VHS Revival looks at some of history’s most unconventional movie posters.
Promotional posters are an essential part of any successful movie. Not only do they offer the public its first visual insight into an upcoming picture, they help to promote its genre and theme, as well as the marquee attractions whose job it is to convince eager fans to part with their hard-earned cash.
Posters can make or break a movie. From the crudely drawn, minimalist posters of the late 19th century, the art form would grow in both scope and impact, employing illustrators and artists as visual connotations and conceptualization came to the forefront, altering the process from mere advertising to storytelling and subliminal appeal.
There are some posters which get lost in translation, however, the kind so baffling that you can’t help but stare in fascination, and in doing so either laugh out loud or continue to stare, wondering what on Earth the artist was trying to achieve and still never quite understanding.
In the first of an ongoing series, VHS Revival looks at a selection of foreign posters which failed miserably in their attempts to promote American movies.
Please take a moment to prepare yourself…
An American Werewolf in London (Japan)
Well, the Japanese totally missed the point here.
While An American Werewolf in London was an offbeat horror comedy with several instances of the zany and surreal, this looks more like a poster for the seemingly endless Carry On series, lowbrow romps of racy innuendos and cute double entendre.
This is made most explicit by an image of a randy wolfman with his head up the uniform of a nurse, who seems to shrill with the kind of slapstick titillation that was the hallmark of such movies, while an image of the protagonist and his dame cuddling inside a wine glass being filled with water is simply baffling. Compare this with the original poster featured below – a work of great economy which concentrates on the horror of Rick Baker’s Oscar winning special effects, along with a delicious pun of a tagline – and the whole affair seems even more farcical.
A true oddity that could only be the brainchild of ‘the land of the rising sun’.
Bullitt (East Germany)
Bullitt is one of cinema’s most iconic movies. Featuring the great Lalo Schifrin’s coolest ever theme, it also starred one of history’s most iconic leads, and the film’s original promotional poster keeps up the trend with a slick and stylized exercise in 60s cool.
Then we have this zany eyesore…
During the cold war, Germany was divided as a nation. With Eastern Europe under Soviet control, communism would distance itself from Western decadence, and if you compare this poster with the American version featured below, the two are very much indicative of those opposing philosophies.
Grey and devoid of exuberance, this character looks more like a worker from Orwell’s Ministry of Truth than he does McQueen’s dashing, cinematic lead, while the zany eyes suggest a man possessed, or at the very least at the end of his tether. A truly astonishing work of anti-marketing from a period of great oppression and stoic order.
For anyone who has ever read Stephen King’s novel Cujo, it is the beautifully told, intensely violent and very real story of a much cherished dog who slowly succumbs to the afflictions of rabies and sets upon those who loved it dearly. It is a heartbreaking story, and one of the writer’s finest.
This Ghanian poster does very little to encapsualte the story’s themes.
You have to smile, but not only does the artist’s depiction of Cujo appear to consist of two breeds of dog glued clumsily together, the mutt in question has a very docile and harmless aura, with doe eyes and a torso which seems grossly overfed and lazy. Not only does it look placid and devoid of terror, its owners seem largely unconcerned by their pet’s deadly disease, while it is clear that this crapulous canine has something of a penchant for ketchup.
Compare this to the original poster for the 1983 movie adaptation, an ominous work of subtle brutality which encapsulates the movie’s central theme, and its African equivalent looks even more puerile in its ineptitude.
Romancing the Stone (Poland)
Yes, you read correctly.
Another nation inhibited by the lack of creative freedoms existing on one side of ‘the iron curtain’, Poland was notorious for its bizarre and downbeat representations of Western cinema during the cold war period, and this poster for 1984’s Romancing the Stone was no exception.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the movie was a non-stop thrill-ride of romance and adventure, headed by the never-so-dashing Michael Douglas and the scintillatingly sexy Kathleen Turner, who would swing through jungles and leap ravines on their quest for a precious stone, while the comically seedy Danny DeVito did his utmost to beat them to the punch.
The original poster (featured below) is a wonderful example of the eye-catching canvas art of the 80s, an action packed depiction of a fun and friendly romp, and then you have the Polish version: a skull on a black background with an alarming red line cutting through it.
The Birds (Czech Republic)
Here’s a strange little number from the Czech Republic.
The antithesis of Ghana’s depiction of the movie Cujo, nobody can doubt the artistic credentials of this particular poster, which looks like something you might see adorning the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel; that, or the witty, illustrative interludes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a piece that is half Leonardo Da Vinci, half Terry Gilliam.
This would have been quite a feat were its purpose not to promote Alfred Hitchcock’s frenzied and knowing horror, and this is perhaps an example of an artist with a little too much creative freedom.
The original poster – while being of an era when those involved with the movie were perhaps the most important promotional element – still manages to convey the film’s frenetic terror – while Hitchcock’s presence nods to the director’s knowing sense of wit.
Aesthetically beautiful its Polish equivalent may be, but naked angels and surreal, spear-wielding birds are wholly unnecessary, resulting in a poster which is ultimately ineffective and downright confusing.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut