It’s a bit of a cliché to discuss but, when met with works like Schiffer Publishing’s recent release of VHS Video Cover Art: 1980s to Early 1990s, its hard not to follow down this long, nostalgic road. Yes, in the 80s and 90s Friday and Saturday nights meant a stroll through the annals of our local movie rental store. It meant getting lost amidst a sea of boxes adorned with beautiful cover designs, being captivated by a world of blood, muscles, monsters, anatomically incorrect bodies, and guns. More often than not the better the design the worse (and subsequently better) the film. Somewhere along the way we lost this magic. Perhaps it still exists to some extent in our endless perusing on Netlfix, Hulu, Fandor, or whatever streaming site you prefer, but it is different. I am not so much a purist. I do not believe that the experience is limited to the tangibility of the rack and box. What has changed, though, is the art.
This is what Thomas Hodge (more often known as The Dude Designs) highlights so brilliantly in his mostly graphic release, VHS Cover Art. Hodge, who’s own work has is well known and has adorned the covers of such films as Hobo with a Shotgun and Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray release of They Live, is by occupation the perfect person to be presenting a work like this. His own designs are clearly inspired by the art of the 80s and 90s VHS boom — even if they carry a distinctly digital aesthetic —, so it is nice to see a collection of artwork personally curated by him. Beyond being segmented by genre, the book carries little explicit intentionality or design. Thus, this work can be used in multiple ways: an artist’s reference guide, a guide to lesser-seen films, or simply as entertainment; any way you use it you can’t go wrong.
What is most refreshing about this book is that it completely lacks any sort of pretension. With VHS-fandom, there is always the fear of over-nostalgia running amok, or — worse — excessive excuse-driven rhetoric about the medium. No, the book represents a specific time and place where art and film perfectly intersected. Former Mondo CEO Justin Ishmael sums it up well in an anecdote included in his introduction to the book:
But then the cover [of Deathdream] hit me. WOW. This was something I had never seen before. The closest thing I could compare it to would be the first time I saw a Ghanaian movie poster. It’s that weird reaction you get when something isn’t necessarily good in the traditional sense, but it has a soul and something behind. This looked like some kind of folk art!
And folk art it is. It’s the folk art of the Midnight cult, those of us who find value in the even the most dreadful of films — those of us who love the “moustached muscled men, buxom beautifies, big explosions, phallic guns, and nightmare-inducing monsters” (as Hodge describes the subjects adorning VHS covers in his intro).
Contained within this nicely bound and printed book, are over two hundred unique designs. When available Hodge provides us with the artist’s name, but it should be noted that this information was not always available. Since many of the copies were sourced from a collection in the UK, a great deal of the works are — as to be expected — the UK designs. The covers are all in great shape and scanned at a high quality. Hodge gives his audience the next best thing to the real thing, and for many of us the closest we will get to owning any of these beauties. You don’t have to love VHS to love this book, but certainly that is Hodge’s main audience. With that said, anyone with an inkling towards film art will appreciate the dedication and work that went into collecting and presenting this mostly lost art. Hodge has created a book that not only deserves but demands to rest atop every genre fan’s coffee table.