Portable Grindhouse: the Lost Art of the VHS Box – Book Review

Books, Movies
Wandering through my local college library where I work, I happened upon this book. It’s in the ‘art’ section, which is not an area I normally wander. Graphic arts, however, are ‘art’ and there are several interesting books right in this area. There’s The Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: A Collector’s Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction Paperbacks, Bad Mags 2: The Strangest, Sleaziest, and Most Unusual Periodicals Ever Published!, Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks, Cult Magazines: A to Z: A Compendium of Culturally Obsessive & Curiously Expressive Publications, Pulp Art: Original Cover Paintings for the Great American Pulp Magazines, Men’s Adventure Magazines: In Postwar America, Album : Style and Image in Sleeve Design, Classic Album Covers of the 60s, Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute, well, you get the idea.

So I check out Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box and it gets me thinking about scanning a bunch of VHS covers that the library has and some that I own. However, this blog tends to be on the lighter, more innocent side of retro so when Retrospace put out a call for images as I was going through this whole thinking process, I sent them to him. He’ll be posting them eventually, but I wanted to say a few things about this here book.

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It’s the size and shape of a VHS tape box, similar to the JVC books I posted previously. There’s no table of contents, no index and the movies aren’t alphabetical or organized in any way. As a guy who has his 600 or so CDs alphabetized and organized, his 700 albums, his movies, etc, (and did I mention I’m a librarian?) this is hard to accept. The pictures are very good, but there are a few of the back sides that the page isn’t big enough and words are cut off. It’s a great idea and most certainly some interesting movies, this reviewer thinks it could have been done better.

Deathpromise is a great example of old VHS boxes. Fantastic artwork on the cover and it’s a movie I’ve never heard of. Just the thing the old video stores had in spades back in the day.

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As any hot rodder knows, Vanishing Point is a movie about a guy driving a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T like a madman across the desert. This cover makes it look like a Godard or Bergman or Resnais or some such slow, talky ferrin film. They don’t even give a synopsis on the back! This way, you attract people who will hate it, and turn off people who would love it!

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Stunt Rock looks cool! You’ve got a guitar, a Firebird, a Corvette, and a skull on the cover. On the back you have explosions and someone climbing a wall in their underwear. I just read about the band Sorcery in a movie called Rocktober Blood this morning at Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

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I just saw a different cover for The Black Godfather at flea market just a few months ago. I almost bought it. It wasn’t artwork, but stills from the movie. I would guess this is the earlier cover.

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The Lift. “Take the stairs, take the stairs. For God’s sake, take the stairs!!!” This looks totally ridiculous.

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Total grindhouse here, Barbie and the Rockers Out of this World. There were a few of these kids shows in the book, and I didn’t take pictures of the far out horrible horror movies, just so you know there’s quite a variety covered.

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This is the kind of show I used to watch on HBO all the time, Going Ape with Tony Danza. Music by Elmer Bernstien!

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This is the way to get people (at least male people) to watch your movie! Gator Bait. Retrospace used to have this cover picture on his header.

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I only point out The Legend of the Wolfwoman because it’s distributed by a company out of Tulsa, Oklahoma! That’s also where a friend of mine from pre-internet days is filming his own indie horror movie, Crawl Bitch Crawl.

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Most of these movies run under 100 minutes. You can knock out two or three of these in the time it takes to watch one Gone with the Wind or Titanic. If this is your thing I’m sure you’d love the book. I sure enjoyed it even if I was frustrated with the lack of organization.

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4 thoughts on “Portable Grindhouse: the Lost Art of the VHS Box – Book Review

  1. Yeah it does look a lot like a Criterion cover. But I’ve always considering Vanishing Point an art film in a way. It looks like the video company’s intent was to sell the stars, not the movie. Charlotte Rampling’s role was not exactly huge 🙂


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