Recently I’ve been struck by just how much a horror film changes from its showing at a horror festival to its arrival on a UK supermarket shelf, not in content but through its cover art. Now, it could be said that with the rise of VOD platforms that cover art is becoming less and less important with apps offering tailored lists to users of what to watch next rather than offering interesting covers to entice audiences. While the online viewing experience is no doubt a far easier option and offers film’s exposure to a far wider audience, I feel like it would be a sad thing to lose out on genuinely inventive designs to accompany often very inventive horror films.
It is this ease of access though that I feel is contributing to a decline in cover art. I’ve found myself that the majority of my DVD buying is now done in the supermarket, rather than paying out for postage costs for online specialists or even travel to a genuine media shop like HMV. Of course, in order to gain purchase in a supermarket – that most general of shops, everything must become comparable to something else in the hopes of attracting people to it. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, to me anyway, is Wither. Yes, the film is pretty much a direct homage to Evil Dead, and honestly, a pretty decent one. However, is there really any need for the cover art to be so different in the UK and US?
I mean, US cover art – pretty nifty looking scary demon:
UK cover art….really, really familiar:
So, you take the colour scheme of the Evil Dead remake and use the template of The Cabin in the Woods cover and hey presto! Instant success:
Frankly, the US cover art in this instance isn’t really that much better, but it at least pretends to be its own thing. I’m also aware that having things on display in a supermarket does somewhat limit your options in horror, because yeah, there’s always the idea that some child is going to walk past and be completely traumatised by a Wither, but still, is there nothing that can be done without mashing two previous covers together? Some might say that this is more forgivable considering the debt that Wither has to the Evil Dead, but there are other, even more perplexing examples.
Take Jug Face for example. A wonderfully inventive, original film with the kind of title that really makes you lean forward. What is a Jug Face? What does it mean? I really want to find out. So, of course, when it comes to UK distribution, that fantastic title falls away and the film becomes The Pit. Now, for me a title like The Pit is too simplistic and places far too much emphasis on that as the point of the film rather than the original Jug Face. By calling it The Pit it reduces it, particularly when the back refers to it as Jug Face anyway. The cover art between these too, is problematic given the US release shows the lead female character in full trance mode, a striking image that directly relates to the film and the UK release again highlights the role of the pit. For anyone who has seen the film, it is obvious that the pit is not the main focus of the film, instead focusing on the complex moral decisions at work within the film’s community.
On a purely aesthetic appeal there seems to be a tendency toward coding horror DVDs in black, adorning it with skulls and calling it a day while other regions enjoy cover art that is directly related to the film and also something that stands out. For example, Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, a colourful and inventive piece concerning a spiral into madness (although many aren’t fond, I generally am), that in the UK was represented by a plain black background and skull motif. Compare this to the US version that uses imagery from the film to create a striking piece that really attracts the eye.
These decisions seem strange as surely the aim of selling any film is that it should stand out. By placing near identical, dark, uninspired cover art a serious disservice is being paid, particularly to lesser-known films without the budget afforded to more mainstream releases.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. Please get in touch with more baffling cover art decisions or even your favourite covers. As always, I’m on twitter @caitlynmdowns and also on Facebook through Ghostface Girls.