When the videocassette recorder (VCR) was released in Japan in 1976 by Victor Company of Japan (JVC) no one could have expected the impact it would have on the world. The Video Home System (VHS), also developed by JVC, was a phenomenon and quickly became the analog recording videotape-cassette standard. The home entertainment market was soon flooded with movies, most from independent distribution companies that would release lesser know foreign films, previously unavailable or previously censored.
Anyone with even the slightest interest in home entertainment recognises the importance of VHS. The marketing and promotion from the independent distribution companies elevated the medium to such an extent that collectors today now happily pay significant amounts of money for a VHS tape; not for the movie itself, but for the incredible artwork/design featured on the cover.
So let’s return to VHS era, and to the country that started it all, as I present what I consider are 10 Essential Japanese VHS Covers.
10. Mutant War (1987)
Directed by Brett Piper.
AKA Mutant Men Want Pretty Women
Written and directed by Brett Piper, Mutant War is a forgotten science-fiction masterpiece. No seriously! Try and find any information that talks about Mutant War in any sort of depth…
This movie is the successor to Brett Piper’s equally obscure Galaxy Destroyer (1986).
9. Amin: The Rise and Fall (1981)
Directed by Sharad Patel.
AKA Rise and Fall of Idi Amin
Branded as an exploitation film, Amin: The Rise and Fall is a fairly accurate portrayal of Idi Amin directed by Sharad Patel and released in 1981 (only two years after Idi Amin’s real life exile from Uganda).
8. Night of the Sharks (La notte degli squali) (1988)
Directed by Tonino Ricci.
AKA Jaws Attack
Night of the Sharks (or Jaws Attack as the Japanese VHS cover would have you believe) is an Italian/Spanish/Mexican co-production directed and co-written by Torino Ricci, with Tito Carpi. And yes, Night of the Sharks is completely unrelated to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).
7. TerrorVision (1986)
Directed by Ted Nicolaou.
Released in 1989 by Empire International Pictures, TerrorVision is a horror/comedy directed by Ted Nicolaou; the man responsible for the Subspecies film series (1991-1998).
6. Krull (1983)
Directed by Peter Yates.
Krull, directed by Peter Yates, was one of the most expensively produced motion pictures released in the 1980’s.
5. True Gore (1987)
Directed by M. Dixon Causey.
The extremely obscure True Gore tape (in either it’s English or Japanese version) is a sickening shockumentary directed by M. Dixon Causey that revels in death, but just like the original Faces of Death (1978) not all of the footage used is “true”.
4. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Directed by Dan O’Bannon.
Dan O’Bannon’s Battalion, better known by it’s English title The Return of the Living Dead, was loosely adapted from the John Russo novel of the same name. So loosely in fact that it bears almost no resemblance to Russo’s original novel. Interestingly Russo’s novel was written as a sequel to George A. Romero’s genre defining film Night of the Living Dead (1968).
3. A Virgin Among the Living Dead (La nuit des étoiles filantes) (1973)
Directed by Jess Franco.
Directed by Jess Franco the surreal erotic horror A Virgin Among the Living Dead was released in France as Christina, Princess of Eroticism in 1973, and re-released in 1981 with additional footage filmed by Jean Rollin.
2. Day of the Dead (1985)
Directed by George A. Romero.
Day of the Dead, the third film in George A. Romero’s Dead series, being preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), was originally intended to be “the Gone with the Wind of zombie films”.
1. Frankenhooker (1990)
Directed by Frank Henenlotter.
Frank Henenlotter’s 1990 black comedy Frankenhooker, very loosely inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, had difficulty obtaining an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Henenlotter recalled that one representative of the MPAA said to the production company’s secretary in a phone call, “Congratulations, you’re the first film rated S.” To which she asked, “S? For sex?” And they replied, “No, S for shit.”
All high quality scans of the above Japanese VHS covers were sourced from Japanese VHS Hell; a website maintained by Ryo Miyaji.