cover boasts a “Banned in 31 Countries” warning with the grisly visage of two women about to become some cannibal’s afternoon snack. A few glimpses of the film itself is presented half obscured by part of the title. A great concept in advertising since this gives you just enough of an idea the kind of horrors you are going to be bombarded with once you pop it in the VCR. “Make Then Die Slowly” (AKA Cannibal Ferox) was released on the Thriller Video label. They were famous for presenting horror films with celebrity host Elvira. Apparently Elvira screened this one and said heck no I ain’t hosting this piece of sludge because she is nowhere to be found on the cover art, probably not a bad idea on her part. For those who have never laid eyes to this little Italian gut muncher, the movie is chock full of politically incorrectness towards natives and women, is gory as all get out and even boasts many scenes of actual animal deaths. It other words, it’s pretty offensive to the average home video customer but a great way to waste 92 minutes for your average gore hound. What seals the rental deal for me is the big WARNING label on the back cover. 24, count em, 24 scenes of barbaric torture!!

Yeah… know I’m renting this!

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