In a new ongoing segment, VHS Revival delves into the archives of a lost art form.
Back in the 1980s, a trip to the video store was an experience in itself.
In a era before widespread graphic design, movie production companies relied on a more traditional art form to promote their pictures, employing canvas artists to bring their low-budget VHS vehicles to life.
In the third part of the series, VHS Revival takes a look back at some of the most inspired horror posters of the 1980s.
The Thing (1982)
In his prime, John Carpenter made some of the most memorable movies of his era. So consistent and diverse were his works that it is impossible to choose an outright best, but when it comes to the accompanying artworks that choice becomes a little easier. At least in my opinion.
Like his movies, Carpenter’s catalogue has a wealth of striking promotional images, but this poster for The Thing —a superior remake of 1952’s The Thing from Another World —is one of the most iconic of the entire genre.
The image’s looming silhouette, its face fragmented by a flash of blinding splinters, sums up the entire movie with a sublime, spoiler-free proficiency. Complete with furr-lined hood, this figure could be any one of the doomed outpost crew of the Antarctic, while the exploding blankness reveals no one at all. Add to this a fading blanket of stars and fractured background and what we’re left with is a kaleidoscopic work of immense beauty that hints at the distorted horrors to follow.
The Terminator (1984) (Japanese Version)
Arnold Schwarzenegger burst onto the Hollywood mainstream with his role as an irrepressible killing machine sent back in time to stop mankind in its tracks, and the intimidating still used for the movie’s promotional poster tells you everything you need to know about Arnie’s wonderfully heartless performance.
Here we have the Japanese version of that poster—a country renown for their wacky variations on Western images. In this case, they made the unusual decision of deviating only very slightly from the original. As is typical of the country’s style, those responsible added a small still from the movie, but asides from that minute difference they wisely chose to retain much of what is a truly iconic poster.
So why not stick with the original American version? Put succinctly: language. Viewed through foreign eyes, there is something much more appropriate about the Japanese written language when it comes to cyborg killing machines. You can put this down to sweeping stereotypes about technology, or just plain ignorance regarding another culture’s means of communication, but the Japanese spelling of The Terminator looks infinitely more advanced in my eyes, and infinitely cooler.
Back to the Future (1985)
In terms of unique aesthetics and cute symbolism, Back to the Future pales to much of what you will find out there. Even so, it is arguably the most iconic promotional poster of the decade, one which oozes 80’s excess and energetic appeal. From the outmoded fashion to the neon pastels and dramatic trail of blazing fire, this is a visual time capsule whose importance as a window into the times cannot be overlooked.
Such was the poster’s perfection that the same image was used for both sequels, each adding an extra character to the hectic fray. But not to be underestimated is the importance of the film’s logo, a title of warped perspective which sums up the fun nature of its time-travelling escapades.
Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is a strange one for me. There is no denying that it is a masterpiece of sci-fi cinema; a visual wonder whose neon landscapes make its source material, Phillip K. Dick’s satire on the human condition Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, seem positively unambitious.
My conflict lies not with the movie, but with my inability to accept Ridley Scott‘s vision and Vangelis’ spellbinding original soundtrack as a package. I fell in love with that album long before I did the film, and because of this the images seem detached from the sound somehow.
The poster provides no such conflict, a neo-noir masterwork that proves a fitting tribute to one of the finest movies ever imagined. The poster’s futuristic cityscape hints at the kind of grandiose setting that has perhaps never been equalled, while the contemplative Rachel represents Philip K. Dick’s question of what it is to be human. Science fiction has never been richer.
Terry Gilliam’s story of a bureaucratic state gone mad is a quite familiar one. George Orwell’s 1984 is perhaps the most famous example, but a plethora of writers had explored similar dystopian landscapes by the time Brazil came around, and in a world of ever more sophisticated and subtle forms of media-driven control, the movie’s extremities were perhaps in danger of becoming a little outmoded.
But Gilliam’s masterpiece is all about presentation, its grey conformities counterbalanced by luscious set designs and warped perspectives, the kind of visuals which superbly satirise the dysfunction of the industrial landscape of the late 20th century.
It’s accompanying poster captures that very juxtapose. While the neon title casts a fleeing angel’s shadow upon endless rows of filing cabinets, a single document escapes its dreary confinements to give chase, floating like the movie’s central character towards a fate that is both startlingly elusive and painfully inevitable.