*Plus a few exploitation films for good measure.

In these Rapidshare, bitorrent and Megavideo days, where on-demand services can shoot you DVD quality flicks in minutes, recollections of the old video shop in all its mix and match glory, blending blockbusters and b-movies with a peculiar kind of democracy, can get you misty-eyed. What’s scarier than any of these artworks is that the minute you bemoan the youth of today “missing out”, you’re officially old.

A visit to the rental spot always meant a lengthy gawp at the forbidden fruit – puffy boxes carrying some lurid stills on the back, wild tagline and just occasionally, a big name or future star (yep, that’s George Costanza in ‘The Burning’) attempting to solve a killing trail, or best of all, dying violently. For every 20 movies, I estimate that only 5 were memorable, 3 for their ultraviolence, and maybe 2 for providing a solid plot and pacing.

In the UK, the pre-cert era was punctuated with packaging that promised unbelievable acts of carnage or glorious rampages of revenge. Post ‘video nasty’ controversy, the red ’18’ was, to a curious 8 year old, something of an obsession. ‘The Kindred’ for instance had a satisfying level of grue, but could never live up to those accrued hours of gripping and gawping that box wondering what horrors lay within.

One way of weeding out tripe was to check whether they’d used a video pause on the back rather than real stills. Still, I imagine I missed out on gem-after-gem due to that tiny prejudice.

The trick was a matter-of-fact tagline, the inexplicably laborious commissioning of a painting inducing the illusion of epic scale or something close to a budget. Who designed these things in a world where a pre-lunchtime 10 minutes on Illustrator wasn’t a possibility. I’m pretty serious when it comes to my horror flicks, but a couple of inclusions are here for their startlingly shoddy artwork, but on the whole, many of these are burnt onto my retinas right up to the present day – that’s a testament to the designers and distributors (many very local indeed) doing their job right.

Arguably, as well as infecting my young mind, these sleeves affected my entire aesthetic, influencing my notion of what constitutes effective design. After all, if a film about a birthday-obsessed murderer can get a killer sleeve, why can’t everything else?

Appropriately, to convey that disorientating mix of ultra-gritty thrillers and exploitation films, there’s a few non-horrors that maintained equal curiosity points in the mix here. Many films (‘The Sentinel’,’Rolling Thunder’, ‘Maniac’, ‘The Mack’, ‘My Bloody Valentine’ even ‘Q’ and ‘The Beast Within’) are hardly obscure, but they had me fiending for a viewing. I’ve seen some films under multiple names by mistake – some were butchered to the point of becoming incomprehensible by the newly commissioned censors.

These are taken from the superb where there’s hundreds more to browse. To the unnamed sleeve designers, reinterpreting, drawing or shoehorning a detailed cinema poster artwork onto that box, often drawing me in under utterly false pretences, I salute you…

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