This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
No matter what age you are, if you love movies, you’ve found yourself staring at posters. It could be memories of the video aisle, staring at the lenticular cover of William Lustig’s Uncle Sam, or in the theater wide-eyed as a big standee of The Relic poster looms over you, but all of these first impressions get imprinted on you. They become interwoven into the fabric of how you view – or remember – a film. If a movie is great but has a terrible poster, it’s going to color your experience. Conversely, an incredible poster can go a long way in helping you appreciate even the shlockiest of watches. Again, see: Lustig’s Uncle Sam.
But in a world where films have more marketing than ever, posters and key art become even more integral to sell a film to an audience. If it doesn’t catch you, instantly, your eyes are gonna get bored and move on to the next poster on Apple Trailers. And no genre has key art better than horror.
Here are some of our favorite movie posters that just grabbed us by the collar and didn’t let go, as voted on by Rob Hunter, Kieran Fisher, Meg Shields, Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson, Valerie Ettenhofer, Chris Coffel, and myself.
10. The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is a low-budget classic that spawned a franchise including a more comedic sequel, but the poster, which includes a glowing pull quote from Stephen King, has the gravitas to match any major studio horror film. The film’s key art is stark and eye-catching, from the shadows and details of the illustrated woman’s grasping hands, to the sky so blue it looks otherworldly. The dual threats represented–a hard yet enveloping ground, and a demonic choking hand–are offset by the subject’s vulnerable, desperate strength. Her nightgown is falling off, but this doesn’t seem like a sign of objectification as much as urgency. She strains toward the sky in a gesture that’s so close to victorious, but her facial expression makes the losing battle clear. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
Cheeky, cheeky Tobe Hooper taking a film of unflinching horror and giving us a camp masterpiece that is as visceral as it is ridiculous fun. And nothing exemplifies that more than this stroke of genius, adapting one of the most iconic film posters — 1985’s The Breakfast Club — into this display of utter strangeness. I mean just look at it: you’ve got Chop Top (Bill Moseley) holding his knees in places of Anthony Michael Hall, deteriorating Grandpa propped up to his right, with a long-dead corpse sprawled at their feet. But for me it’s Leatherface with his fist raised in the air, tinkling of “Don’t You Forget About Me” pinging in your mind, that feels like the perfect image for the anti-John Hughes generation, full of punk angst and fuck you attitude for all the Monster Kids in the back row. But it also focuses in on the underlying satirical genius of Tobe Hooper, a director that has made such an indelible mark on the horror genre, while still seemingly never getting his due. Pay your respects to this mad genius, and watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 tonight. Or right now! You can make the time for Tobe. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Fright Night (1985)
In the 2016 documentary, You’re So Cool Brewster! The Story of Fright Night, creature designer and creator Randall William Cook talks about the origins of Amy’s unforgettable toothy maw. You know? The one that’s all teeth? Apparently, late in the game, director Tom Holland approached Cook and asked for a special (read: free and last minute) favor to tie a scene together: a sculpted “shark mouth.” With Holland’s assurance that it would only be visible for only a second, Cook set about whipping up “the mouth from hell” as fast as possible. To Cook’s dismay, Holland fell so in love with the ridiculous grimace that it even made the poster. As a kid, I found the simplest posters and VHS covers were the ones that stuck with me. That I remembered, years later, when I finally sat down to watch them. The Fright Night poster is simple and effective. Something evil has moved in next door; a shadowy figure with the promise of something more fearsome… and toothy. (Meg Shields)
7. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
As many genre fans can attest, artwork and posters can often be quite misleading when it comes to horror films. Back in the VHS days, it felt like the most eye-popping art was always paired with the most disappointing films. The disappointment is worth it on those occasions you’re finally lured in by visuals that accurately portray the movie they advertise. That’s the case with Silent Night, Deadly Night’s art. The concept is simple. It’s a play on a classic Christmas setup with Santa on a snow-covered roof making his way down a chimney. The kicker is that instead of holding a sack in his red velvet-clad hands, Santa has a big shiny axe. Honestly, I’d rather have coal.
This says, “Hey, it’s a holiday movie but it’s going to get deadly.” Even the icicles hanging off the chimney entrance look a little menacing. A nice touch on certain VHS releases is a long tagline that references the three big slasher franchises, including A Nightmare On Elm Street. This is particularly fun because the Wes Craven classic hit theaters on the same day as SNDN. (Chris Coffel)
6. The Descent (2005)
From afar, this poster looks like a glowing skull. If you look closely, though, you’ll see that it’s actually made up of the bodies of women, formed to look like a skeleton head. All of the women are visibly in agony as well, which is a fitting visual representation of what the film is about. That said, there’s a lot of mystery here as it really doesn’t give away many clues about what’s causing these screams. This is an inventive poster that gives us a taste of what we can expect from the movie without spoiling its gruesome surprises. (Kieran Fisher)