Sep 2, 2016

13 Misleading VHS Covers

Article By: Tyler Doupe

VHS cover art represents some of the most creative and enticing artwork ever used in the promotion of feature films. In the case of horror pictures, the VHS box art was also frequently misleading and not particularly representative of the film it was designed to promote but for a lot of horror fans, that’s half the fun. When browsing the horror section at a video store in the 1980s, it was often hard to judge much about the films on display just by looking at the corresponding artwork. With that in mind, we are counting down 13 fine examples of extremely misleading VHS cover art. 

1. The House on Sorority Row

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The VHS box art for The House on Sorority Row looks like it is pulled straight from a romance novel. It essentially betrays the fact that The House on Sorority Row is a slasher film and almost provides the impression that it could be soft-core porn picture or something of that ilk. In spite of that, I love the box art for the film and think of it as a classic design from a time period when a slasher film was seeing nationwide theatrical release almost every week. 

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2. Sleepaway Camp

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Another great example of misleading VHS box cover art, the video cover for Sleepaway Camp doesn’t display the likeness of any of the cast members or anything that even pertains to the film itself. What we do see is a letter home from one of the campers and a tennis shoe with a knife going through it. Why exactly the art isn’t representative of anything that takes place in the film is hard to say but in spite of that, the cover art for the original Sleepaway Camp film is my favorite of all of the entries in the franchise. 

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3. Dead Alive

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Peter Jackson’s delightfully gory masterpiece Dead Alive sports one of the most misleading VHS box covers I can recall. The image on the cover has absolutely no relation to anything that goes on in the film. It gives potential viewers no clue as to the level of excess that the film goes to, nor does it feature any of the characters that actually appear in the picture. We don’t get a look at Lionel or at the bouncing baby boy that ends up in a blender - just a woman opening her mouth to reveal something living inside of it. 

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4. Chopping Mall

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The cover art for Chopping Mall is entirely unrelated to anything that actually happens during the film. But it is some of my favorite VHS artwork. It is hand drawn and reminds me of a time when a lot of thought went into crafting the art design for feature films. The image of a kill bot holding out a shopping bag full of body parts is a classic even if it is not particularly representative of anything that actually happens in the film. 

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5. I Spit on Your Grave

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I Spit on Your Grave is an interesting instance of misleading VHS art. It isn’t hand drawn like most of the entries on this list. But what makes it misrepresentative is that it features an actor other than Camille Keaton front and center. For a very long time, it was unknown who was featured on the cover art. But I recently read in an issue of Rue Morgue that it is none other than actress Demi Moore in a skimpy outfit on the cover art for I Spit on Your Grave. Why exactly it was Moore used in promotion of the film remains a mystery. It’s especially perplexing because Moore has no other known affiliation with the film. 

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6. Return to Horror High

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The promotional artwork for Return to Horror High is completely unrepresentative of what actually transpires in the film. It gives prospective viewers no idea that Return to Horror High is a campy attempt at horror comedy. The skeleton cheerleader on the box art gives the idea that the film may be more along the lines of a supernatural horror film rather than a slasher comedy. 

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7. Popcorn

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For all intents and purposes, Popcorn could be an ‘80s slasher film. But oddly enough, it actually came out in the ‘90s. The box art very much looks like it could represent a film that saw release in the ‘80s. Like a lot of ‘80s slashers, the artwork is not particularly indicative of what actually goes on in the film. Though it does feature the likeness of Maggie – the lead character in the film – it almost makes her look as if she is the killer.  

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8. Fright Night

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Fright Night is another example of a VHS box cover that features none of the characters from the film and what it does show is almost completely unrelated to anything that goes on in the feature. With that said, I love the Fright Night artwork. The way that it features clouds forming in the shape of a vampire has always struck me as clever. It’s ominous looking and always had me curious as to what the film was actually about. I remember being fascinated by it when I was a young kid and came across the film at my local video store. 

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9. The Burning

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Like The House on Sorority Row, the VHS art for The Burning looks like it was pulled from a romance novel. Though it does feature Cropsey, it’s more than a little surprising that the artist that designed the cover art didn’t make him more of a central focus. It’s hard to say exactly why the film was promoted in the way that it was but I still love the overall look of the artwork that was used for the VHS release of The Burning. 

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10. House

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House has great looking cover art but the severed hand featured on the film’s VHS release is hardly representative of the content of the film. That’s not to say that a severed hand never appears in the picture but it’s far from a main plot point. We don’t see the likeness of William Katt anywhere on the cover which is a bit surprising, seeing as how he was a fairly big name at the time House originally saw release on home video. 

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11. Texas Chainsaw Massacre II

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I love the VHS artwork that graced the box cover of Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. It sees the cast of the film dressed up and posed like The Brat Pack on the cover of The Breakfast Club, which is absolutely brilliant. While hilarious, the promo art for the film certainly doesn’t really prepare the viewer for what is actually in store for them. TCM2 is one of the campiest, goriest, most off the wall slasher films to see release in the ‘80s but you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that from the box art. 

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12. Bloody Birthday

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The VHS box cover for Bloody Birthday sports a birthday cake with finger candles coming out of it. While it is a really cool design, it has nearly no bearing on anything that actually happens in the film. The cover design doesn’t give potential viewers much of an idea as to what they are in store for with the homicidal children that take front and center in Bloody Birthday. But the film’s art design still remains among my favorite of the VHS era. 

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13. Critters

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Critters certainly does feature one of the titular adversaries on its box cover but it makes the Crites look about 20 times larger than they actually are. Though they do grow over time, the Crites certainly do not ever grow to gargantuan proportions as the cover art might lead one to believe. Perhaps the Crite on the cover is enlarged to show detail or to keep from allowing the art to be dominated by negative space. Whatever the reason for jumbo sizing the Crite on the cover, I was really surprised to see how small they actually are the first time I watched Critters. 

Tyler Doupe is a film critic and journalist. He is the managing editor at Wicked Horror and an occasional contributor to Fangoria and Rue Morgue.

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