Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Worst to Best: Stephen King Movie Posters

A commenter suggested this idea a while back, and it seemed like something that would make for a good Halloween post.  So here's your treat; it's moderately better than pennies or travel-sized toothpaste.  And it's even a few days early!
  
A few ground-rules: first of all, I'm only counting theatrically-released movies.  Television productions might well have promotional posters and artwork that is worth considering, but -- unless there is a persuasive reason to do so (for example, in the event of an international theatrical release) -- generally-speaking, they won't be considered here.
  
Second, my selection process on each movie's poster(s) needs to be talked about.  What I'm striving for is to only rank the posters that were released at the time of the film's initial release.  If there were more than one of those, and if it strikes my fancy to do so, I might end up ranking multiple posters from a single film.  (I did in one case, and didn't in another; we'll talk more about those choices when we get to them.)
  
What I will not be ranking is re-release posters, fan-made posters, or home-video marketing poster.  Unless I do so accidentally, which is always possible.  I will strive to use American-release posters, because I am an American and that's just how I roll; but if a foreign-release poster strikes my fancy, it might find its way into the mix.
  
Finally, let's be clear about something: I am not an expert when it comes to this sort of stuff, which means that I will be finding only what I can find by Googling and Wikipedia-ing and IMDb-ing it.  I make no pretensions toward this being a complete list of King-movie posters, so if and when I forget something major, don't hold it against me.
  
Sound good?  Okay!  Let's get to gettin'...


Honorable Mention -- Room 237 (2012) 




I've relegated this one to honorable-mention status for two reasons:

#1, since it draws its visual and design elements from another movie, I didn't feel like it was entirely right to count it here.

#2, I'm not positive this is an actual release poster and not a fan-designed poster.  I think it's legit, but to be honest, there are a lot of different designs, and I'm not sure which ones count and which ones don't.  It seemed easiest to just fling it into an Honorable Mention spot and call it a day.


#42 -- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1993)



 

Yes, it's true; Children of the Corn II was released theatrically.  Barely.  But we'll count it, if only so as to enable me to have a Children of the Corn movie in the final spot.


This baffling poster art seems to have cribbed from elements of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Why would Dimension have done such a thing?  Beats me.  But:




God, I love Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Just looking at those images makes me want to get to work on my inevitable Trek blog.  A project for some other day...

By the way, I do enjoy the Home Alone reference on the poster.  That's the sort of horror-movie marketing gimmick that we all know and love.


#41 -- Thinner (1996)


Why is the collar on his raincoat turned up?  Why do the mouths not match?


In Thinner, you've got a high-concept plot: an overweight lawyer is cursed by a gypsy to lose weight until he is dead.

And THIS is how you choose to sell that concept on a poster?

Now, let's have no mistakes between us: I am not a graphical designer, nor am I an artist of any kind.  So do I immediately have an idea for a better poster?  Not necessarily.  Some sort of before-and-after photo that horrifyingly parodies weight-loss ads is the first thing that comes to mind, but there might be something better than that in the ether somewhere.

The question to ask about a movie poster is always this: if you showed it to somebody who had never heard of the movie and had no previous idea of what it is about, would the poster communicate the movie's setup to them?  If not, does it tell them something essential (lead actors, genre, etc.)?  If the answer to the first question is "no," then the answer to the second question HAS to be "yes," or you've failed utterly.  Preferably, though, you get a "yes" to both.

I guess this one tells you Thinner is a horror movie, but beyond that, what does it say?  Not much.

Bonus points to the font on the title for doing a better job of selling the concept than the rest of the poster.


#40 -- Hearts In Atlantis (2001)




Once again, a poster that tells you nothing about the movie.  If you read the "What if one of life's great mysteries moved in upstairs?" part, I guess that establishes at least some sort of vague premise.  But beyond that...?  Anthony Hopkins is in it, and he's looking in at you creepily through a window?  Does this mean it's a horror movie?  If so, what the hell kind of title is Hearts In Atlantis?

Awful poster.

This seems like a good time to ask an essential question: do movie posters actually matter?  The theory behind them is that when people go to a movie theatre trying to find something to watch, they stand there looking at the posters and make their minds up based on what they see.  I suppose that might have been a thing that occurred with regularity at one point in time; and take it from a guy who works at a theatre, it does still happen in a small percentage of cases.

But does it happen frequently?  Not so far as I can tell, no.

The other function is to catch the eye of people who are at the theatre and see them hanging in coming-soon cases while they are there watching something else.  This is, in my opinion, a much more essential function circa 2015.  That being the case, does the poster actually need to tell you anything about the movie?  Or is it instead a cog in a greater machine?  It could be argued that all a poster needs to do in that capacity is catch one's eye long enough to have you read the title and remember it.  Then, at some point later -- before another movie, or during television commercials, or on the Internet -- you will see a preview for it, and will connect the two things.

I don't know.  Maybe that's the idea, and if so, then it was already the idea in 2001 at the time of the Hearts In Atlantis movie.  But wouldn't a good poster accomplish the same goal more effectively?


#39 -- The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)



  
I have an odd and only somewhat rational tolerance for The Rage: Carrie 2, and that tolerance even extends to the poster.  Which means that it is only now, sixteen years later, that I am noticing how lame this poster is.

It might be argued that a sequel's poster has half of its work (if not more) done for it already: since people are presumably already aware of Carrie, a sequel almost need to do nothing more than announce itself.  Still, you want to give people some idea of what the sequel is, even if it's only to suggest that this is more of the same.  With that in mind, what good does this poster do?  "Hey, folks," it says, "you know that movie your parents used to tell you was scary?  We made a sequel, and it's got a mildly attractive girl in a negligee in it.  Please buy a ticket!"

The obvious idea would have been to play with the original movie's poster art, and create an equivalent for the sequel.

In some parallel dimension, I am working at a movie-marketing firm.  I like to imagine myself as their version of Don Draper, except fatter and not as smooth; I sit around a table with junior executives, shooting down their shitty poster concepts and leading them to the better ideas as one leads a horse to water.  Eventually, I have to tell the movie studios' executives how bereft of ideas they are, and refuse to put my name on yet another Photoshopped floating-heads poster.  "We can do better!" I chastise them.  "We should do it!"  I probably get fired then, but everyone around me knows I'm right, and that's the real reward.

But in this universe, we're stuck with these shitty posters, which are by far the norm these days.  As we will see for the next few selections...


#38 -- Secret Window (2004)




I mean, yeah, this poster sucks; but I will at least give it points for (A) knowing that in 2004 putting Depp's face on a poster would probably sell you $10 million worth of tickets with no additional effort needed and (B) managing to at least suggest that there is an actual window which has some bearing on the plot.  What is that plot?  No clue.

The Panic Room reference -- assuming you look closely enough to see it -- clues you in to the idea that this is probably a thriller of some sort.

By the way, if you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that several of these posters have opted not to put the name "Stephen King" on the poster except for in the credits.  By 2004 -- 2001, in the case of Hearts In Atlantis -- Hollywood had given up on the idea that the King name actually created box-office for a movie.

Think about how odd that is for a second.  King, by any standard of measurement, is one of the best-selling authors of all time.  He is literally a household name, and there have been dozens of movies and television shows based on his works.  And yet, in 2004, Hollywood and its marketing firms feel that it might actually be harmful to a movie's commercial prospects to let people know that the movie they are trying to sell is based on a King story.

Something in that equation indicates that things have gone very badly awry.


#37 -- The Green Mile (1999)




The taglines -- "Paul Edgecomb didn't believe in miracles.  Until the day he met one." -- are effective, but otherwise, this is a weak concept at best.  Warner Bros. wants you to know that Tom Hanks is in the movie, and that this is similar to the uplifting and inspirational Shawshank Redemption.  They assume -- probably correctly -- that you have no clue Stephen King had anything to do with that movie, and they'd love it if you never got hip to his involvement with this one, either.

As such, this poster may have actually worked.  Old folks by the scores lined up to see Tom Hanks playing a policeman of some sort; that was all they needed.  Letting them know up front that the movie was about Death Row and those who perhaps do not deserve to be there might have been overselling things a bit.

So I rank this poster lowly for personal reasons, but have to confess that it probably did its job effectively.


#36 -- Carrie (2013)




One of my biggest personal pet peeves with movie posters is the modern trend of putting out teaser posters that don't actually tell you the title of the movie.

What's the point of that?  My guess is that somebody out there thinks that a teaser poster like this makes people wonder what it is, and they then get excited to find out, and get on the Internet and do some research to find out.

It's possible that this actually happens.  It's also possible that people see this poster, walk over to the box office, and ask the cashier what the movie You Will Know Her Name is about.  And the odds are good that said cashier will have no flippin' idea what the customer is talking about.

It's even more likely that people will look at the poster, shrug, and never give it a second thought.

So with that in mind, what sense does it make to put out a poster like this?  There's a potential customer standing right in front of your poster; use that opportunity!  Don't gamble on the notion that they might become invested enough to go looking for further information.  Guys, that's just poor salesmanship.

The image itself on this one is mildly striking, so it might have gotten some attention; but that attention was promptly squandered, so what can it have benefited anyone?

Again, I'd have simply produced a variation on the 1976 movie's poster.

By the way, this is just a teaser poster.  There were several styles of final one-sheets designed, but they have been eliminated from consideration.  The studio couldn't even be bothered to send them to theatres; or, at least, to the one I work at.  So as far as I'm concerned, if they didn't care enough to actually put them out there, they don't count.


#35 -- 1408 (2007)




Ah, yes.  Once again, the floating-heads approach, but this time with the two-thirds-of-a-face variation that was such a rage for a while there.  Are people still doing that in selfies they use for their profile pics?  I hope not; that shit got old quick.

In the case of this poster, the looks on Cusack's and Jackson's faces are at least somewhat interesting.  The placement of the key helps, and the colors are okay.  So this isn't a bad poster, but it relies totally upon you reading the tagline in order for it to convey anything about the plot.

How about this?  Cusack is entering the room, and a skeleton bellhop has his hand out for a tip.  Or a skeleton is delivering him room-service.  Something with a goddam skeleton, guys.  (Yes, I know that no skeleton is present in the story; Movie Poster 101 taught me that a poster need not actually represent the plot, but can get away with merely establishing tone and mood.)

Points for not being ashamed of Stephen King's name, though.


#34 -- Dolores Claiborne (1995)




Floating heads, both looking depressed in various ways.  Once again, the tagline is the only element doing anything whatsoever to sell this movie's concept.

How the marketing firm that designed this failed to use both the eclipse AND the well is a mystery to me.  God forbid you do anything with the most visual elements of your movie...


#33 -- The Mist (2007)




This poster is just flat-out awful.  It does nothing to inform the potential consumer that there are monsters in that mist, and in fact it only communicates that it is a horror movie by having the word "terror" in the tagline.

Let's have a look at what John Carpenter's The Fog did with a similar concept in 1980:





I love that poster for The Fog, because it does all it really needs to do: it says to you "We've got a girl, we've got some fog, and we've got a monster in that fog trying to get to the girl."  Bam; sold!

For The Mist, I'd have tried to get the grocery-store concept in there somewhere, and would have had tentacles coming out of the mist and wrapping around somebody, the look on whose face would indicate that they knew they were about to be eaten alive.

Instead, you get a man holding a child; they look like they are waiting to catch a taxi.  They look about as afraid as they would look if they were standing in line to get an autograph from Mickey Mouse.  Less, if anything; that actually scares some kids.  Instead, with this poster, you've got a tagline that says that fear changes everything, and two people who don't look even moderately afraid.

How's that work?


#32 -- Firestarter (1984)




For those who like to read, the Firestarter poster.

It's not difficult to think of a better idea: Charlie McGee with her back to the viewer, her hair blowing and balls of fire in place of her fists.  An agent with a gun is menacing her, and everyone else is running in terror from the scene.  Maybe she's actually using one hand to set somebody on fire; it could even be the guy with the gun, who is just beginning to burn and has only just begun screaming.

Something like that.

Instead, we get Drew Barrymore looking like she just woke up and is already contemplating becoming a drug addict.


#31 -- The Mangler (1995)




You've got to feel a little sorry for the marketing firm assigned to create a poster for the movie about a haunted industrial laundry-press.  I guarantee you that got handed over to whoever the newest person at the firm was; nobody with seniority is taking on a project like that.

Here, the movie's concept is totally lost in favor of a (failed) attempt at creating a striking image.  This does at least suggest the idea of a person-devouring machine, but that's the best you can say for it.

Still better than floating heads, though.


#30 -- The Dark Half (1993)




I don't dislike this poster that much, but once again I'm forced to ask whether it sells the movie it is advertising, and once again the answer has to be "no."

The colors and design do something to redeem this one, but not enough.


#29 -- Silver Bullet (1985)




Hmm...

This should be lower.  Not sure why I ranked it as high as this.  I guess I could go back and change it, but then I'd have to relabel all the photos.  So I'm going to opt to be lazy assume that my subconscious mind had a reason for placing it this high.

Either way, this is a fairly lame poster.  You've got a werewolf, but can't bother to have a werewolf on the poster?  At least have a hairy arm or shoulder or something.  I guess you're assuming the tagline and the full moon are doing the work for you?

How'd that work out for you from a box-office perspective?


#28 -- Pet Sematary Two (1992)




You could make a convincing argument that this poster mostly gets the job done.  It's a sequel; it shows kids in a graveyard; there's some sort of creepy (presumably undead) animal imagery up top.  That tells you what you need to know.

It's also utterly dull, so this is as high as I can possibly go.

Bonus question: what sort of animal is that toward the top?  Probably a dog, given the story; but it looks a lot like an owl to me.


#27 -- Cat's Eye (1985)




Do you have cats?  If so, then you've probably seen them do that thing where they're bathing themselves, and get to the butthole-licking phase of the project.  If it's an exceptionally-unwashed-anus day (as it often is), then the cat will sort of pause what it is doing, with its mouth hanging open in evident distaste for what it has just done.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, YouTube can almost certainly help you out.  It's hilarious; they always look so bummed out.

Point is, that's what it looks like has happened to poor General on this Cat's Eye poster, and it's all I can think of every time I see it.  This was always going to a tough movie to sell via poster, though, so I don't envy them having had to come up with something.  Bare minimum, let the cat's mouth be closed; who thought that was a good idea?

Speaking of good ideas, here's one (maybe): the poster consists of Drew Barrymore lying asleep in her bed.  General is at her feet, standing there protectively, looking toward the gnome as it comes out of the hole in wall wielding its sword.


#26 -- Riding the Bullet (2004)




It makes me almost physically ill to think about saying anything nice about this wretched movie.  So instead, I'll say only that this poster doesn't suck as bad as it might have sucked.

The movie barely got released into theatres; I thought about pretending I didn't know it, and thereby omitting it from the rankings (which is what I did with Dolan's Cadillac).  But no.


#25 -- The Night Flier (1997)




I believe it aired on HBO first, but The Night Flier did apparently play in about a hundred theatres for a week or two, so we're counting it.  And I would have placed it higher if it didn't have ol' Dwight Renfield on the poster; his design is one of the movie's flaws, and I don't think having it front and center here did it any favors.

But the thing with the shadow of the plane being in the form of a vampire bat is very effective, so overall, I'm more positive than not.


#24 -- The Lawnmower Man (1992)




I'm having a hard time explaining why even to myself, but I kind of like this poster.  I think it is entirely based on the color scheme.  The tagline isn't bad, either, so maybe that's part of it.

Note the "Stephen King" credit that marks this as a pre-lawsuit poster.


#23 -- Apt Pupil (1998)




I hate this poster, but the rational side of my brain admits that its successfully communicates the idea: school kid with a Nazi behind him.

Thing is, what's with the look on Dussander's face?  He looks like Todd just farted or something.

Overall, it mostly makes me nostalgic for the days when it wasn't a foregone conclusion that a movie's poster was going to consist merely of photo montages.  There are still occasional examples of actual art, but they are few and far between.


#22 -- Maximum Overdrive (1986)




Much as is the case with the movie itself, this poster is so tacky that you sort of have to marvel at it.  No point in me saying anything else, so...


#21 -- Needful Things (1993)




Not bad.  Needful Things is a high-concept story, but it's a concept that isn't terribly easy to convey with a single image.  Here's what comes to mind: a store shelf full of random items, each with a price tag reading 1 SOUL.  Not great, I know.

This poster image is fairly effective.  The shopping bag helps gets the concept across, and the figure trying to escape it furthers it.  I wouldn't say this is a personal favorite, but I don't dislike it.


#20 -- Misery (1990)




I'm of two minds about this one: one mind thinks that because the poster does nothing to sell the idea of what Paul Sheldon goes through in the movie (excepting the tagline), it is a failure.  The other mind thinks that that doesn't matter; the image itself is effective enough, especially if you give the tagline a point or two.

I am siding with the second mind, and what I'll say about it is that the poster does manage to successfully communicate Paul's isolation.  Combined with the font and color of the title, I think everything comes together well enough.


#19 -- The Running Man (1987)


 

Sometimes, the primary thing you want to do is sell a movie's star.  Even if you do nothing but glance at this poster, it does that.  I like the stark design a lot, and the combination of black, grey, and red works for me.

I'm also charmed by the idea that the tagline wants us to believe it is Arnold Schwarzenegger himself taking part in the deadly competition, not the character he plays.  That was 1987 for you.

I also really like the fact that Ben's right foot is overlaid over the movie's title; it's almost as if he is running right off the poster, and it subtly suggests both a 3D effect and the character's considerable physical skill.  A small thing, but it works.


#18 -- Dreamcatcher (2003)




What a terrible movie.  But let's not hold that against the poster, which I like.  There is nothing natural about a person sitting in the middle of a snowy road while a car approaches them from behind; that's just plain ominous.  And in this case, I think it does make you want to know more.

Also -- and I really like this -- if you look at the shape of the sky, it is in a shape that subtly suggests the head of a stereotypical grey alien.  That might be a coincidence; I'd never noticed it until writing this post.  But I like it!


#17 -- Graveyard Shift (1990)




This one works for me by virtue of being simple, striking, and creepy.  It doesn't say a whole heck of a lot about the plot -- although the miner's helmet suggests something subterranean -- but in this case, I don't know if that matters.  Between the bloody helmet, the skull, the single remaining bloodshot eye, and the overall aesthetic, I bet you that a LOT of teenagers rented the VHS tape from a video store based solely on this art.  (Yes, I know we are talking about movie posters and not VHS-box art; but in many cases, they used to be one and the same, and this is one of those times.)


#16 -- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)




Forgoing the attempt to convey the plot of the movie, the designer(s) of this poster opted for the striking-image approach.  I think they nailed it, and some King fans may be disappointed that I haven't placed this one higher.

One reason I haven't is that I think you could make the argument that the poster blunts the effectiveness of the movie somewhat.  I knew what was going to happen going in, but many people didn't.  Did the poster spoil the movie for them?  Does it do too much to actually reveal that Andy will succeed in his escape attempt?  Does it steal a bit of the thunder from one of the movie's standout scenes?  I'm not sure; but I can't immediately say it doesn't.

So for that reason (plus the fact that I just like a lot of the upcoming posters more), I'm placing this one a bit lower than it might deserve.


#15 -- The Running Man (1987)




Say, didn't we just talk about The Running Man?

We did indeed.  This is one of only two movies on this list for which I'm ranking more than one poster.  The previous one is probably the more commonly-seen of the two Running Man posters, but I prefer this one (though the starkness of the other one appeals to me greatly).  I'm not even quite sure why!  I think it's probably all about that single staring eye and that menacing chainsaw.  I approve of that sort of pulpy, exploitative element on a poster when the movie supports it, which this one does.

I also like the fact that Arnold is sweaty.  Not sure what that says about me, but let's not read anything much into it other than that part of me still wishes he had found a way to become a Schwarzenegger-style bodybuilder.  That part of me also wishes it was perpetually 1987, so that I could take my ripped bod to Motley Crue concerts and pick up skanks during "Home Sweet Home."  Why a sweat Arnold Schwarzenegger conveys that to me, I don't know; but that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


#14 -- A Good Marriage (2014)




I hated this movie, but I like the poster quite a bit.  It's a very simple concept, but I think it gets across a lot of the concept underlying the movie.  Therefore, it's a success, in my book.

The movie did play in theatres, apparently.  It played in so few of them, and played so poorly in them, that IMDb doesn't even show it as having a cumulative gross; but still, it technically counts.


#13 -- Pet Sematary (1989)



  
This one works by virtue of piling up interesting individual elements: the bloody head, the miscolored eye, the cat the graveyard, the tagline, the colors, the font, the odd torn-photograph overlay.  Somehow it avoids seeming overly busy, and everything complements everything else.  Looking at it with fresh eyes, I'm not entirely sure how they managed to pull that off; but they did, and I bet it sold quite a few tickets.
  
  
#12 -- Christine (1983)
  
  
 

Another case of simplicity winning out.  Somebody seems to have realized that trying too hard to make the car seem scary would accomplish exactly the opposite, so they've side-stepped that issue by merely presenting Christine as a car . . . albeit one with creepy fog beneath it, and headlights coming out of the dark suggesting something ominous.  Bingo!  That's all it takes: suggest rather than insist.
  
  
#11 -- Sleepwalkers (1992)
  
  

  
I love this poster: the colors work very well, and "camera" angle is effective, and the layout prevents it from seeming overly busy.
  
Thing is, the poster completely lies to you about what the movie is.  If you had never heard of the movie and were using only this poster as an informant, I think there would be only one conclusion to draw: that it was about killer cats.  Which is not only not what Sleepwalkers is about, it's a complete inversion: the cats save the day!
  
But I'm of the mind that a movie poster can sometimes get away with that, especially if it's for a schlocky horror film.  That sub-genre has been pulling those sorts of shenanigans for years, so by now, it's practically part of the appeal.  So while the purist in me objects to how deceitful this poster is, I like the design so much that I don't care.  If anything, it makes it more appealing.
  
The movie, of course, is a piece of shit.
  
  
#10 -- The Dead Zone (1983)
  
  


This is another case of me going against my own typical standards: this poster not only fails to convey anything about the plot of the movie (tagline excepted), it also fails to take advantage of starpower.  And yet, I think it works.  It's a mysterious image, and that combines with the movie's title to suggest or imply a sort of nebulous space in which something strange and ominous is happening.
  
Much of the movie's power comes from its atmosphere, and the poster follows right along in furthering that atmosphere.  As such, it's a very fitting poster for the movie it is advertising.  And while it might not tell you what the movie is going to be about, I think it does plant into your mind what the movie is going to feel like.  I think the design even serves to somehow beckon you into the story: something about the title's placement seems to call you forward, further into the story.
  
I suspect some people might disagree with me about this one, though, and they are encouraged to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section below.
  
  
#9 -- Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

  
  


A very simple concept: a demonic creature reading a book.  But the concept is executed almost perfectly, right down to the fact that the demon seems to me made almost entirely out of clouds.  The colors are beautiful, and draw the eye to the poster; the vertical-column layout of the text is effective and invites the eye to scan up and down the image.
  
I'd also say that the presence of the book makes it plain that the movie consists of a collection of different stories.  This is a big winner, in my opinion.
  
  
#8 -- The Shining (1980)
  
  

Hard to get much simpler than this, but I think everything about this poster works: the font, the colors, the surrealist face.  This may be one of those cases where I'm overvaluing something simply because I've been seeing it for most of my life.
  
If so, I'm open to being convinced I've erred in my rankings.  Burden of proof is on you, though, pal.
  
  
#7 -- Cujo (1983)
  
  
  
I can hear the objections now: "But Bryant," they might say, "this is a movie about a rabid dog and the dog is nowhere on the poster!  You criticized Dolores Claiborne and Silver Bullet for failing in that manner, you hypocrite!"
  
And that's true.
  
What I'd say in defense of this poster is that (A) it is awesome and (B) it actually helps to support the movie's themes.  In the case of this movie, the poster hits you with a compelling image, and then you will see a preview for it and know that it's about a rabid dog.  But then, you see the movie, and maybe you remember the poster, or see it again; at that point, maybe you realize what you hadn't before, which is that thematically, it's about a failure of one specific American dream.  We're all about our white picket fences; what happens when we get one and things still aren't all that great?  That's Cujo.

  
  
#6 -- Stand By Me (1986)
  
  


This one may purely be nostalgia taking over my brain.  If so, let's see if I can type my way into convincing you otherwise.
  
Once again, we've got a poster that says very little about the movie's plot in favor of showcasing a simple image.  But, like The Dead Zone, I think the goal is achieved: this tells you something about the emotions underlying the film.  What you've got on this poster is four young boys traipsing across the countryside.  they are slowly disappearing into the shadows creating by the setting sun, which reinforces the theme of mortality that the movie hinges upon: the sun will set upon us all someday, leaving us in shadow forever more, but until then, we're walking through the world with our friends, talking about Pez.  We are very small figures in comparison to that landscape, but our thoughts -- trivial though they may be -- somehow dominate that fact and lessen its inevitability.  We stand in ignorant defiance of the crushing fact of our own mortality.
  
That's what this poster says to me, at least.
  
  
#5 -- Carrie (1976)
  
  

  
  
I've written elsewhere about how this artwork made a horrifying impression upon me (in this case it was via the art appearing on a tie-in paperback edition), and it may be that because of that, I've ranked it a bit too highly.  But I don't think so.  I suspect the poster made a big impact on audiences and sold more than a few tickets.  It's a very simple before-and-after concept teamed with a very effective tagline; it just works, period.
  
  
#4 -- Creepshow (1982)
  
  
   
  
This terrific Jack Kamen creation is also the cover of the comic-book tie-in, and it's just terrific.  You've got to love the references to other King and Romero movies, and the image-within-an-image thing always works like a charm on me.
  
What a shame it is that movie posters like this aren't done anymore.  I'm sure there are occasional exceptions, of course; and what 2015 offers instead is a proliferation of fan-created posters, which are often -- though certainly not always, or even usually -- terrific.  But those don't hang in a lighted case in a movie theatre, do they?  It's just not the same.
  
This, of course, is the eternal cry of the grumpy old man.  Things aren't as good as they were in my day!  And so forth.  I think I've got a pretty good sense of when it's grumpiness and when it's legit.
  
In this case, I think it's legit.
  
  
#3 -- Creepshow 2 (1987)
  
  
  
  
Another winner from the Creepshow franchise.  I don't have a heck of a lot to say about this one; it kind of speaks for itself.  I will note that that sort of sloping approach to theatre seating is mostly a thing of the past; most places feature stadium-seating now.
  
And just to prove I'm not too stuck on the past, I'll say that that is entirely a good thing.
  
I do feel bad for the usher who's going to have to deal with that prone body, which is presumably a corpse.  Judging from the cobwebs, though, the ushers might not be putting all that much effort in at this particular location.
  
  
#2 -- Creepshow (1982)
  
  
  
  
Yet another Creepshow poster!  Make an argument as to why any one of these should be ranked lower, and I'll be glad to hear you out.  Good luck convincing me!
  
I'd like to point a few things out:
  • Under King's credits at the top, it lists The Stand, which is somewhat surprising given that that book had not been turned into a movie.  Granted, it specifies that King is the author of these works, which means it's referring to books and not movies; but still, it's a bit surprising to see that listed instead of, say, The Dead Zone, which had been his first #1 hardcover only a few years before.  One wonders if this wasn't somebody's subtle way of trying to increase the profile of The Stand, which I believe King and Romero were already talking about developing by 1982...
  • Another skeleton that, improbably, still has what seems to be one good eye.  Does that make it scarier?  Yeah, you know...?  I think it does.
  • That rat seemingly makes a pretty cute pet for this ticket-seller.
  • Admission for adults and children.  Was there such a thing as a senior-citizen discount back in 1982?  Also, why specify children?  Is this a way of inviting kids to see this R-rated film?  If so, hey, I bet most of 'em enjoyed the hell out of it.
  • I could live without that spider being there.  Not a fan.
  • "The most fun you'll ever have being scared!" is a solid tagline.
  • Lookit them old-school tickets, boy!
What else can be said?  It's a great poster.


#1 -- Children of the Corn (1984)


 

When I did my initial rankings, this one ended up fairly low; upper middle somewhere, I think.  I'd assumed Creepshow would be my #1, I think, and that's precisely where I had it for a while.  But in writing the post, every time I got to Children of the Corn, I'd look at it and think, "No way I can put this this low; it's better than at least the next two or three!"  So I'd bump it up some, and then again later, and again, and again.

Eventually, it occurred to me: this is THE best poster for a King movie.  It may not even be all that close, really.  Once that thought crossed my mind, I sighed with a bit of relief, content that my objectivity had triumphed in the end.

Everything about this poster works.  Whoever designed it knew that they were beginning with one hurdle already cleared: the title communicates a great deal about the concept, and that relieved them of the burden of needing to put grim-faced little tykes with machetes and pitchforks and whatnot on the poster, thereby robbing it of all its power.  Instead, they could go for something more abstract, more design-based.

And boy, did they!  Part of me feels as if there ought to be an Oscar for Best Poster Design, and if there was, I feel certain Children of the Corn would have been screwed out of its rightful nomination (and perhaps even a win).

So what works so well about this poster?

  • The sky.  The color is perfect; hard not to be a winner with a blood-red poster for a horror movie, and yet, not that many of them actually use red this extensively.  But here, the sky dominates; it takes up a good two-thirds of the poster, and its unnaturally violent color suggests bloody oppression, a perversion of the natural order.  It also draws the eye away from the cornfield somewhat, which works to the poster's advantage in a way we will discuss momentarily.
  • The blade cutting into the bloody sky in silhouette is powerful because it suggests the source of the blood.  Apart from that, it's hard to go wrong with a good silhouette.  Silhouettes have been working for movie-marketing designers for decades.  Why?  I think it's the power of suggestion.  I think it makes you want to know more, and that degree of investment makes you that much more likely to buy a ticket.  You never want to give away too much (says the guy who's been banging a drum for putting the story right there on the poster); preferable to merely suggest and then let the audience's interest lead them on.
  • Those creepy kids in the corn!  If the sky's dominance serves to pull the eye heavenward and away from the ground, then when and if the eye does stray to the corn, it's entirely possible one will be jolted by the blank-eyes presences one encounters there.  I have to confess that I didn't notice that there were children (child-like figures, at any rate) in the corn for years.  I obviously never examined the image all that closely, which is not that surprising; unless something forces me into it, I'm not really all that observant.  But when I did notice it, it startled me; it seemed like something that shouldn't be there.
  • All the text works well, too.  The white lettering stands out nicely, and manages to do so in a way that doesn't detract from the rest of the design.

So there you have it.  I think that this is, overall, a very powerful and effective image.  Is the movie itself garbage?  Well, yes!  Of course it is!  But that's got nothing to do with the poster, and if anything, I think that actually serves as another point in favor of the poster.

It's always seemed like a strange thing that the Children of the Corn series has run for so long.  It does seem to have finally petered out most of the way, but the fact is that it kept going for well over ten years.  Ten years!  For a movie that shitty to have that many sequels is perhaps not unprecedented, but it is certainly remarkable, even if the sequels were all grade-z cash-grabs.  (And let's have no mistakes: they were.)  But in order for cash-grabs to work, there has to be available cash for somebody to grab.  Why would anyone fall for it a second time?

I think a big part of the answer is that a lot of kids saw Children of the Corn, were impacted by it at a young and undiscriminating age, and have retained a residue of their love for it over the years.  X% of them were, therefore, willing -- maybe even happy -- to watch as many "sequels" as they could get their hands on.  It only happens if the initial audience is substantial enough, and that only happens if the marketing is effective.

Which brings us to the poster.  Now, I'm not going to claim that that poster is solely responsible for the movie's home-video success; that'd be a foolish and thing to claim and an impossible thing to prove, even if I believed it, which I don't.  But since I grew up as a child of the VHS era, I think I have at least some insight into this subject, and I can tell you with no hesitation that I believe that poster/cover art persuaded what must have been thousands of teenagers and middle-schoolers to rent Children of the Corn.

It was a ritual for movie-loving kids (and adults, too; this isn't an age-restricted thing) to go to a video store and browse the shelves looking for something to rent.  In some cases, they were there for a specific title; in others, they were going home with whatever caught their eye.  Therefore, catchy box art was an invaluable tool on the part of the studios.  I keep thinking that maybe Netflix might spark a rise in that happening again, since browsing Netflix is not dissimilar to browsing a video store.  Hasn't happened yet.  May never happen.  But did it happen from the mid-eighties through the next decade or so?  Man, yeah!

And I am convinced that that is at least a sizable portion of the reason behind the somewhat-inexplicable longevity of Children of the Corn.  It's a great image, and it has given the film a lustre that it otherwise would not possess.  You look at that poster; imagine you've never seen the movie and don't know how lousy it is.  In this version of the world, all options are on the table: this movie could be anything, because all you know is what you're seeing on that poster.  It's got a power; it practically dares you not to buy a ticket (or rent the tape).  You love horror movies, and you can't afford not to see this one.

Ladies and gentlemen, THAT is what a movie poster is supposed to do.  Remarkably few of them do it; that's always been true, even during the era where care was taken and talent was liberally applied to the job at hand.  But it's always been the goal.  And in looking back over these posters for King movies, I can't honestly say that a single one of them has done a better job of it than that Children of the corn poster.

As always, you may have a different viewpoint on things, and if so, I'd love to hear it.

Happy Halloween!  Don't chew on those razor blades.

13 comments:

  1. Kudos on this post! I feel I've taken a master class in movie poster design. And I thought I knew a fair amount about what goes into an effective design and why.

    Far too many bits to quote - I was keeping a running tally but had to give up. But just off the top of my head:

    - I can't argue with your top 7 or the reasons given. That particular Shining poster (#8) never did it for me, though. I didn't realize that was the original one. I think the one with the axe through the door and Shelley Duvall screaming is the one I'm most familiar with.

    - I love the doubling up of Creepshow posters. (And you're right - how can you argue? They're perfect. Interesting about listing The Stand, as well.) You may enjoy the other Running Man poster (the pulpier one without the "Schwarzenneggar... has yet to play" tagline) more than I, but great write-up.

    - That Sleepwalkers one is pretty awesome. The degree of false advertising re: the awesomeness of the poster vs. the quality of the movie is vast indeed.

    - Ditto for Creepshow 2.

    - I think that's a solid argument for the oddball enduring success of Children of the Corn. It's always been my favorite of his short stories (or at least always vying for first), but that has nothing to do with the movie/ franchise, the success of which could indeed be as simple as that creepy, slick poster. Makes sense to me.

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    1. I feel your pain regarding the poster for "The Shining," which is one that I love, but also one that I can easily talk myself into viewing through a pair of less-than-enthused imaginary eyes. I thought about including the axe/door one you mention, too, but opted not to for reasons not entirely clear to me. It probably has to do with my laziness; I don't know which is the American poster and which is the British poster, assuming that one or both is even from England. I don't know and was too lazy to do the research to find out!

      I wanted very much to include the 1979 "Salem's Lot," but didn't because I was too lazy to do the research to find out if it had in fact been released theatrically overseas. Bottom line: I got appallingly lazy at a certain point with this one.

      If I had included "Salem's Lot," though, it'd rank pretty high; maybe even top five, if not top three. I love that art!

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  2. I think you're onto something with Children of the Corn. I remember seeing that image on a Laserdisc as a little kid in what must have been the mid-eighties, and despite never having been exposed to an R-rated movie, or knowing what it was about, it was very disturbing to my 6-year-old(ish?) mind. And I never noticed the glowing eyes at all either, until this very day!

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    1. It's not just me, then! Very interesting. I wonder if that part of the image has flown under a lot of people's radars.

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  3. Random thoughts: 1408 needs to be higher, I think. It communicated the tone and feel the the movie perfectly. The idea you suggested I have to believe was just you kidding, because skeletons are pure cheese. I don't mind that if the movie is purposefully cheesy (like Creepshow), but 1408 is dark and moody. But then, I also liked the movie better than you did.

    I don't have a problem with the "floating heads" idea when it's used to good effect (such as Michael Shannon's beyond-creepy face on My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) and in the case of Dolores Claiborne, there's enough there to communicate the mood of the film and its stars, I think it should be higher as well.

    Misery's poster is pretty, beautiful, even, but the feeling it conjures up in me isn't terror. Not even a little. It looks like a Christmas movie. You could change literally nothing but the title and tagline and actually use it as such.

    You really like skeletons and skulls, don't you? I remember thinking the Graveyard Shift poster looked silly.

    The Dead Zone poster is reminiscent of the Children of the Corn 2 poster, and as such, leaves me cold.

    Sorry, I cannot disagree more with your placement of The Shining, and in fact your own criteria for what makes a good poster makes this one a gigantic fail. If you showed it to somebody who had never heard of the movie and had no previous idea of what it is about, would the poster communicate the movie's setup to them? If not, does it tell them something essential (lead actors, genre, etc.)? This one is a big fat zero on both counts. I'm actually really surprised this one got so high on your list. I gotta think your affection for the movie affected your judgement.

    Carrie's poster is...not great. First, two photographs from the movie on a black background is less creative than a photoshop of the lead actor's face. Second, talk about your basic gigantic spoiler! You ranked Shawshank down due to the potential spoiler on the cover, despite the fact that it reveals essentially nothing (I had not read the book when I saw the movie, and I didn't know what was going on in the poster). Carrie just flat out tells you; she went to prom, got all spooky and some nasty shit went down.

    Finally, A Return To Salem's Lot did get a theatrical release. It really should be on here. Or are you pulling a Dolan's Cadillac with that one?

    But I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I love your lists, even where I disagree with the placements.

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    1. "1408 needs to be higher, I think." -- Bleh. No. That movie is so mediocre it hurts, and the poster follows suit.

      "Sorry, I cannot disagree more with your placement of The Shining, and in fact your own criteria for what makes a good poster makes this one a gigantic fail. If you showed it to somebody who had never heard of the movie and had no previous idea of what it is about, would the poster communicate the movie's setup to them? If not, does it tell them something essential (lead actors, genre, etc.)? This one is a big fat zero on both counts. I'm actually really surprised this one got so high on your list. I gotta think your affection for the movie affected your judgement." -- Yeah, you're probably right about that. But I'm standing by it; I think it's an artful tease.

      "Carrie's poster is...not great. First, two photographs from the movie on a black background is less creative than a photoshop of the lead actor's face. Second, talk about your basic gigantic spoiler! You ranked Shawshank down due to the potential spoiler on the cover, despite the fact that it reveals essentially nothing (I had not read the book when I saw the movie, and I didn't know what was going on in the poster). Carrie just flat out tells you; she went to prom, got all spooky and some nasty shit went down." -- You make some good points there. However, I think it sold the movie effectively in a good exploitation-movie style. It let people know that something bad happened, and made them want to see how and why it happened. I have to plead a bit of hypocrisy in terms of it vs. Shawshank, though; that's true.

      "Finally, A Return To Salem's Lot did get a theatrical release. It really should be on here. Or are you pulling a Dolan's Cadillac with that one?" -- I did initially plan to include it, but I couldn't find an image of it that I was positive represented the theatrical release as opposed to a home video release. I probably could have if I'd did a bit more digging, but since the poster art is just a ripoff of art from the miniseries, I didn't think it was worth putting much effort into. (And actually, now that I think about it, I am not sure "Dolan's Cadillac" actually did get a theatrical release. It definitely didn't in America. I remember reading that it had in, like, one European nation; but I'm not sure that's actually true.)

      "But I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I love your lists, even where I disagree with the placements." -- Thanks!

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    2. It's been a while since I watched 1408 but I remember liking it. It's got its flaws but there are few movies that don't, and I wasn't really expecting a masterpiece. I should watch it again. It's on Netflix.

      There were so many ways one could tease The Shining while still letting us know more about it. A shot of the two girls in the hallway, a glimpse of the hedge maze, something. What we got has literally nothing to do with the movie.

      As for A Return...yeah, I utilized the ol' google and got very little that I could confirm was a theatrical poster. There was one that I'm nearly sure is the poster in question, but it's tiny and black and white.

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  4. My childhood was very sheltered. I think it was my mother's doing for the most part. I'm from a religious family; my father is a pastor but my mother is the real moonbat in that regard. My dad is more realistic. He understands that trying to keep a child away from something just makes them desire it more than they would have otherwise, but my mother thought that banning something (like horror in any form) or even trying to keep me from discovering it existed would be enough to deter me from ever watching it.

    I freaking love horror today. Both in written form and movie form. I also write it. Sorry, Mom, you lost this one.

    That said, I never saw, or even heard of, Children of the Corn until I was in my teens, and somehow I got the impression from a lot of people that it was some kind of classic, a real "you gotta watch this if you're a horror fan" kinda thing. The fact that there were so many sequels just confirmed it in my mind.

    But you pretty much hit the nail on the head; that poster is a very powerful draw. There is more horror in what that poster implies than there is in the entire movie.

    On the downside, we apparently have that poster to thank for the ridiculous amount of sequels this thing got.

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    1. Some of the most horrific images I ever saw as a child came from Bibles. There's plenty of crossover there!

      I think you're probably very indicative of how "Children of the Corn" has worked on people over the years. It managed to get to a lot of people when they were at formative ages, and once it was in their heads it never left. In a way, you have to admire it.

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  5. I always loved the Christine Poster. I never seen the original Maximum Overdrive poster until the AnchorBay DVD but I find the original VHS cover was awesomely better.

    The Dead Zone poster is a brain with eerie looking neuron electrical impulses or whatever you would call it as my knowledge of such isn't that good. I guess lends to the abilities he gets from his newly active dead zone of his brain.

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    1. Man...

      How stupid am I? I had never noticed that that's a brain on the "Dead Zone" poster. Makes me feel better about liking it, though!

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  6. I don't quite have time to read through your entire blog, but you and I have EXACTLY the same take on every one of the posters you commented on...that's really the shocker to me...lol!

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    1. The odds of that are never good, are they? I congratulate you on your excellent taste! ;)

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