8mm Monster Movie Box Art!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2005 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine

 

It's not everyday that one sees a card set that makes them want to start a new hobby. But that situation occurred recently when I acquired a new series of cards called The Monster Box. It's a collection of box art from 8mm films of the 1960s and 70s, all with monster or horror themes.

Any boomer growing up in that era probably remembers the many 8mm film ads that littered the backs of Famous Monster and other horror related magazines, or saw the boxes for sale at their local department and drug stores. 8mm film was first produced in the early 1930s by Kodak as a cheaper alternative to 16mm film. The cameras were smaller too, and most middle class families that made home movies during the 1950s - 1970s used 8mm. Those same folks had 8mm projectors to playback the films of their family trips and kids growing up, so it was a ready made market that was hungry to watch scenes from their favorite theater films at home as well.

The films themselves were pretty short (7 to 10 minutes). Most were black and white without sound. The story line was usually butchered as well. But what better way to impress your friends than to show the best scenes of your favorite movie on the wall of your very own family room? (Playing the action scenes backwards was always a sure-fire crowd pleaser, even if changing gears usually stopped the film long enough to burn a hole it. But heck, that's just another cool special effect!) This was long before VHS or cable TV were common. About the only other activities available for home entertainment were reading books or playing board games, neither of which were as popular because they required some degree of thinking.

There were all kinds of films: Cartoons, adventure, silent era comedies, sports, and of course, my personal favorite, monsters. One of the coolest aspects of the monster flicks was their box art. It was colorful, gaudy, graphic, and in some cases, it was actually frightening. Castle Films was one of the leaders in marketing home movies. They owed a large part of their success to an aggressive use of really eye-grabbing box art. The other companies quickly figured out why Castle Films were outselling them, and they in turn, replaced their bland monster boxes with hypnotic images and blood dripping titles.

Pulp Novelties has immortalized 25 of the more popular box images in their new series, The Monster Box. It comes in a stiff cardboard box the same size and shape as the 8mm films do. The cards are a little smaller, about 1/8th of an inch shy of 5 inches. The card stock is stiff and the color is rich. The images are even remastered to correct any defects.

The titles read like a who's who of monster classics: Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Cyclops, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Psycho, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, War of the Colossal Beast, The Wolfman, plus many other "B" flicks that were just as popular at the Drive-ins and midnight shows.

There are only two down sides to this series: One is the cost. It's $20 plus $4.75 postage in the USA. But when one considers only 500 of them are made, paying almost a dollar per card doesn't seem unreasonable. Another handicap is the lack of any text on the reverse. Series producer Timothy Brown told me that was because of cost restraints, but if he goes forward with a second series, he plans to include text on the backs of those. Brown went on to include these words with my order:

"I've been collecting horror movies on 8mm since the late 70s, and I still have great fondness for those films. A year or more ago I was overcome with nostalgia for the ten minute, 8mm digests that got me started as a collector, and I felt that scooping up some of those old Castle Films boxes would be a neat way to adorn my movie room. I wasn't the only person with this idea, and I soon found out that these films (which I couldn't give away twenty years ago) are now fetching considerable coin on eBay. I realized I couldn't afford to keep buying them at $30 a pop, so I got the idea others might be interested in some sort of collection of these images, but didn't necessarily want the films themselves. So I bought the films, restored the box images, and made the set you see now."

Brown also stated that the 8mm boxes were the first point-of-purchase movie marketing products ever made, and have therefore earned a place in collecting history. Now that VHS if on the way out, people are also starting to collect the more provocative box art from that format as well. Can you imagine people buying, selling & trading the same dime-a-dozen VHS tapes that most of us can't wait to dump and upgrade to DVDs? Give it 30 to 40 years and it's a safe bet they will also become prized collectibles as well.

I never thought such a day would occur with Lp records. My generation was dying to replace those easy-to-scratch-and-warp but tough to store disks with the newer, smaller CDs. But once I had finished making the recording companies rich (and myself poor) by upgrading my collection with the new format, I had a terrible realization: CDs are not as fun as Lps! Gone is the foreplay of carefully sliding out the black wax, cautiously wiping it clean with the Discwasher brush, and gently setting the needle on the first groove. And nothing can compete with the beautiful album art of those large 12 inch covers. Remember trying to identify all the many faces on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? Or peeping through the rows of die cut windows on Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti? Or pondering the surreal significance of the enigmatic covers designed by the mysterious "Hipnosis" for bands like Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, and The Alan Parson's Project?

So I ended up buying them all back, third hand, and have five shelves of wax nostalgia to show for it. If I have kids, they will get to experience both the thrill of the grandiose packaging and the semi-religious ritual that playing the original product entailed.

8mm films are to DVDs what Lps are to CDs: The genuine article. Because slapping a tape or DVD in a machine and pressing the button just isn't as dramatic as threading the projector, pulling out the screen, popping the pop corn, and turning out the lights. The Monster Box is a beautiful set, even though monsters are designed to be ugly. Brown's enthusiasm for 8mm is contagious, and I soon found myself on eBay bidding on the actual 8mm films themselves. A small budget kept me from getting too carried away, but I did win a couple of my favorite films for under $10 each: Curse of the Demon (which is featured in the card set) and The Thing From Another World (which is not). I plan to get more, but there are several problems with actually trying to view these films. 8mm was eventually replaced with Super 8mm, which provided more room for the film image by making the sprocket holes smaller. It can damage the films to play them on a different format than the one the projector was made for. There are also problems with old film breaking, scratching, color fading, and the projectors breaking down with no replacement parts. So just having the card set and a few of the boxes (for old time's sake) will have to hold me for a while. But one day, I hope to borrow a projector and turn out the lights...

The box itself sports an original piece of art by Brown, and he certainly has a flair for the old style. I hope Brown continues with series 2 and beyond, because it's cheaper than buying the films themselves, and it's a heck of a lot easier to store! (Plus, if they get torn in half, one doesn't need a splicer. Regular tape will work for cardboard -- Heaven forbid.)

In the meantime, you can check out more about The Monster Box art cards and 8mm film collecting at the Pulp Novelties website at www.pulpnovelties.com. There's also a giant on-line box art archive of colorful covers at http://www.angelfire.com/movies/8mmboxes/8mm.html Yet another resource is the detailed book by Scott MacGillivary called Castle Films: A Hobbiest Guide. (It's short on photos but long on information.)

 

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