The fantastic thing about the VHS years is that the poster art was frequently hand drawn and frequently had very little or nothing to do with the actual film. If you picked a film based solely on the box cover, you had a pretty good chance of being disappointed or at least surprised. Distributors seemed to see a snazzy box cover as a good way to get some mileage out of a subpar film. That still goes on today, but it seems to happen less frequently and the artwork just isn’t the same. In spite of the trickery that duped more than a couple of horror fans in the late ‘70s through the early ‘90s, there are some terrific and legitimate films that have terribly misleading – albeit awesome – cover art. For that reason, we present to you ten more examples of awesomely misleading film artwork.
If you were to attempt to assume the basic plot points of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, simply by looking at the box, you wouldn’t know that it is one of the most delightfully bizarre films ever. You wouldn’t know about the baby in the blender, the lawnmower massacre, or the kickboxing priest. The cover art really doesn’t give the impression that Dead Alive is a zombie film, but this bloody splatter-fest is widely regarded as one of the best horror films of the nineties and one of the best non-Romero zombie films, ever. Dead Alive is also universally hailed as the bloodiest film of all time; so, in spite of artwork that does not necessarily foretell what is in store for the viewer, Dead Alive remains one of the greatest zombie films we’ve seen.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
This 1986 sequel to Tobe Hooper’s grindhouse classic has only really gained appreciation in recent years. It seems like Hooper knew that he would never top the original, so he went in a different direction with the sequel. The box art for the film’s VHS release was a satirical take on the 80s teen classic The Breakfast Club, which matched TCM2’s over-the-top nature but didn’t give viewers a realistic idea of just how violent the film is. We think of it as a very underappreciated classic and the artwork as a great way to introduce fans to the lighter tone of TCM2 when compared to the original.
Slaughter High is one instance of many where the cover artwork depicts a character that never even appears in the film. The box art shows a skeleton in a cap and gown that never appears in the film and actually has nothing to do with it. Slaughter High is actually about a student seeking revenge at his ten-year high school reunion. It is a decent slasher effort, but it ultimately fails to rise above the precedent set by revenge horror films like The House on Sorority Row.
The VHS cover art for Bloody Birthday sports a birthday cake with a disembodied hand reaching out of it. While the artwork is not indicative of what happens in the film, this killer kid flick is an unsung classic and its misleading box art is part of its charm. The film’s shock value aims to make up for a lot of its shortcomings. Though it was shot on an ultra-low budget, the creators of Bloody Birthday didn’t let that stop the film from unabashedly featuring young kids wielding a variety of weapons and murdering anyone that got in their way – including nude teens in the throes of passion. It’s often been said that a film that is as politically incorrect as this would never get green lit today.
Evil Dead II
Evil Dead II is one of several horror films to prominently feature a skull on the box cover that has little or nothing to do with the film itself. The film is lighter in tone than the artwork might lead uninducted viewers to believe. The artwork does not really communicate the comedic antics that the film is bursting with. Evil Dead II is a significant tonal departure from the first, but you wouldn’t likely know it from looking at the VHS box. Regardless of the cover art, Evil Dead II stands as one of the greatest horror films of all time and we wouldn’t change a thing about it.
The cover art does feature one of the Crites that constitute the central focus of the feature, but the Crite on the cover looks like it’s the size of a yeti. The Crites do grow, but considering that they start out around the size of a gerbil, I was significantly taken aback upon watching Critters for the first time. I remember being surprised to find that the titular characters did not start out as even half the size of their human adversaries but the film offers plenty of family friendly scares and is well worth a look for anyone that hasn’t seen it.
The box art for The Prey depicts a floating axe and what looks like a prom dress. The film follows a group of friends that are pursued by a psycho on a camping trip. The VHS art for The Prey makes the film look better than it actually is; the box doesn’t feature any depiction of the killer or any of the characters, which may be a result of neither being terribly interesting. Unfortunately, The Prey is a fairly forgettable entry in the slasher sub-genre. You would be better off checking out or revisiting Madman if you are in the mood for an overlooked film about a camping related massacre.
The box art for The Burning makes the film seem like it’s part romance novel adapted for the screen and part horror film. The young couple locked in a passionate embrace on the box looks like they could have been ripped from the cover of a Harlequin Romance. The cover shied away from showcasing the film’s stunning special effects or its still up-and-coming young cast (which included Jason Alexander, Fisher Stephens, Holly Hunter, and more). In spite of box artwork that is less than representative of the actual content, The Burning is a staple of ‘80s slasher cinema and remains highly underrated outside of the community of genre fans.
I was fascinated as a young kid by the art for Creepshow. The cover reveals very little about what the film is actually about and I remember being a little surprised the first time I saw it. The cover art depicts ‘The Creep’ as a ticket taker at what is probably the most awesome movie theater, ever. The artwork is really well done and probably succeeded in pulling in some viewers that wound up renting it based solely on the eye-catching box art. Though the cover is potentially misleading, Creepshow is a masterpiece and the standard by which all anthology films to come after it will be compared to.