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As a kid, I made a mental catalog of all the movies I saw in the video store that I desperately wanted to watch based solely on the awesomeness of their covers. I wasn't allowed to rent any of them at the time, but I knew that one day I'd be old enough to make all the horrible decisions I wanted.

This was in the late '80s and early '90s, when you couldn't just hop onto Wikipedia and look up an insanely detailed plot synopsis for every movie ever made, such as this one for Running Scared, which has a higher word count than the number of people who have actually seen Running Scared. I had to rely on the bitchingness of the cover art and let my imagination do the rest.

When I was finally old enough, I sprinted through the video store, snatching all those movies up like I was stealing pterodactyl eggs to pass the Warrior's Trial of Fleetness and Stone on my 16th nameday. And without exception, every single one of them crushed me with disappointment, because they aren't anywhere as cool as their covers.

Def-Con 4

New World Pictures

Def-Con 4 is one of the raddest posters I have ever seen. It is so boss, Bruce Springsteen lists it as his employer on his tax return. It has a skyline of scarred modern ruins clawing up out of a desert wasteland toward a giant fucking spaceship swinging in low orbit through a radioactive sky. And in the foreground is the deadest astronaut in cinematic history. This movie should have been nothing less than Mad Max teaming up with Sting's character from Dune to kickbox their way through the International Space Station and steer that sonofabitch into the scorched capital of Homeworld to deliver space water to the people of the Shambling Wastes.

Sadly, that movie only exists inside my heart, because the first 20 minutes of Def-Con 4 consist entirely of three people arguing with each other and listening to the radio in a tiny spaceship that looks nothing like the majestic celestial death cannon on the cover.

New World Pictures

Then they crash and spend the rest of the movie wandering around in the Canadian wilderness, trying to outwit a junkyard full of cannibals inexplicably run by a smarmy college student.

New World Pictures

No part of it takes place in a desert or among the skeletal remains of a former metropolis, and there are no dead astronauts anywhere. That's like renting The Road Warrior and finding a copy of The Postman inside the box.



Clearly, clearly, this is a movie about monsters that come whistling up out of the toilet to murder people's assholes. The slogan all but guarantees that a well-groomed shit goblin in boxcloth suspenders and a belly shirt is going to shred more taints than a rusty bicycle. The toilet is the biggest thing in that picture. The gremlin almost seems like an afterthought, like maybe it's the toilet that's killing people and the gremlin is just along for the ride. This movie should've been so full of bleeding anuses that the American Medical Association had it classified as a new type of colon cancer.

But it isn't. It's a slow, boring movie about a guy and his dumbass friends summoning a bunch of raccoon-sized demons in his zombie grandfather's mansion. There is exactly one two-second shot of a Ghoulie popping out of a toilet, and it occurs during a montage:


And that's it. Nobody's bunghole gets eaten, the Ghoulies aren't born from some arcane toilet magic, and the one Ghoulie we do see spring out of a toilet bowl isn't even wearing suspenders. They shamelessly went on to build an entire franchise out of the "lurking toilet monster" idea, because they apparently weren't done slapping me in the face with the cold cruel hand of blighted hope:

MGM, Lionsgate

If you lined all three of those up on a shelf, you would assume that the entire series takes place in a bathroom like some haunted potty training video. But those toilets are fool's gold, my friend. Fool's gold.

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Moon in Scorpio

Trans World Entertainment

Objectively speaking, and without an ounce of hyperbole, this is the greatest piece of home video box art ever constructed. There's a ghost pirate ship with sails made out of tattered banshee hide, an angry skull-shaped storm cloud just waiting to blast the surface of Fear Ocean with poltergeist lightning, and the murky silhouette of an underwater titan scorpion who we can only assume was responsible for turning the majority of that sloop's crew into vengeful shades (one or two of them probably succumbed to rickets before the first scorpion sighting, but that's just a risk you accept as a buccaneer). A movie about any one of those things would be worth a rental, but a movie about all three should win every major award in the entertainment industry and spawn a generation of children named after its main characters.

However, the reason why none of us went to school with a kid named "Mooninscorpio Johnson" is because Moon in Scorpio is about precisely none of those things. There are no ghost pirates, there's no phantom hurricane, and, most egregiously, there is no giant sea scorpion. It's about a woman in a mental hospital, telling her psychiatrist about the time her husband and all of her friends were murdered on a yachting trip by a freewheeling psychopath. The killer's identity is never made entirely clear, but it definitely isn't a scorpion or an undead corsair -- it's just some clownshoe in black footie pajamas with a medieval grappling hook.

Trans World Entertainment
For some reason.

There's a vague Vietnam subplot that suggests there might have been ghosts somewhere in this story at one point, but any trace of the supernatural was violently deloused like Angelina Jolie in Changeling. All that remains is a jumbled mess of confusion best described by the plot keywords listed on IMDb:


No giant scorpion anywhere on that list. However, "breasts" are strongly represented in both the standard and bare variety.


National Cinematografica

Quick, what is this movie about? If you said "a murderous sentient eyeball," then congratulations, that's exactly what I thought. I had every right to expect this to be about a possessed human eyeball (or an evil cybernetic eyeball, whatever, I'm not picky) zipping through the air like an enchanted walnut shell and boring holes through the skulls of its understandably confused victims. Or maybe it hypnotizes people and makes them do crazy self-destructive things, like jump the fence at the zoo to try to put roller skates on all the tigers. Or maybe it grows tiny eyeball arms and simply chokes/stabs/bludgeons hapless teenagers to death like a typical slasher movie villain.

To my dismay, I learned that Eyeball is actually about a man in a red plastic raincoat tiptoeing around like a cartoon burglar and stabbing people's eyes from their heads like an optician with a cocaine debt to an organ-harvesting mobster. Eyeballs don't fly, grow teeth, or do anything other than get jellied by a hunting knife. There are plenty of super uncomfortable close-ups of people with weirdly spaced facial features. But no rabid eyeballs. None whatsoever.

National Cinematografica
Not pictured: an eyeball.

I'm not sure what compelled them to go with the "killer eyeball" design for the movie's poster outside of just poor translation or a specific desire to fool 10-year-old children in Video Express, but it worked.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman

Island Alive

I was convinced that Kiss of the Spider Woman was about either A) a ghost-faced monster lady who catches people in a giant spider web and eats them to death, or B) a superheroine with powers comparable to Spider Woman breaking up cartel supply rings in the South American jungle. I'm pretty sure one of my parents patiently tried to correct my thunderous inaccuracy, but I didn't give one scalding Red Lobster shit because I'd already decided I was right. In my defense, it says "Spider Woman" in the title. You can't call your movie Handshake of the Batman unless motherfucking Batman shows up to congratulate somebody or accept an award. Hollywood marketing depends on this kind of preteen logic, so based on that righteous poster, I felt entirely justified in expecting either Spider Woman or a spider woman.

As anyone with a duck's buttfeather more cultural awareness than I have probably already knows, Kiss of the Spider Woman is actually a powerful drama about two political prisoners sharing a cell in Brazil and eventually falling in love with each other.

Island Alive

Honestly, it's a pretty good movie (unlike everything else on this list), and I'm not here to make fun of it, but if you study that picture for a moment, you'll notice that there isn't a spider woman anywhere in sight. Nobody gets fed to a spider woman by evil jailers, and no domino-masked super lady comes punching through the wall to stage a daring rescue. Those two dudes pretty much sit there telling each other stories for the entire movie until one of them gets shot. I will admit that if that had been on the poster instead, they probably would've sold a lot less tickets.

Island Alive
Because no one wants to go out of their way to see William Hurt in earrings and makeup.

DeepStar Six

TriStar Pictures

I figured DeepStar Six was about sea monsters from space, because I was a child of the 1980s with more enthusiasm than sense. Unspeakable deep-ocean beasts and screaming interdimensional massacre lizards were two things that I always felt should join forces, and this poster seemed to indicate that someone in Hollywood agreed with me. The tagline virtually declares that DeepStar Six is about aliens who crash landed at the bottom of the ocean and are now wreaking havoc on humanity. There's even a brilliant bright light blazing up from the ocean floor, which I assumed to be the "Door Ajar" lamp on the aliens' submerged spacecraft. Also, that dive suit totally looks like an astronaut. There are so many outer space references on this poster that the ocean seems incidental to the story, sort of like Cocoon, or Sphere, or Jamie Lee Curtis' Virus.

However, DeepStar Six is really just about a giant shrimp terrorizing a group of deep sea researchers and Miguel Ferrer.

TriStar Pictures
Especially Miguel Ferrer.

And I'm not being reductive for the purpose of hilarious comedy -- it is literally a giant prehistoric shrimp. There are no aliens, no spaceship, and no flaring underwater spotlight. Just an angry dinosauric crustacean. Somebody does get bitten in half while wearing a dive suit, so I guess the poster isn't totally lying, but that doesn't happen until the last 20 minutes of the film, and it is not the central thesis of the work like the poster would have you believe. Also, that doesn't excuse all the blatant space bullshit. The tagline should read "Not all aliens come from space. But every sea monster comes from the sea. And that's what this movie is about. That second thing. Boy, it's kind of weird we even mentioned space, huh? DEEPSTAR SIX. CATCH IT."

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Dinosaur Island

Image Entertainment

Video stores throughout the 1980s were full of things like this:

MGM, Universal Studios, MGM

So when I saw Dinosaur Island sitting on the shelf, I assumed it was another barbarian movie, only with dinosaurs instead of fantasy monsters, and the standard amount of busty women in bear fur bikinis struggling heroically to keep their breasts from exploding outward like self-inflating emergency rafts. One of the main characters' parents almost certainly gets killed in a village raid, there will be hilarious amounts of gore to compensate for the terrible special effects, and the dinosaurs may or may not be at the whim of an evil sorcerer. In other words, I believed it was the greatest film of my generation, and that watching it as many times as possible was my cultural duty.

In actuality, Dinosaur Island is one of the most gratuitous soft-core pornos in the history of elaborate masturbation. Four bumbling soldiers get marooned on a mysterious island full of sexually insatiable cavewomen who worship a depressing tyrannosaurus with some sort of skeletal deformity.

Image Entertainment

Battling the tyrannosaurus is the only thing any of the characters do that doesn't involve flapping, sweaty nudity. Every other scene plays out like a word problem written by a sexually frustrated geometry teacher.

Image Entertainment
"The bullets aren't working! Should we try having sex with it?"

Seriously, Dinosaur Island contains the most simulated sexual acts I have ever seen in a single movie. It should have been called Nipple Island, and Also There's a Dinosaur.

Silent Night, Deadly Night

TriStar Pictures

This is the movie I most wanted to watch when I was a kid, for reasons that I can't really explain and elementary school guidance counselors are probably still discussing. Suffice it to say that I always liked horror movies, and something about Santa coming down the chimney to beef people with an ax really appealed to me. In my mind, it was the right combination of terrifying and hilarious, and the box art is truly a masterpiece of simplicity. The tagline is irrelevant -- I know what this movie is about, Tinseltown. No need to try to sell me on the details.

As you might have guessed, I was wrong. Somefuckinghow, I was totally wrong about Silent Night, Deadly Night. The first hour of the film is devoted to a meticulously detailed character study of a little boy who witnesses his parents get murdered by an armed robber in a Santa suit. I'm not kidding -- it begins with the incident, and then you watch the little boy gradually grow up in an orphanage and continue to suffer emotional and physical abuse at the hands of the nuns in charge. It's like a Darren Aronofsky film, only more disquieting and horrible.

TriStar Pictures
"I'll beat that rage and hostile resentment out of you yet!"

He turns 18 and moves out to get a job at a toy store, and when the store manager asks him to play Santa, he finally snaps and goes on a killing spree with about 30 minutes left in the movie.

TriStar Pictures
Like so.

The box art wasn't totally misleading, because a man does dress up like Santa and go around killing people, but I was expecting Friday the 13th with Santa Claus instead of Jason. This is more like Taxi Driver if Travis Bickle had worked for the Salvation Army. It's this super intense psychological horror movie that randomly becomes a slasher film for the final third of its runtime.

And the guy never goes down anyone's chimney.

Tom is nowhere near as cool as the cover art would have you believe. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter.

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