The 10 Greatest Horror Movie Posters Ever
10. Dead & Buried (1981)
Ever since I first laid eyes on this poster, I could never get it out of my head. It's a very passive poster; there is little action and the colors are as subdued as possible. It is, perhaps, the absence of activity that makes it so striking. The cracked, lifeless landscape goes on into infinity; there are absolutely no trees, mountains, buildings. This is a landscape of nothingness. The only objects to grab one's attention are the full moon and a cold face that has burst from the earth, fighting one another for dominance. The face easily wins. It's a mysterious face, showing no emotion. Because there are no other terrestrial objects, one doesn't even know the size of this face. It seems to be a part of the very earth, not unlike Newton in Blake's famous painting. The hair seems to extend into the soil like roots. This is the stuff of nightmares.
9. Black Sunday (1960)
I am not normally a fan of minimalist posters, but I make an exception for Black Sunday's brilliant poster. There is actually quite a lot of information jampacked into the bottom of the poster: an opened, occupied casket, Barbara Steele being tied to a post by executioners, an approaching chariot, a castle in the far back, angry villagers with torches, and a bonfire. However, what dominates is a plain, monochromatic sketch of a woman's face. It's an incredible face. Those eyes, Barbara Steele's eyes, burn angrily; the tagline defying anyone to stare into them. While her hair hangs down on her dark left side, it flies perpendicular to her head on the right and light side, giving her a frightening asymmetry. It could just as well have been pictures of kittens playing with yarn at the bottom of the poster and it would still be frightening.
8. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
It's not surprising that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would have great, expressionist poster art. The film itself is a great, expressionistic work of art. In the poster, the world itself vies with the characters for who is most alive. The characters seem part of the scenery and the scenery seems conscious, the lamp post looking on and the pants introducing like claws. True to the world of Caligari, everything appears as upside down as the girl and totally insane. And it all appears to be lunging right at the viewer.
Look at the space between Cesare's arm and torso for a visual trick.
7. Night of the Living Dead (1968)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sometimes one must look to foreign posters for great poster art. The Spanish poster for The Fog is far superior to the American poster. Such is the case for Night of the Living Dead. The Italian poster throws a skull directly into the face of the viewer and next, in the foreground, an animate hand emerging from the grave. I'm not certain where the horror poster trop of a rising hand comes from, but this poster might be the first. If so, it inspired at least a hundred other posters. In the background, haunting human figures appear by the light of the full moon to be shuffling out of the fog, past gravestone. The dark, earthy colors give the poster that appropriately sensationalistic gloom one finds on pulp magazine covers of the '20s.
6. The Devil's Rain (1975)
The Devil's Rain might not be a great movie, but this poster is a kinetic explosion! The Futurist line-style draw the eyes inward to the red and navy swarm of writhing, melting faces that appears to have been spit from the burning pits of hell below. A man chained to a platform over the fire, attended to by a damsel hangs suspended over the flames in the bottom right corner. A goat man stands out from the negative space of a giant window in the top left corner. Cars and people descend into an otherworldly inferno at the bottom of the poster. There is just so much going on, such a confusing mess of activity, that it's quite mind-blowing. If only the same thing could be said for the film.
5. Phantom of the Opera (1925)Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Phantom of the Opera was one of Universal's first horror movies and it seems they went wild on poster art. There are loads of different posters for this film and they are all fantastic. None, however, so exquisite is that pictured above.The lines and angles remind one of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and indeed even a bit of The Devil's Rain, but much more restrained and harnessed. The kinetic mastery almost tricks the eye into seeing the phantom leaping across the image, his cape swept in his swift movement. The kissing couple in the blob of light are the sole, warm contrast to the structuralist appearance of the city and the phantom.
4. Aenigma (1987)Click thumbnail to view full-size
So many of Lucio Fulci's films have gorgeous poster art. Zombie 3 has a giant hand raising in an orange flame exposition into the dark sky above a city, the sinister eyes of a zombie staring from beneath the knuckes and zombies assaulted a beautiful damsel in distress depicted in the palm. Ethereal and creepy, it's a lovely work. For The New York Ripper, Fulci's mean-spirited slasher, the knife-wielding silhouette of a killer rises over New York City while a semi-nude woman's body lies on an asphalt bridge in the foreground.
The best poster for a Fulci film, however, goes to Aenigma. Not his best film by far, but the poster makes me wish it was. A curvaceous woman reclines--with strategically positioned bedsheets--in her bed, unaware of the terror lurking behind her. And that terror is one of the most stunning horror poster images I've ever seen. The open-mouthed face of a young woman, whose sweeping hair gradually tapers into huge, demonic fingers that curve down, the claws pointing toward her face. I don't know what the polar opposite of a halo is called, but that's what it would look like. I also like the gravestones glimpsed along the sides of the demonic hands, emphasizing that this is a force of death.
3. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
William Castle sure knew how to sell a picture. Sordid, macabre, Gothic, this poster contains so many great, horror motifs. In the bottom left corner, an arm reaches up from some bubbling pit under a trapdoor, looking downright Poe-esque. In the lower right corner is, well, Vincent Price! Vincent Price carrying a severed head, no less. Above the title it gets even better. A huge, malevolent skeleton carrying a noose uses its own arm as a gallows, hanging a beautiful, curvy lady in an elegant dress. That is a stroke of Gothic genius. A rusty gate one can almost hear in one's mind hangs half-open beneath the skeleton's arm and behind that looms a great and terrifying mansion, naturally surrounded by bats, that truly lives up to being called the house on Haunted Hill. It is the most creatively macabre poster ever produced.
2. A Nightmare on Elm StreetClick thumbnail to view full-size
Yes, the entire series of A Nightmare on Elm Street posters. Actually, just the first five, all of which are the work of Matthew Joseph Peak. Every one of them is incredible. You'd think they might diminish with each film, but he somehow manages to get better with each poster. Just look at how he captures the essence of a nightmare in the first picture: Heather Langenkamp's wildly frightened eyes stare up through metal claws and a superimposed, skeletal face dominates the top of the poster. Her vulnerability is represented so stunningly. With the sequel, the poster is actually better than the film, showing the decaying nightmare world parallel the real world, with that nice Poe-inspired touch of a raven. For some reason one of Freddy's eyes gradually becomes dislodged, although it's already protruding in the first poster; I don't remember this actually happening in the film, but it's a brilliant move, because it only makes the poster and Freddy much more macabre and frightening. It emphasizes that all-seeing, nearly-omnipotent force Freddy exercises in the dream-world. Freddy's presence becomes more godlike in each poster, his claws embracing everything in frame. I don't care to estimate how many ripoff posters there are of Peak's brilliant series of work. My personal favourite is the fourth, with Freddy clawing at his protruding eye, caught in a blast of light, his claws emerging from asphalt--I guess he grew a third hand for the poster. I love busy posters and that one is certainly the busiest. On the other hand, the cosmic colors composing the fifth and final of Peak's posters is strangely haunting, putting the central, sphere-encapsuled cradle at the center of the universe, as it were.
1. Mountain of the Cannibal God
I had no trouble deciding that Sergio Martino's cannibal epic, Mountain/Slave/Prisoner of the Cannibal God has the single greatest horror poster ever. In fact, both of its posters are the greatest horror movie posters ever. You have skeletons, rotting corpses, giant man-eating snakes, Ursula Andress in the sexiest damsel-in-distress costume ever conceived gracing her fine breasts, exposed thighs, jungle cannibals with a fresh catch of muscular man-meat, a glowing skull-mountain, the full moon--horror fans orgasm just looking at this. It promises everything that an unrestrained, exploitational horror film should have and more. This is the poster to which all other horror posters are to be compared. There's simply no way the film could live up to it, however good it is; but that doesn't matter because a dozen perfect horror movies are flashed before your eyes in this one poster.