The Monstrosity Exhibition: Lost Terrors of VHS Sleeve Cover Art
written by Clay McLeod Chapman
Video World was tucked off into a topiary-barricaded alcove of the Stony Point Shopping Centre, a swift five-minute Schwinn sojourn from my front door.
No bigger than a boutique, this early-80′s video store was infinitesimal in comparison to the cancerous sprawl of the Blockbuster Video chain that had begun to malignantly metastasize its way through America’s suburban strip malls, eventually putting all the mom-and-pop operations like Video World out of business. I was fortunate enough to push through my preadolescence before the big blue-and-yellow Blockbuster awnings started cropping up all across my hometown. Walking into Video World was like immersing myself in a Betamax Shangri-La. Every last inch of wall space, from floor-to-ceiling, was lined entirely in video cassettes. At 8 years old, I had officially found my home-away-from home. Each 4 by 7-and-a-half inch VHS cassette contained a different story, just waiting to be told – and I made it my mission to watch them all. Or as many as my allowance would allow.
Hidden at the rear of the store, buried behind comedy, family, drama (but before you reached the “private room” of adult films at the very, very back) – there remained a single row of videos off-limits to children. Little boys and girls were not allowed to rent the videos from back here at the shadowy edge of the forest.
The horror section.
A kid like me couldn’t help but feel a shift in the atmosphere upon entering the aisle, suddenly surrounded by so many R-rated movies. The carpet seemed to darken, stained somehow. Even the air had a miasma of decrepit breath to it, thicker than the air in the childrens section. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be here, which only made me want to explore even more – go deeper, take just another couple steps in, see if I could make my way past the A’s, past the B’s, even the C’s, until I was utterly immersed in the aisle, enveloped in images of terror from all around.
This – this was where fear resided.
Every kind of fear you could think of, or not think of, was right here – captured on magnetic tape and sealed inside its own cardboard box – little gift-wrapped packages presented in a tableau of carnage.
Deadly Spawn. Faces of Death. Def-Con 4. Xtro. The Stepfather. The Driller Killer. The Stuff. Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. I Spit On Your Grave. The Dead Pit. Black Roses. Headless Eyes. Magic. Black Christmas. He Knows You’re Alone. Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Cellar Dweller. Mother’s Day. The Prowler.
So go ahead, kid – I dare you. Slip a video off the shelf.
Pick any horror film and take the cassette into your hand. Rub your finger over the cardboard cover with its softened edges. Feel how fuzzy and worn the corners are?
Now look at the cover.