The Scandalous VHS Artwork of Exploitation Horror

The subject material you’re about to encounter has vehemently been condemned and is strictly considered immoral by nanny courts. These images are bound to exhort nothing short of moral panic.

They depict excessive amounts of blood, guts, violence of the most enthusiastic sort, lots of sexy filth for the sake of making people blush, and, in short, are certainly enough to make your grandmother feel ashamed of you for enjoying this kind of stuff. You may enter at your own risk, my Nasties, but let’s face it. I already know you want it. So grab a shovel because we’re gonna dig deep into the shocking world of exploitation art!

They were criticized upon their release, made people feel very icky in the gutty guts, and were considered to be the precursor of an oncoming collapse of society.  That collapse though never happened, as if anyone was surprised. But in a quick panic the leading authorities rushed to ban each of this movies due to the explicitness of their covers and their lurid titles. I mean each one promised an apocalyptic orgy of violence and indecency for Heaven’s sake.

This banning was for your protection. And of course, those of us from all aspects of the horror community, be it the Drive-In Mutants, the Slasheristic Gore Fiends, or, oh yes, you, my lovely Nasties, all join together to flip a fervent middle finger right in the smug face of the censor boards. 

Long live the nastiness, and long live horror!

BRING ON THE EXTREME! 

Zombies rising from the dead to tear out the throats of the living, chainsaws waving in the early morning air, splintering eye gauging, arterial spray, beheadings a plenty, and oozing guts being pulled out for the sake of self-cannibalism! These are the images splattered across exploitation horror covers like a heavy misting of an open vein.  

This is where the splatter film was bred and given room to mutate. These grotesque visions led way to Death Metal inspirations, influenced the likes of Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino, and led way for future horror extremists to realize their own wicked visions.

One common thing was shared between these extreme films: a complete disregard for the human body. The imagination behind these titles was to break apart the fragile human shape and leave it (literally in some cases) in messy pieces as some titles suggested. And when it came to exposing the human form there was no discrimination. The male nude body was often thrown before an unsuspecting audience as well as plenty of wang-doodle chopping. Like seriously, that weeny hacking stuff happened alot (and not saying the characters didn’t in fact deserve it) so be ready to cross your legs, fellahs.

They’ve been called filth, exploitation, and Video Nasties. Fans call them classics and consider them a rite of passage as one matures from Psycho to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These movies are the next step, a slippery slope dipping into a very seedy world of drills, kills, chainsaws, and rusted hooks where our heroes face the ravenous undead, sadistic psycho maniacs, nuns who are anything but pure, and lots, and lots of stabby things with pointed-ends.

In the days long before Google horror fans with a flair for the more extreme side needed to rely on either word of mouth or the images these harsh titles presented on their covers. 

The artwork was what sold these movies

In many, many cases the artwork alone was the only sneak peak we were given to make up our minds on whether to try out a movie or not. You’d hold a copy of I Spit On Your Grave in your hands, and, if you didn’t know anything about the flick, your imagination would swim out into a very dark lake of possibilities to what this film could hold in store. The cover suggested a fair deal of sexuality and, based on the knife in the unknown lady’s hand, plenty of good ol’ violence. I mean I was a kid when I first held this movie in my hands and – in those naïve days – I thought it would have something to do with a graveyard and zombies. 

I was a stupid fucking kid. 

In many cases the cover art alone was enough to earn these daring movies an explicit rating. And, in most cases, the posters left very little to the imagination.

These movies were very upfront about their ghastly content. And you gotta remember these were years before we had Death Metal bands and heavy metal was just starting up. So for the most part culture – as a whole – was not at all prepared for this level of hardgore material. This stuff was crawling out of the crypt whether people were ready for it or not. Now it’s almost old hat, but back then this stuff, (art, keep in mind art alone), was a serrated knife cutting the nerves of society’s disquiet.

Art And Repulse

But it wasn’t like we had the internet in those days. We couldn’t pull up IMDB or watch a trailer on YouTube. We had a brief description on the back and the cover art that lingered in our minds. So it was all up to that cover art to pull us in, and the artwork did a very good job.  

Maybe a little too good actually.

But these movies not only had macabre covers, they also had names that screamed at us, slapped us in the face, and captivated the attention. The Last House on the Left, House By the Cemetery, Isla: Shewolf of the SS, Driller Killer, They Call Her One Eye, Cannibal Holocaust, Make Them Die Slowly, Eaten Alive, Nekromantik, and Zombie Flesh Eaters to name just a few. 

These movies were built on razor-thin budgets and had nothing left over for advertisements. They solely had to rely on the artwork of their covers and their brilliant titles to lure in audiences and make back a profit. And not only did the plan work, it went and worked a little too well.

And in many cases once these films hit foreign markets the grotesque and macabre were both raised to new levels of alarm as even more explicit images came into being to promote the titles. Here’s a small sampling of just one of these movies (in this case Zombi 2) and how it changed (mutated) around the world.

Judging by the different versions of the movie’s international artwork leaves a feeling like you’re gazing at four entirely different films even though it is Zombi 2, yours truly’s favorite zombie flick btw.

And just because, here are a few more examples. The stark difference between home release and the foreign market’s has fans now scouring the internet and hitting conventions hoping to obtain some of these rare and unique posters to add to their horror collections. And who can blame them? This stuff is bragging rights.

The writing was on the wall, written in blood and clear as day. Shock sold. The competition for gore and the grotesque was on. When Deodato released his infamous Cannibal Holocaust Umberto Lenzi followed suit and released his Cannibal Ferox aka Make Them Die Slowly.

Stakes were raised and film makers strove to outdo what came before them. More guts! More flesh tearing! More death! Make it slow and more brutal! More sex, more screams, more everything! It didn’t take long though before this underworld of rebel cinema was discovered and promptly exposed.

Many of these titles were labeled Video Nasties and wound up on the banned list in many parts of the world. It became an insane time when the ultra-right sent police officers into people’s homes if it was even rumored some poor sap owned a copy of the Evil Dead. So the popularity of the films backfired on video shop owners and fans alike. 

It’s a case of an art form working a little too well.

Just how insane did it get, you ask?

Bill Lustig (director of Maniac) mailed a copy of the movie’s soundtrack (the soundtrack mind you) to a friend over in England but custom agents seized the record and kept it due to the Obscene Act. It was only a fucking music record! What the Hell did they think the music could do? Rip the listener’s eardrums out and fuck the ear hole to death? But the Video Nasties paranoia was in full effect and these people were taking shit far too seriously. 

Adult men and women went to storming video fronts and apprehending movies as if they were contraband, and it was all due to the film’s covers and titles. In a stupid mistake (as if the whole Act itself wasn’t stupid enough) the movie Apocalypse Now (Marlin Brando, Martin Sheen) was banned for a quick moment because of its title alone. 

And that’s just it, no one took the time to actually review these movies. They took them at surface level alone. Dolly Parton’s Best Little Whore House in Texas found itself in hot water due to title alone as well. That means a Dolly Parton movie sat on the same banned shelf alongside the Ilsa series! You have to see the humor in that.

These movies struck a raw nerve, more like severed the motherfucker with a rusty pickaxe, and everyday normal people were being threatened with jail time and fines. 

I would have been utterly fucked, my beloved Nasties! My library would have made their toenails curl. 

Fans pushed back and the restrictions just made us want to see these obscene films that much more. And, as it always seems to do, the people who would censor these moves (and their naughty covers) out of existence finally lost the fight and had to shut the fuck up. Even so it took decades before Last House on the Left was legally allowed distribution in the UK.

Today fans can own each of these lurid titles thanks to boutique Blu-ray companies like Synapse Films, Blue Underground, Severin, and Vinegar Syndrome. There are also the large companies, like Arrow and Scream Factory, that make titles available for fans. So we’ve got it made for the most part.

In the end, horror won. If you now want to own a copy of Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibal, well that’s your right.

Art doesn’t mean it’ll speak to everyone. Some will be repulsed by it while others are amazed. That’s how you know it’s done right. 

The world of exploitation not only lives on in the memories of its fans but today is faithfully continued forth and allowed to expand to new depths of visceral art by Eibon Press who capture the spirit and lovingly expand upon many of the classic titles fans love. They aren’t paying me to promote them but they’ve won me over as a fan and I can genuinely say go check them out. Anyone who loves exploitation will love these guys.

But before I go if you have any posters or VHS copies of these titles (or others) be sure to share them in the comments. We’d love to see what dark wonders sit in the crypt of your collection.

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The Psychology Of The Scare: Gerontophobia In Horror Films

I’ve always been under the impression horror is what you make of it. Stories and films relay on our innermost fears and phobias to make an impression with the viewer, hence the art of the scare. I don’t care if you’re badass Kurt Russell or Samuel L. Jackson, everyone has one thing or another that makes them uncomfortable.

Horror films have utilized a wide-range of phobias to attract audiences to give them the “safe” scare adrenaline rush. Sub-genre horror movies with the focus on clowns, kids, psychological warfare are some of the most popular among fanfare. However personally speaking, the use of older folks in horror films as the core of fears is some of the most powerful I’ve seen – and most effective. GERONTOPHOBIA, which means the fear of elders or aging, is actually a fairly common fear amongst the populous. We associate looking at our elders with our own mortality and it can be a hard pill to swallow- so we place a heavy fear on it. As authoritarian as it sounds to place our once care-givers who have aged in years at the center of what we fear most sounds inhuman at best, in horror cinema it works to a degree; and all too well.

I mean, who WOULDN’T be horrified of this?!

The first film I saw as a young girl with an elder in a terrifying role was that of Julian Beck’s portrayal of the malevolent Henry Kane in Poltergiest II. That being said, I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only one his performance affected in a unfavorable manner. To this very day I get very anxious when an elder comes knocking on my door mostly thanks to his frightening exchange with Craig T. Nielson in front of the Freeling home. Knowing later in my older years, Beck was suffering from pancreatic cancer and basically dying at the time of filming haunts me in waves of periodic guilt trips for being so petrified of the man; who literally giving a dying performance and the one most people remember him by. Whether that was his intention, and I’m sure it was to give it his all, I still can’t help but feel horrible that I myself associated his deathly appearance with such fear; and still kind of do. Little Heather O’ Rourke was so afraid of her on-screen antagonist that she cried and ran away from him on set upon first seeing him. I’m not sure if the mall scene in the movie IS the actual first time she saw him as I can’t confirm it at this time, but knowing that it did indeed happen as stated by crew members, makes this scene all the more believable.

That had to have stung.

Four years later came a more prominent display of gerontophobia in film in the form of William Peter Blatty’s TRUE sequel to The Exorcist, The Exorcist III based off Blatty’s PHENOMINAL novel Legion. Most of the story is set in the gloomy atmosphere of a hospital, particularly in the disturbed wards and of those suffering from dementia and catatonics. The demon this time around, James Venamun, ‘The Gemini Killer” has possessed a once-thought deceased Damian Karras and is tormenting both the fallen priest and old friend Kinderman (George C. Scott) as a revenge tactic on behalf of “friends” for the McNeill incident 15 years prior. If that couldn’t get any more fucked up, the Gemini hops from body to body in the wards possessing the older dementia victims and feeble-minded to carry out murderous acts; hammering home how vulnerable and horrifying it can be to age. Because now we have to worry about getting possessed by demons to boot.

Fantastic.

A more recent film by Adam Robitel, The Taking of Deborah Logan works on the same concept as The Exorcist III except the entire film is focused on this matter and not just an excerpt. Miss Deborah Logan (Jill Larson) is slowly slipping away with Alzheimer’s but something is obviously more sinister afoot with an actual possession going on here. This one really leans into the fears of mortality within us all and what happens when we have reached that bridge in our life span. The pain and the suffering can be tremendous and not only affects us as individuals, but our loved ones as well. The reality of the matter at hand is, if we so happen to live beyond our 70’s and 80’s, it is most likely to come with some painful challenges such as a degenerative disease as terrifying as that of Alzheimer’s- which mind you is displayed pretty accurately in this movie. If one has never suffered from good ol’ gerontophobia prior to seeing this one, chances are you’ll at least be thinking about it soon after.

There are many other film I could list here, some notable ones like The Visit or Ghost Story, but I think you guys are smart and get the point here. Old age in itself can be a source of true horror and is obviously an effective tactic as plot point in the genre. However, it can also be very damning unfortunately and further put a damper on our views of aging. The human experience is one hell of a ride isn’t it? Let’s just hope we don’t piss off any demonic entities’ along the way as we grow into our twilight years.

Gators, Maniacs, and Cannibals: Top Ten Horror Movies From 1980

I’m straying from usual go-to form of doing these lists in milestone anniversary manner as last year’s shit show threw a machete in the machine; and I’m sure as hell not going to wait ten years to write it so here we go nuggets- Let’s talk about the year of our Horror Lord, 1980.

1980 begat the decade that brought us some of the most beloved horror classics and birthed an entirely new generation of fans with the Slasher enterprise. Although, many can argue over which horror franchise exactly started the slasher fiasco. Was it Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Black Christmas? Technically I’d say all are right. However, I want to say Friday the 13th, which of course debuted in 1980, did really kick off the slasher sequel phenonium the best and set the gold standard for what a good, classic 80s’ cheesy-gorefest should look like; and keep you coming back for more.

1980 was also the grand year of Jamie Lee Curtis with who clocks in with a solid three films on this list. After her massive success in her debut with Halloween, she was a definitely a hot commodity in the genre bizz. And for some reason or another, cannibals seem to be the popular go-to this year with more than handful of films at our disposal in this ONE year alone that include Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive!, and Long Island Cannibal Massacre.

I don’t know man, those are all great, but it’s all about the man-eating oversized alligator for this horror girl over here that gets me excited to write this up.

So let’s plundge into those delightful, swampy waters of horror’s best from 1980!

10. Motel Hell

Motel Hell doesn’t get a lot of credit for being one of the great satirical, dark horrors of it’s kind. So let’s rectify that bullshit right now. It’s my goofy, guilty pleasure of this list and by judging from the above image, why question it?

Motel Hell is like the Scary Stories books, bridging your way into that gateway of horror with enough gore while having a chuckle at the same time. Hell, even the entry from the books “Wonderful Sausage” kind of reminds me of this movie. Which might be why I love it so much. Now, if you are familiar with “Wonderful Sausage” that’s really all you need to know, but for those who need a little context: A pair of siblings run a motel attached to a farm, and specialize in selling some of the world’s finest sausages… I’m fairly certain you get it now.

9. Terror Train

Ahh, here we go. The first of the Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis 1980 trilogy begins with Terror Train. The premise is simple enough and formulaic as far as teenage slasher pictures are concerned. A gang of fraternity guys and sorority gals charter a train to party yet a revenge, seeking murderer that is traumatized by past events is on board waiting to cut them down one-by-one. So what makes this one so special?

Well, it’s on a train for one. Which is pretty cool in itself as there’s really no where to go but so it really prepares the victim to either fight, or throw yourself to your death off a 100 mph moving train. I mean, that’s pretty terrifying. Also it’s Jamie Lee vs another Masked Maniac. It’s pretty cool for what it is.

8. Maniac

Before there was Buffalo Bill, we had Frank Zito. And man, he knew how to induce the skivvies all too well.

Coming out of one of the most vicious decades of prolific crimes against women (Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper), MANIAC flies on those fears in a very grotesque yet satisfyingly manner. With Joe Spinall writing and starring in the title role as a madman serial killer who does unspeakable things to his women victims, most notably taking their scalps and parading it on some of his mannequin heads with his buddy, horror icon Tom Savani behind the special effects, Maniac is a tried and true entry not just for this decade; but for the entire genre alone as a stand-alone WTF-fest that will forever haunt us.

7. Cannibal Holocaust

Not for the faint of heart, Cannibal Holocaust ranks right up there as one of the most fucked up films of all time. People had no idea that what they were looking at was real or just fake. The power of found footage-style horror movies all began here folks. And it came in with a BANG.

Love it or hate it, the message is clear. It is undoubtedly, one of the most highly gruesome and shocking films of the twentieth century. But the catch is, it’s well written too with a purpose. If you can get past all the gore, rape, and death (and if you’ve never went down this film’s rabbit hole, I can’t stress this enough to proceed with caution as it could trigger some anxiety in some), especially the animal killing scenes as they killed REAL ANIMALS on the set. Which I want to also stress, do NOT condone and have never watched the film since learning it. However, it does have it place in the ranks for being a breakthrough movie in its own by placing the point on the viewers themselves. Hey if you haven’t seen it and you’re curious, watch at your own risk.

6. Alligator

Sometimes all we want in a horror film is giant, oversized homicidal animal wreaking havoc. Films like JAWS and King Kong have shown us the way and now enter a cult favorite: ALLIGATOR. While it may not be seen on an OSCAR level as the former mentioned, ( and I goddamn could care less) it packs a punch, erm, chomp as one of the great horror films of the decade that is severely under-appreciated.

A tale as old as time: The star here, Ramon the alligator, is bought for a little girl by her mother as a new pet. But the fuckhead father doesn’t want it around so poor Ramon is flushed down the toilet as a baby and this just breaks my heart. He survives in the sewers by eating dead rats leftover by a lab who were experimented on with growth hormones by some dickwad scientists. And hey, you guessed it: he gets good and goddamn HUGE and people start disappearing. And you know what I say? Screw ’em. Poor Ramon could have had a great life and this little guy gets flushed down a toilet no less and then mutates into a freak reptile. Bad humans. CHOMP, CHOMP.

5. Prom Night

The Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis is disco-dancing her way into the top five spot with the classic teen slasher, Prom Night. Much like in Terror Train above, the antagonist is fueled by revenge with the death of a girl bullied by her classmates. The kids responsible are now dancing the Bungalow at the Senior Prom by being picked off one by one. Also worth noting the late, great Leslie Neilson plays the High School Principal and throws a bit of mystery in the mix of this “who dunnit” mystery slasher epic.

The film is exactly what it’s supposed to be but so much more fun that it should be. Sort of like Sleepaway Camp– you just gotta love it and if you don’t, I don’t want to know you.

4. The Changeling

I might get some blowback for putting this one high above others. But eh, it’s my list so I’ll have my moment. The Changeling starring the forever fantastic George C. Scott is by far, one of the most beautifully done haunted house films done in the genre and I’ll proudly die on this hill,

Scott may have been the reason this movie is so good, and that’s ok. He plays a widowed man suffering from the loss of his family. He moves into a new home that is obviously got some spooky shit going on it; like the ghost of a boy who died in the home. He enlists the assistance of his realtor (Trish Van Devere, Scott’s real-life wife), and things go WOO-SAW from there. It’s tension driven and a real nail-biter. Again, probably one of the best haunted house movies ever done but hey, that’s just the humble opinion of a horror-retro fan blogger.

3. The Fog

And now we’ve come to the end of our JLC holy trinity with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Beyond the Halloween star’s presence, the film plays host to mega horror stars like Adrianne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, and the man, the myth, the mustache, Tom Atkins. And to boot, is the most atmospheric, visionally appeasing piece done by Carpenter even ’till today along with its colorful cast.

A California coastal town prepares to commemorate its centenary when a host of supernatural shit starts to happen. Inanimate objects spring to life. We stumble upon a dark secret about the town’s founding. Then a mysterious iridescent fog descends upon the village, and more people start to die. It’s a real wild ride once it gets going and a fun one at that towards the end.

2. Friday the 13th

And for those wondering, Jason’s birthday is June 13th, 1946. Although it’s common knowledge now, I gloat in the fact I’ve known forever because Jason is my birthday twin, (don’t get it twisted though- I was born 40 years later). As a woman, I gotta hit that one home. Anyways, the first Friday the 13th began in 1980 and had a sequel every goddamn year in the decade- with each and every one charming us into a Voorhees hypnosis clamoring for more until the steam finally let out in the early 90s’ with that really weird Jason Goes To Hell flick. Yeah I know, some of you really probably love it and that’s totally ok. But it’s also fair to say the films lost their way and it was time for zombie Jason to take a breather.

As the Jason saga unfolded throughout the 80s’, the first movie in the beloved series is a stand-alone masterpiece. The only entry in the films to NOT have Jason as the maniac, but instead his mother. Sorry if I just spoiled it for any of you who haven’t seen it but at this point in the game, I don’t even know what to say to those that haven’t except WHAT IN THE FUCK and just click the link below to remedy that please. Sheesh.

1.The Shining

And to the surprise of no one, Stephen King’s The Shining adapted by Stanley Kubrick is of course going to be number one! And why not? It’s just about the perfect damn, film to just about everyone- well except Stephen King but goddammit it’s good enough for me.

Inspired by his stay at the Stanley Hotel, King wrote one of the scariest stories of his career about a severely haunted inn at the heart of the Colorado Rockies. Rocked by numerous ghouls and poltergeists, Jack (Nicholson) and family are selected to tend to the Overlook in the downtime winter months. This doesn’t bode well with Jack’s highly intuitive son, as he senses danger before they even get there. From creepy hacked up twin girls hanging out in hallways to blood-soaked elevators, The Shining is an experience and a rite of passage for every horror fan. You just haven’t peaked until it hits you in your eyeballs and gives you multiple panic attacks.

As always, sound off below and let me hear your favorite from this list or tell me what a loser I am and add your own! Pick your poison!