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The Look of 80s Horror: Behind the Artwork of Scared Stiff

19th April 2019
By Graham Humphreys

In the 1980s, the rapid growth of home entertainment on video ensured maximum exposure on the shelves of video shops and newsagents up and down the country. The artwork for The Evil Dead became my calling card and led to another career-defining poster and video cover, A Nightmare On Elm Street. Rental video provided a fertile ground for lurid imagery, where competing titles had to scream for attention.


The Evil Dead - British quad poster painted by Graham Humphreys


One such was my art for Scared Stiff. I was commission by a self proclaimed ‘head hunter’, himself commissioned with finding the right artist to propell the video sales. With a surfeit of potent visuals, it was no struggle to devise a layout for this cover.




The original painting was composed with an extension to the left to serve as a wrap-around cover. With no clean (ie. without text) version remaining, this no longer exists in any of my files. As with many titles at the time, I delivered my painting never to see to again. In an era without digital storage, my only record is a single VHS cover and an A4 advertisement (which I had to scan and extend digitally for this Blu-ray release). These days, all my original painted art is immediately scanned, digitally stored and I retain the originals.




As with most contemporary Arrow releases, often VHS covers were made with reversible sleeves, so that in the UK there was the option to stick with the much slicker US (or whichever country of origin) art - at the discretion of the rental shops. My work was often hidden, considered too ‘rough’ and unrefined. But I always felt this was it’s strength. I’d decided I wasn’t going to compete, but offer an alternative and I’m eternally grateful to all the stockists that chose to display my art.


Image result for scared stiff vhs


Without the benefit of the internet, finding work in the early VHS era was never easy. Armed with little more than a simple porfolio of work, I would call up agencies, art directors and distributors, hoping to get a meeting. Sometimes this meant travelling out of London, only to be told the work wasn’t ‘the sort of thing we use’. Through pereseverance and being bloodyminded, I survived the photoshop ‘revolution’ and the rise and fall of many an independent distributor. During this forty year period I now find myself busier than ever, still applying paint to paper and keeping it ‘Video Nasty! 


A new book of  my work is planned for publication later this year, this will include a number of Arrow covers.


© 2019 by Graham Humphreys. All rights reserved. 


For more about the life and work of Graham Humphreys have a look at his website, and live your best '80s VHS life in a Blu-ray era with our limited edition slipcase of Scared Stiff, available exclusively on in the UK from April 22 and in the US from April 23, which still retains the artist's indelible original work.