Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cover Story Not Included

We spoke briefly about the awesome power of VHS cover art. How it ignited my imagination and paved the way to an unhealthy obsession, I didn't mention however how this old friend of mine abused this power, how it tricked me, manipulated me and just flat out lied right to my face.

The VHS gave us a special gift, it allowed us to turn our homes into a private cinema, where we could watch whatever we wanted how ever many times we wanted. We owned a piece of the movie business for the first time and we were all hooked pretty quickly.  A market arose for films to be made purely for this format, and they were extremely popular. It didn't take too long for distributers to realize which movies under this elk proved to be the most popular, " too scary for the cinema" they would say "too steamy for the silver screen" they would promise, with pictures scattered all over the front and back cover of nearly nude goddesses and bat shit crazy gore everywhere, they tickled our titties and our blood lust alike and sucked us in. We thought we found a rare gem, an undiscovered classic that we can boast about to others later. We took it out of the case and into our VCR watched the trailers that accompanied it, noticing that they seemed pretty shitty but we just ignored this until the movie started and we realized we weren't watching what we bought. We were tricked and we will never forget or forgive.

Welcome to the true art of the VHS, misdirection. How many times have you picked up a VHS case and thought to yourself this looks awesome? the cover art is wicked with a painted visage of girl running away from a big house with her clothes falling off in tatters, on the back all you can see is a messy collage of boobs and red stuff spilling everywhere and you suddenly realize you're home. You kick yourself when you realize that film is actually about an old couple who keep a rabid half human in the basement and most of the film is a dramatic albeit poorly acted social  commentary about parenting with no boobs in sight. You feel like a fool, you curse the heavens and swear that you will never watch a video again! Until you see a big green cover with a beefy man beast carrying away a scantily clad model and the ruse starts all over again. This was how they got you, they didn't have much to promote their lesser known titles, the video stores were too busy promoting their blockbuster titles with promotional items that made you drool. They needed to suck you in somehow and the cover was the best instrument. With the VHS you always judged it by the cover. If you don't want to get caught out I discovered two rules by which I judged what I should choose after the tenth time i'd been had.

#1: If there is a crazy amount of gore on the back cover and that's all there is, there's a big chance that that is literally all there is. It probably wont be that scary and the gore scenes in it wont shock you because they are all on the cover.

2# The woman on the cover is almost never involved in the actual film. If she is really attractive and pretty much naked and you don't recognize her at all, she's a model and a venus fly trap, hiding something a lot more gooey with a ridiculous 80s hair style and an annoying habit of screaming too much.

Below are some of the best examples of VHS trickery, don't take this as a reason not to watch these, I will explain why. Some of these were actually a pleasant surprise, some of them weren't, but all were misleading.

This movie was actually quite enjoyable. Shadowzone released in 1989 by CIC Video, to me looked totally bad ass. admittedly I had absolutely no idea what this film was going to be about, our copy you see had the blurb on the back ripped off. There were a few pictures still scattered about but with no context to go by I was still lost. There was " Shadowzone a new dimension of unparalleled terror" and a picture of a man cast in shadow and a weird demon rabbit thing, so I discarded that information and went to the cover for answers. Some flying demon with a  lab coat, presumably a doctor or some sort. We can either assume that the demon has a doctorate of some kind, probably in pain or a doctor turned into a demon whichever you deem more plausible. There is a naked lady in a space age capsule, looks like she's asleep, maybe the demon or alien is sending human meat up to his planet to either procreate with it or eat it in a ritual fashion but not before he performs a lot of unnecessary surgery first, just for shits and giggles. Now this picture has a different tag line, which makes even more Ludacris assumptions. Now I think its going to be in space and some sort of rip off of Alien. On my video cover it says " on the dark side of dreams a new terror takes shape" WTF! now I'm just confused. Someone having a nightmare about Alien somehow conjures up an alien demon doctor who can phase through walls using lightning and snatches naked lady astronauts, got it! what a relief.

The actual synopsis is as follows:
After someone is killed in the subterranean project called "Shadowzone," a NASA captain is called in to investigate. In the project, sleeping subjects are induced into a deep EDS state whereby they become portals to a parallel universe. Unfortunately this causes adverse reactions in the subject, and something gets through the portal, the consequence of which is an attrition problem.

Well then no mention of flying, lightning wall phasing demon doctors there. Without giving any of the movie away, it was actually pretty enjoyable. Some pretty impressive gore effects at the beginning and some very very frustratingly selfish\stupid scientists ( including James Hong from Big Trouble In Little China and Louise Fletcher from Brainstorm). Fairly cliché but also host to some hilariously surprising moments. The girl in the capsule is not the girl in the movie, the girl in the movie is much more attractive.

I love this cover, It is so deliciously dodgy. It has absolutely no motion to it whatsoever like it was shot on a soundstage. The guy is a total badass and the girl is so blown away by his awesomeness she either cant see or has been rendered mentally disabled. If you are slightly confused its because on my copy the chick riding on the back has her head titled back and her eyes closed, I cant seem to find that one on the net though. This cover tells us that we are meeting the ultimate weapon in the fight against crime. This tells me two things, this guy is a vigilante because he isn't wearing a unifrom and that this movie is going to be a b grade action film with a very little known cast but a lot of great 'F'ing fun. I turn it on the back and see a bunch of lads with guns ready to paint the town red. looking like they are all going to a Universal Soldier party dressed as Dolph, I'm already in heaven. I was able to read the blurb of this one.

 Directed by Lawrence D Foldes 1983 Fellow High school Graduates, Kevin, Scott, Fred and Stan- are now at college. Our hero Kevin, starts developing strange notions about what is right and wrong in this corrupt world. This comes to a head one night when Kevin's sister is brutally raped and left to die. Kevin and his buddies set out to avenge her death by forming a vigilante group to hunt down the gang responsible. This chilling climax sees violent three way confrontation between the boys, the gang and the police with horrifying results.

Just wow, that sounds like this movie is going to deliver exactly what the cover is promising me. Lots of explosions, revenge, some bad acting but a hellova good ride... I have never been so pleased at being so wrong. This movie is one of the most serious and confronting movies I have ever seen. It's messed up and intense with an amazing performance from all the actors , I went in looking for some visceral carnage and ended up getting  a rare gem. I should have noticed the name Ernest Borgnine and realized that this was going to be special, it also a Cannon distribution film so, you know, that should have been a hint as well. That my friends is when misdirection can be a beautiful thing.

Oh Society you devilish thing you. I'm kind of cheating on this one. I'm using the example of how we misdirected the friends (or victims) of ours into watching this with absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into. We showed this to a friend of ours , who we knew would like it, in the same weird and uncomfortable way we all do. We started by forbidding her to look at the back cover, so she would only have the front cover to judge the film by tee hee. So I'm going to delve into that for a moment. We have an artist rendition of a well dressed man looking very concerned, maybe a little distant, he knows something but is powerless to do anything. That or he's fed up with his dates penchant for the gross. Then we have an otherwise pretty girl in a nice dress pealing her face off like a mask she accidently put on with super glue. Her facial expression makes it look like the whole process is quite pleasurable. Apparently it's "all about fitting in" or "if we don't belong they'll eat you alive" as this cover suggests. Which conjures images of popularity in the school yard, corrupt teenagers pulling the façade from themselves to reveal the monsters they truly are. Either way we presume that the cover is a metaphor for what the film contains, possibly some form of flesh eating sorority 80s high school camp film style.

In actuality: total bat shit crazy carnage you will never wash from yourself even after you pass away.
I'm not telling you any more about it. I enjoy seeing how many people I can fool with this cover and the other cover you can inter change with it which is equally as vague. Do yourself a favour and don't look at the back cover and just watch it. ( for 18 and over only) enjoy.

I know So far in this list I haven't delved much into the disappointing side of misdirection. This is my key example. This cover has so much damn promise. Big spikey metal ball thing and a Robot ready to slash someone who looks remarkably like Ben Kingsley. This film looks like a sci fi fantasy with some very interesting visuals. I just really couldn't wait to watch it, it looked like a low budget version of Heavy Metal. My VHS blurb was as follows.

Sons of Steel is a futuristic action packed motion picture set in the gloom of an acid rain beaten metropolis. Step into the future... A harsh, emotionless world of humanoids vicious scientists, life extending drugs, pulsating rock music and the battle of supremacy. Only super hero Black ALice can prevent the devastation of being transported back in time to battle the evil forces of Oceana.

Fuck.. yes. Although fairly convoluted, this sounds like pure orgasmic glory. The pictures on the back suggest an interesting visual style. I'm going to enjoy this I thought. Nope.

I am an Australian, I don't mind some Australian films, but for some reason this country is obsessed with the image we want to portray to everyone else. I give this film kudos for steering away from coming of age dramas and dirty grimy visuals as we have come to expect but that doesn't mean I going to overlook the fact that this film was annoying, poorly written and extremely hard to understand even for someone who speaks with and hears the Australian accent all day every day. All this needed was two good actors and for someone to focus, and some violence, any sort. Oh and some fantasy and less blade runner references. The last thing you notice and the thing you wished you noticed first was that its M rated for "sexual allusions and occasional language" The half naked women and acid rain reference promised me excitement and all I got was a politically correct fuddled mess. It would have been excellent as a short story. I keep it around as a reminder that not all VHS taste as sweet as they smell.

I could keep going on and on, because there are oh so many and I haven't even delved into the fake actress cover craze of the 90s but I'm sure you fine people have other awesome things to do like make toasted sandwiches, which is exactly what I'm going to do right now. I might even grab  a VHS I haven't seen. Wish me luck.

Until next time. Safe Journey.

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