Junkfood Horror: Judging VHS By Their Covers

By  · Published on October 27th, 2012

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; we cook Pop Tarts in the VCR. This is the weekly internet movie column that John Carpenter recently heralded as “something I’ve [totally] heard of.” Each week we bring you a horrifically bad movie, forcing you to topple with us into the void, careening like damned souls through the film’s innumerable faults. Just when our doom seems all but certain, the fall stops suddenly as we land on a giant marshmallow peep. From one unspeakable nightmare, right into another. We are grateful for the fall, the journey that led us to sweet reward. To then celebrate the journey that will lead to our losing at least one foot, we will pair the movie with a decadent, themed snack.

Of all the things Junkfood Cinema has been accused of ‐ and that is a lengthy, chubby list ‐ no one would ever call us ahead of the curve. We are indeed well within the curve ‐ mid-curve even…sub-curve. Curvacious? How dare you. If you thought “old-fashioned” was just a drink order, you obviously haven’t seen the mountains of VHS tapes dotting the landscape of JFC headquarters. This supposedly outdated technology is our preferred viewing method for every film ever.

Part of what makes VHS the superior format is the unparalleled artistry that went into the covers. The packaging was so beautifully painted and the boxes often proved far more creatively competent than the movie there contained. It would be akin to a pink Starburst wrapper bound around a Luden’s cough drop…itself crafted around a splashy pickle juice center.

In honor of this glorious bit of home video flimflamery, we decided to introduce a game called Name That Plot. The rules are simple: we take the VHS covers for bad movies we haven’t seen and try to glean the story from nothing but the cover art. As we’re still chugging along with Junkfood Horror this month, all the titles will be from that wonderful genre.

Miami Horror (1985)

Not sure where to begin with this Italian actioner from 1985. As it is also called Miami Golem, my guess is that the monstrous pair of eyes watching over the below unfolding episode of Miami Vice is river-person-turned-monster Smeagol. He is angry about all the drunk helicopter pilots pitching and reeling overhead like the the skies above the swamp were their own personal alchie slalom. It appears to be the story of a retirement community Dirty Harry who partners with Burt Reynolds on an airboat to take down a cellophane-wrapped woman wed to a man whose upper half resembles chubby Lee Marvin and whose lower extremities are composed of a fire tornado.

Star Crystal (1986)

For dry, red spaceeyes, Clear Eyes is awesome. Though it may look like another poorly-produced sci-fi movie, we’re thinking there may be something more emotionally substantial going on in Lance Lindsay’s Star Crystal. It’s about a very sad alien dragon who someone just tricked into watching Old Yeller simultaneously with The Notebook. I realize Star Crystal precedes The Notebook by eighteen years, but that’s how sad that movie is. It can actually manipulate the time-space continuum with the power of cry science. As he exists in an orbit far removed from the galaxy’s gaseous red giant, the enormous weeping alien’s tears crystallize in the sub-freezing temperatures and form spiky death comets that threaten to destroy neighboring planets. With no alternative, the Brotherhood Of Orbiting Bodies (or BOOB) must resort to a desperate measure. Authorized by BOOB’s president, Crystal Star, the S.S. Staple Gun is deployed to close down the extra-lachrymose extraterrestrial.

The Devonsville Terror (1983)

The Martin family has been scrimping and saving to achieve their ultimate dream: to visit Old Timey Village in Devonsville, OH. When they finally reach this hallowed attraction/barely passable tourist trap, they find it rife with evil…and candle-making…but they had expected that. It seems a sect of employees, having long ago lost themselves in their era-appropriate characters, have decided to conduct witch hunts and executions. The problem is that the company that runs this “amusement” park, Old Timey Corp & Brake Pads Limited, had not budgeted for a religious inquisition. So, the overzealous, minimum-wage witch hunters are forced to improvise. They strap poor Mary-Beth Martin to a wooden wheel and force her to…try and take a nap. Suffer, foul deceiver! Mother Hubbard looks on.

Bloodbeat (1983)

Maria and her rather short husband Greg are expert sword-makers. They are arguably the best katana-forgers in northeastern Idaho. One night, a new neighbor moves in next door. Though they never see him, they can hear him breathing through the walls; he seems to have a bad case of asthma. Come to find out, their new neighbor is former Sith lord Darth Vader. Having survived the fall of the second Death Star, Vader uses his force powers to travel back in time and space to 1980s Earth. He lives in forced seclusion after a mix-up at Lloyd’s Discount Bioengineering and Pet Store resulted in a new helmet for his lifesuit that eerily resembles a space gerbil. Conflict arises when Vader gets wind of his new neighbors’ occupation. Since so much of his life story was a piecemeal appropriation of samurai cinema, Vader hates samurais and any who supply them with weaponry, as must be his neighbors. He’s also not very well-versed in Earth history. With his force powers greatly diminished after the transportation, Vader battles his new foes with the most deadly art of the era in which he has found himself: breakdance fighting. May the flares be with you…the windmills and headspins too.

Robo Vampire (1988)

This one could not be more clear. There is no way this isn’t a Robocop sequel that we all just managed to miss. I mean otherwise the cover for this 1988 sci-fi horror coupling would be outright plagiarism. After defeating his foes ‐ and audience confidence in the franchise ‐ in Robocop 3, our cyborg civil servant takes a vacation to somewhere a little more laid back and safe than Detroit. While in the Gaza Strip, he is bitten by a vampire; no small feat considering the sparse amount of flesh that shows from under his suit. He must then chase his assailant across the super-continent, seeking to slay the vampire before he turns into one himself. He finds his prey in China, a hopping vampire who has been hired by OCP to get rid of their Robocop problem. Unfortunately for OCP, Robocop is well-aware of a vampire’s one weakness: fleets of helicopters. “Undead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

Junkfood Pairing: Mystery Flavor Dum-Dums

These enigmatic lollipops offer just as much indication in their packaging as to what to expect from the contents within as do the covers of these VHS tapes. The one thing of which we could be fully assured is that whatever resides beyond that packaging is definitely Dum. When we watch movies based on nothing more than the spectacle presented on the cover, who is the real sucker? Answer? The person who made that horrendous pun.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.