Long before internet streaming and expensive, lengthy trailers, the walls of cinemas and video stores were lined with eye-catching film posters as a way to entice viewers and advertise upcoming features. Over the years, these posters have become iconic, though none have had such a profound and long-lasting effect as those from the horror genre.
The horror genre has always had a knack for staying with us. Perhaps it’s down to how the films play into our fears. They’re also frequently saturated with signifiers and iconography that translate perfectly to the poster medium. If a horror poster is done right, with shocking imagery and haunting taglines, it will grab your attention and fill you with a sense of both dread and intrigue, while making itself memorable in the process.
As we’re in the midst of Halloween season, we wanted to pay homage to some of our favourite horror posters from the last few decades. Using colour, imagery, textures and taglines to symbolise key themes within each film, here’s our take on four of the most memorable Halloween classics…
The Shining – 1980
Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ is a film that will forever give us the creeps. The ominous hotel, the terrifying twins, a wacko Jack Nicholson axing his way through the bathroom door sneering ‘Heeeeere’s Johnny!’ – It’s iconic stuff! We wanted our poster design to represent the unravelling darkness of Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance. His image takes precedent on the page, his face haunting, his eyes looking right at the viewer in a disturbed, evil glare, providing zero escapism whatsoever, much like the film itself. The blue tones shown on his face symbolise the cold, demonic aspects of his character, while the contorted, unnerving way his body hunches over reflects his twisted mind set. The maze placed across his head is both a nod to the film’s gut-clenching climax and a signifier for Torrance’s decent into madness.
The most prominent colour used on the poster is red, to represent the murderous storyline. We’ve overlaid the red with waved lines to embody the infamous scene when a sea of blood gushes from the elevator doors (*shiver*). To finish off the design we’ve used the word ‘Redrum’ (‘murder’ backwards, as fans of the film will know!), along with text that isn’t levelled; something which once again subtly suggests to the audience that Nicholson’s character is disturbingly unhinged.
Alien – 1979
Our poster design for Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ takes on the film’s dark, foreboding, sci-fi themes. Playing on the film’s incredible tagline ‘In space no one can hear you scream’, we wanted to evoke an overall feeling of vast isolation and fear of the unknown. The tiny astronaut at the bottom of the page works to encapsulate this feeling, and offers an insight into the loneliness that lead character Ripley experiences as she is forced to go up against the alien alone. The image of the skeleton represents the threat of the alien against humanity. The tagline sits firmly across its mouth, almost like a gag. Anyone who’s sat through the terrifying scene where an alien bursts out of John Hurt’s chest will notice that the ‘I’ in the title doubles up as a slit in skeleton’s chest – a subtle nod to that remarkable moment in cinematic history.
Using a strong, sci-fi green to ensure it stands out, the title text is spaced out across the page to once again reflect the vastness of interstellar space, where anything can happen and no one can help…
The Exorcist – 1973
We couldn’t create a series of Halloween posters without including the most terrifying film ever, The Exorcist. Our take on this classic horror focuses the theme of innocence versus evil to reflect the demonic procession of young girl, Regan. The first thing your eyes are drawn to is the imagery – a girl being drawn from her body and replaced by something twisted and evil. The image transitions from light to dark, with the red figure in the middle representing conflict and corruption, while the shadowed figure at the bottom sporting horns and claws signifies the demon within.
While most horror film posters use darker tones to inflict fear, we chose to use lighter, more exposed colours to evoke an unsettled sense of vulnerability, and innocence being stripped away. The underlying theme of this design is conflict – light against dark. This is shown in the varied positioning of the crucifixes. Some sit upright while some hang unnervingly upside down – the mark of something demonic. The line ‘every soul is a battlefield’ solidifies the theme, and helps to stir up a sense of curiosity in the viewer.
Shaun of the Dead – 2004
We’ll round it up with a more light-hearted take on horror – Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Springing from the film’s brilliant line, ‘you’ve got red on you’, the design features title character Shaun’s iconic tie and shirt combo, splattered with blood. You may wonder why we didn’t just stick a zombie on the poster, and while that would be fun to design, we’re strong believers that subtlety and intrigue can go a long way, especially when it comes to horror (even mock-horror!). In this case, the blood on Shaun’s uniform forms a juxtaposition between the normalities of everyday life and the zombie-plagued madness that threatens to destroy society!
The positioning of the tie works to highlight the title, as your eyes are drawn down towards the text. The use of a harsh, striking red against a bright white background encapsulates the film’s most prominent themes – death and love. Like the tagline says, it’s a romantic comedy… with zombies!
How do you like our take on these classic Halloween film posters? Which one was your favourite? If you could re-hash a classic film poster of any genre, which film would you choose?