by Travis Vogt
Action is one of the most transgressive movie genres known to man. The only genres proven to be more transgressive are blaxploitation, body horror, revenge-sploitation, New Queer cinema, gothic horror, docufiction, mumblecore, remodernist, erotic thriller and quite a few others. For what we talk about when we talk about “action” is, of course, violence. Man’s basest, most animalistic instincts. Action cinema and the art that it produces emerge not from the head or the heart but from the bowels. But there can be great value in holding a mirror up to the insides of our bowels. A thousand years ago, great masters like Goya and Caravaggio peered deep into the heart of darkness and showed us the truth that lies within the eye of the beast. The artists who created the adornments for the following VHS tapes were similar men, only they got paid in beer.
VHS Action Art exists in three distinct categories that I am willing to cover here. We begin with:
THINGS IN FRONT OF EXPLOSIONS
VHS Action Art is historically more concerned with emotional realism than any of the other kinds of realism. For example, the subjects of this piece commissioned for the film Night Force would almost certainly die were they in this close a proximity to a massive explosion. At the very least, most of them would be pointing at it or saying “Oh dear!” But the visceral nature of this tableau deftly telegraphs the inner feelings of the Night Force members. They are so proud of their Night Forcing, so pleased with the friendships that they have developed over the course of being a Night Force, that there might as well be a ruinous inferno no more than 20 yards behind them. Emotionally.
This is an older work from the mid 1970’s, faded by the sands of time, in desperate need of a tax-payer funded restoration. But until its glorious colors are returned to their former radiance, we must marvel at the artist’s form–specifically his/her almost childlike grasp of explosions. This particular explosion seems to be creating a smoldering cushion for the distressed helicopter as it lurches across the blue sky. Any true Action Artist must surely realize that explosions are indeed his symbolic security blanket; therefore, this piece provides a stirring glimpse of the intimate confines within the artist’s soul, as well as an almost certainly wildly inaccurate depiction of events within the film itself.
The art for The Great Skycopter Rescue pushes the themes presented in the previous piece to unforeseen new heights. Instead of a comforting heli-pillow, this devastating blast forms a veritable well-spring of nourishment, as freshly hewn bikers are birthed from it’s roiling core and hot air balloons and dumb-looking planes dance around its plumes like a spring maypole. Even the young lady in the foreground can’t deny her urge to happily frolic in the warmth of this hundred-foot high mushroom cloud. Much as the action genre finds the human heart in violence, the box artist for The Great Skycopter Rescue has found creation in flames.
(Armed, Grimacing) Man’s Inhumanity to Man
We humans have created a pleasant fiction around ourselves. Our lavishly adorned homes, our spa day treatments, our bicameral legislatures and our hammocks conceal the fact that we are, in truth, only a few generations removed from the furious, grimacing monkeys from which we evolved, who once blasted away at rival monkey factions from the treetops with primitive wooden machine guns. Is there a more pure distillation of the true heart of the unrefined mind than Richard Harrison, clutching the gun I made from poster tubes and silver spray paint when I was 12 and screeching through his teeth? Isn’t this what we all truly are in the deepest folds of our brains? Well, probably not women.
Some person once said “brevity is the soul of wit.” This poster isn’t particularly witty, but it’s got brevity in spades. A screaming, disturbingly muscled man with a gun. A team of hired killers. That’s it. If you need any more than this to convince you to go see the movie, maybe you should just go back to Oxford. And put in the good word for me while you’re at it. Apparently my application was lacking in references.
Every man on earth has been Joe Bass at some point in his life. Angry. Ankle deep in a scenic lake. Nothing more than a shotgun, a chainsaw, a hatchet and rippling muscles to call his own. I’ve never been the biggest booster of populist art, but this composition really speaks to me. Certainly the technique and the detail work leave much to be desired, but–as I so often repeat to myself as I stare into the mirror at 3 a.m.–How much CAN a man take?
The art for Fists of Steel is the most accurate depiction I’ve ever seen of a mind unraveling. Grimacing, shooting, Henry Silva’s disembodied head and a fire-eyed, screaming robot with human teeth. This is why VHS box artists are absolutely essential. Most of us would prefer to turn away from the specter of a shattered mind, but the man who created this masterpiece (let’s face it: it wasn’t a woman) didn’t even flinch. He just recorded what he saw, and added the primary cast and title afterwards.
Truly the pinnacle of the art of the grotesque. When faced with the world’s most hideous AND sweatiest man, Lloyd Bridges will not look away. In the left spectacle lens, we see him glaring back at his adversary with grim resolve. But in a devilish twist, you can see in the right lens that he has seen the face of evil, and–look closely at the slight upturn in the crook of his mouth–he kind of likes it. A visualized death rattle. A nihilist’s chuckwagon on steroids.
Come for the menacing eyes, stay for the shards of bluish glass. LIVE for the title. The title that changes all of the rules. The stuff below the title is fairly uninspired, but when was the last time you looked at the Pieta? Everything below Mary’s waist in that sculpture is pretty much garbage. Granted, much of the weight for this piece is pulled by that magical, minimalist title. Would I be discussing this box art at length if the film was called Injector or Subcutaneous or Needle Guy? Not a chance in hell. So give credit to the writer who came up with that title, because if The Mona Lisa was called Some European Lady #3, nobody would give a rat’s behind about that obnoxiously mysterious twerp.
The prequel, 1987’s Jibber, was never released.
Travis Vogt is the editor of the Scarecrow Wire. He also writes for City Arts and Encore Arts Online. Follow him @travisvogt.