With Halloween just around the corner, we take a look back at some of the best horror movie posters of the the last 90-odd years of spooky films. There are so many great posters that we’ve left off, but we had to draw the line somewhere. So below is a random sampling of posters that we’ve always liked, have been sent to us recently and we dug or are just kind of cool.
One interesting aspect of these posters is to see how they’ve changed over time, from German Expressionism of the early posters, to the more graphic displays of the more recent posters. This reflects the content of the films as well, moving the audience from using the terrifying corners of their imagination to showing it all in great splashes of red.
Happy Halloween everybody!
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Some may point to Nosferatu, but for us it has always been Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Like the film itself, the poster uses the angular features of German Expressionism, and the impossible angles and long shadows that come with it. Here’s a fun game to pass the time: look for some of the visual trickery in the poster, such as the gap between the bent arm and the torso.
Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
Director Benjamin Christensen was light-years ahead of the game, creating a horror piece that has genuinely got a few scares under its belt. The demon birth scene may be laughable, but the sabbath has all manner of creatures and animal-like beings dancing in the fire in a display that is both surreal and chilling. The simplicity of the poster says it all: women being led into the ways of the Devil through temptation, and something to do with an apple.
BitsFact: This was the first film we ever reviewed on The Reel Bits, back when it was called The DVD Bits Blog. A lifetime ago!
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Is it possible to find a more gruesome set of images than for this William Castle movie of the late 1950s? A vehicle for Vincent Price, the Reynold Brown poster design manages to involve a busty brunette hanging from the arms of a sinister skeleton and Price casually displaying his recent act of decapitation. As a side note, Brown is famous for a number of iconic posters over the years, including The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the famous Attack of the 50 Foot Woman one-sheet.
Eyes Without a Face (1960)
The theatrical poster for Georges Franju’s only foray into horror is as singular as the film itself. An Edgar Allen Poe-esque tale that is a natural progression from the early works of Luis Buñuel and Jean Cocteau. The film escalates into a series of shocking events, but this minimalist poster only hints at the horror to come. If pressed, this might be our favourite of the lot.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The poster for Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, based on the novel by Ira Levin, is a masterclass in minimalism. The black silhouetted pram sitting on the hill against a sickly green horizon would have been enough, but the beleaguered Mia Farrow cast against this same background adds an air of either hope or foreboding, depending on your point of view.
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
The Hammer Film horror films were a staple of the 1950s through the 1970s, and this quad poster for Peter Sasdy’s Taste the Blood of Dracula makes the most of star Christopher Lee, who very nearly didn’t appear in another Dracula film, having already done several for the studio already. Any poster that asks us to “Drink A Pint of Blood A Day” is an essential inclusion on any list that we might put together.
House (Hausu) (1977)
House or Hausu is a unique Japanese film that has received more attention in recent years thanks to a re-release by Criterion on DVD and Blu-ray. . Director Nobuhiko Obayashi was a pioneering figure in experimental Japanese film, and Criterion’s description perhaps says it all: “How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava?”. We just like the strategically placed white cat in the middle of the chaos
In many ways the definitive horror film of the last four decades, Halloween literally carved out the stalk-and-slash niche that has guided every slasher that has come since. The poster is innocuous and simple enough: a pumpkin mask and disembodied hand read to stab. It doesn’t matter that killer Michael Myers is wearing a William Shatner mask in the film, this poster is just awesome.
BONUS POSTER: Yes, that makes 16, but we couldn’t resist adding a second poster from our good friends at Hopko Designs.
Evil Dead (1980)
Even though it includes a quote from Stephen King, who now seems to give out pull-quotes like candy at Halloween, this evocative poster for Sam Raimi’s film is both ferocious and original as implied by the master of horror fiction. While the Army of Darkness poster is a little more iconic, this one fits the bill for seasonal scares.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Almost every film in the Nightmare series has a terrific poster, with the dream imagery evoking some suitably surreal scenery as depicted by Matthew Joseph Peak. Peak did the art for the first five Nightmare films, all of which had similarly strong posters. This original one suggests everything that the film does: seduction of the innocent, impeding nighttime terrors and the piercing eyes of Freddy that seem to follow the viewer wherever they go. Peak was brought back to do the cover art for the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
An obvious choice for the long-time followers of the ‘Bits, but this is one of our favourite “bad movies” ever. Many have also claimed that the film is incredibly mean-spirited, and at least some of that accusation is justified, as the film was trying to be shocking and offensive. However, it is clear from the start that this film is so over the top, and so cheesy, that it is difficult to take this seriously at all. It isn’t scary in the traditional sense, but this poster is: the arm of the beacon of Christmas hope, Santa Claus, holding an axe and either emerging from or entering the home of someone “naughty”. As the tagline indicates, it is meant to evoke the superior horror film Halloween (above).
House of the Devil (2009)
This film wasn’t even remotely on our radar, but the work of Ti West has popped up this week for two reasons. Firstly, his new film The Innkeepers will hit VOD and cinemas soon, and comes with its own impressive art. The other reason is that our good friends at Hopko Designs sent us these two posters. Prolific, aren’t they? Both have a retro cool.
Mondo are known for their alternative poster designs that sell out in seconds, but this one for the unique French horror film about a killer psychic tyre became the official design. Beginning with a great pun, the poster is as simple as they come, but oh-so-powerful. It’s a classic Olly Moss poster, with the retro chic never betraying the bat-shit crazy film that is Rubber, but somehow completely appropriate to a film of this subject matter.
You know, we really don’t want to promote this any more than we have to, but the poster (and film) has caused a buzz. At first glance it looks like a spine. Then a centipede. Then take a closer look. You might want to click the image below to enlarge this one. Far less interesting, but more overt, is the second poster that aims to be slightly more suggestive.