With the UK’s most significant regional film festival currently underway in Leeds, and boasting a retrospective on acclaimed horror director John Carpenter, we thought it would be fitting to consider the importance of aesthetics in sending out a message.
Everyone here at Smoking Gun knows that a picture tells 1,000 words, as the saying goes. Great looking packaging can make or break a product. Aesthetically pleasing websites and logos help cement a brand in the common conscious. With this in mind, we’ve decided to celebrate the potency of good visual work in the only way that fits in with events over in West Yorkshire. So, here are 13 terrifyingly good horror movie posters that kept us awake long after we first laid eyes on them. You have been warned.
Amongst the most famous scaries to come from the 80s, Poltergeist kept it simple. An unsettling depiction of a young girl bathed in darkness, reaching out to a TV displaying nothing but static. If this doesn’t scream ‘kids can be frightening’ and ‘there’s something in the telly’, we don’t know what does.
The significance of John Carpenter’s first foray into slasher territory can’t be understated. Setting a benchmark in terms of how such films would unfold, and positioning the viewer as the killer in at least two scenes, are just two examples. For the poster, one thing is clear- whoever ‘he’ is defines all that is 31st October.
You could criticise the design here for not making the movie title prominent enough. We say a pox on those critics- its starkness is its power. Composed of a huge black space, with a small depiction of someone waking up in a coffin beneath, the artwork is almost as claustrophobic as the feature itself.
Funny Games (US)
Michael Haneke’s remake of his own German nightmare was nearly up there with the original. The poster was better. We can’t see their faces, we don’t know who they are, but sinister doesn’t even come close given their fixation on an isolated home in the distance.
The Exorcist is all about the development of a brooding atmosphere. Although most people remember the titular ritual, not to mention the expletives and green vomit that come with it, much of the film is a slow burning descent into shadowy interior shot after shadowy interior shot. You couldn’t ask for better imagery then.
The Ring (Japan)
Forget the woeful American version. Put the OK sequel aside. The Ring is arguably Japanese cinema’s finest hour in terms of keeping you awake, and this imagery is enough to instill that insomnia. A grainy picture of what appears to be a young girl, from this alone we can tell it’s best not to watch what she does next.
The Ring was a faultless ghost story from the Far East. In contrast, Audition is the kind of disturbing flick you want to turn off once the shivers begin, but can’t because it only reveals its true self towards the end. The star of the show is pictured here, syringe in be-gloved hands, but what the operation is remains unclear.
An American Werewolf in London
A bona fide genre classic, the title says it all. Even so, the artists created a piece of work that made a huge impression, with bold, minimal colours, and the image of a hound formed from a splash of blood. If you don’t already know, it’s about a werewolf, and there will be plenty of blood.
The Cabin In The Woods
One of the most original modern horrors, albeit filled with some less than authentic acting and plenty of silliness (it’s supposed to be tongue in cheek), Cabin keeps you guessing for a good chunk of its running time, and is full of hallucinatory twists. As such this MC Escher inspired picture serves the purpose very well indeed.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
Christopher Lee was so synonymous with Dracula he couldn’t order a Bloody Mary without getting looks. Credit to the designers here, then, who ignored him to show a generously-chested female in black and white with two pink plasters covering her bite marks. Oh, and we can be sure it’s a black comedy (OBVIOUSLY).
Is Jaws a horror? We say definitely. And what better way to show that this is about a killer great white shark preying on unsuspecting swimmers, than by showing a killer great white shark of unfathomably big proportions, preying on an unsuspecting swimmer? None.
From the tagline- ‘Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders… and another on his desk’- to the cartoonish depiction of a mad scientists holding a severed cranium and a test tube containing god knows what, we can be sure Re-Animator is about a genius gone mad, experimenting on the deceased, and gross comedy.
Browns often invoke a sense of dread. Maybe it’s the fact brown used to be a prominent filter in the 1970s and 80s- the golden era of video nasties. Maybe not. Either way it adds an eeriness to this picture, then you inspect a little closer and feel inclined to yell: ‘There’s someone behind you’.