Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box

One from the reread pile…

Potable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box (2009)

It has been said that I live in the past. That my obsession with my childhood comic heroes, eighties pop music on vinyl and my persistent purchase of physical media shows a lack of an ability to move forward, and an inability to grow up…

… but enough about my wife’s opinions of me…

I have to say though that I agree with her 100%: I love nostalgia. I am easily swayed by a bad movie if it has a character or situation that reminds me of my younger days. In other words, I am the guy who likes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the ‘new’ Star Wars films (ok, NOT The Last Jedi) and George Romero’s new Dead trilogy, and most of my book purchases are based around older collections of comics, or books about films of the era I enjoy the most… which is why I purchased a copy of Jacques Boyreau’s Portable Grindhouse: The Last Art of the VHS Box.

Immediately, before I go into the contents of the book, I must state my utter admiration for its design. Remember those old cardboard video boxes that sell-through video cassettes came in? My movie collection actually started with a copy of Bloodbath at the House of Death, and I cherished that cardboard boxed cassette until I watched it so many times I completely wore the bastard out. This book actually comes packaged in a slightly larger version of one of those boxes, and for those of us who haven’t seen one in a while, you will be wiped out by the wave of reminiscence that will wash over you.

So why is this book designed in such a fashion? Well, as the name may suggest it is a celebration of the VHS box, and its artwork, which was occasionally (usually?) of dubious quality. The introduction gives us both a look at the author’s discovery of the VHS, and then goes into the history of the format, and why so many people still love it.

The body of the book is a joy to behold: each double page features a look at the front and spine of a video box on one page (in a ¾ view), and a close up of the back, which gives either a synopsis of the film, or a look at other films released by the same company. For those of VHS age, or new collectors of the format, the distribution names will be familiar: All Seasons Entertainment, Media, Trans World Entertainment… the list goes on.

The films celebrated are mainly genre stuff, like My Bloody Valentine, Stunt Rock and The Toolbox Murders, and some more obscure titles like The Porno Killer, Midnight Intruders and Alien Massacre. There’s some non genre stuff as well, all weird in their own way, like Roger Raglin Best Kept Secrets (a video bow-hunting manual), Gary Coleman: For Safety’s Sake (a guide to being safe in your home, hosted by Gary Coleman, with his assistants Jack and Jill Example, and Nurse Helpquick) and Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World (an animated feature which steals directly from Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

This book is the paper version of those trailer park Bluray and dvds you can get, like Umbrella’s Drive-In Delirium collections. It’s not essential for you collection, but you will find yourself revisiting it often, and show anyone from older movie fans who remember VHS days, to modern day VHS collectors.

One with this book is it feels as though the spine of the book could crack if it’s not treated with kid gloves: no opening this up on table for this book. I really dig this book, but the packaging I admire is also detrimental to its longevity. DO NOT lend this to a book abuser!

This time is published by Fantagraphics Books, a company of whom I am a great fan as they have published some amazing comic collections in the past. Whilst this may not be the be-all and end-all of VHS cover collections, it is a wonderful look at the box art of yesteryear. Boyreau has several other books of a similar theme, including Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters.

This is a great book, though maybe being light on text is detrimental to it being one you would revisit regularly.

Score: ***

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