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 at the blatant ineptitude or simply continue to stare, wondering what on Earth the artist was trying to achieve and still never quite understanding.
In the second part of our 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…
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Turkey)
This Turkish effort is suffering from a rather serious case of mistaken identity.
We all know the story of Randal McMurphy, the delinquent bright spark who commits himself to a mental institute in order to avoid jail time, only to realise that for some unfortunate souls the ward is in some ways worse than prison. Played by a wonderfully magnetic Jack Nicholson, McMurphy takes offence to the sadistic regime of Nurse Ratched, and sets about liberating the oppressed patients to his own eventual detriment.
The original U.S. poster (featured below) is a wonder of creative simplicity, focusing on the movie’s central character, and the cheeky cheer he so zestfully personifies. Its Turkish equivalent struggles to achieve focus, and in fact fails to even focus on one particular film.
If you look closely you will see that the central picture, although featuring Jack Nicholson, is actually an image from The Shining, with prison bars replacing the door through which the famous ‘Here’s Johnny!’ line was born. His terrified wife, cowering on the other side of that door, can be seen to the bottom left of the poster, her startled face positioned just above what looks like a young Christopher Lee, while to the right there appears to be a scene from The Planet of the Apes.
So yeah, just a little confusing.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Ghana)
Freddy Krueger is arguably the most recognisable character in modern horror. With his pizza-inspired face and bladed fingers, the dream-stalking murderer with the sadistic smile and gunslinger stance was simply unmistakable. Or at least he was, right before this little number hit the public consciousness.
Here, Kruger is portrayed as a feral creature with a deformed hamster claw and twisted pork pie hat, while his menace stalks not the suburbs of Elm Street, but some giant moonlit metropolis. The likeness of final girl Nancy is perhaps even worse, and with a tongue like Reagen from The Exorcist, she is either getting some kind of perverted kick from the wolf hand sticking out from the plughole, or is even more sick and demented than our antagonist. Oh, and the movie is simply entitled ‘A Nightmare’.
A woeful effort by any standards, and one made even lousier when compared with the sleepy, hypnotic artistry of the original. One can only marvel.
Army of Darkness (Japan)
To be fair, the Japanese have designed some of the most wonderful movie posters in history, and this is particularly eye-catching, as well as being impossibly creative. When it comes to Japanese posters of American movies, some of them do tend to get lost in translation, however, and this poster for Army of Darkness is exceptionally barmy, even for them.
For one thing, the poster is as hectic as a Where’s Waldo puzzle, with a Monty Python style collage of neon colours which takes the movie from Medieval times to a modern Japanese metropolis. There are also Campbells Soup tins – the kind immortalized by Andy Warhol – which I think are supposed to symbolise the movie’s star, Bruce Campbell (surely!) There is also a paper shopping bag containing French baguettes and a chainsaw floating on the horizon, while a floating yellow head says ‘Moooonn!’ It is perhaps ironic that this paragraph has descended into a verbal collage of its own.
Is this incredible work of imagination better than the original poster featured below? Probably not. But it’s by far the closest yet.
The Fly (Poland)
This is an interesting one – a poster which takes minimalism to a whole new level.
The original 1958 version of The Fly was a campy affair which saw a mad scientist turn into the world’s twitchiest insect, a schlocky spectacle which gave us a man’s body with a human-sized fly’s head. This was 50s B-movie pap at its most derisory.
The 1986 remake was much more ambitious, and as you would expect from a Cronenberg film, rather icky to boot. It was the story of an ambitious scientist, who in his wanton quest to succeed went through a painstaking physical change which played on the fears of a generation squirming under the non-discriminatory afflictions of an AIDS epidemic.
The above poster lands somewhere in-between. On the one hand it is rather unambitious, with a man’s head simply stuck on a fly’s body, but if you think of the period in which it was made it is quite high-tech, its appearance similar to that of an 8-bit video game, which makes it almost certainly a product of those halcyon Nintendo days. Why the creature is wearing lipstick and spitting urine is certainly less clear.
Technological obsolescence aside, it does nothing to convey the nature of Cronenberg’s graphic triumph, and when you compare it to the original (below), it is something of a tepid affair which could be advertising anything but the subject matter, unless one stops and strains to think about it. But even then…
Star Wars (Hungary)
Perhaps the coolest of all bad movie posters, but one which more than warrants inclusion.
Star Wars is perhaps the most widely recognised movie franchise the world has ever known, and there are dozens of posters from all over the world, most of them resembling the original in at least some way, but this Hungarian effort takes the proverbial biscuit.
Something akin to the Panther Science Fiction art of the 60s and 70s, this is actually a rather accurate representation of the original Star Wars movie, with a larger-than-life Darth Vader taking centre stage beneath an exploding Death Star. There is also a pretty good image of a an X-Wing fighter rushing toward its goal.
Of course, then you notice a three-eyed dragon creature with tusks holding the kind of Arabian sword you might find in Aladdin, and all plausibility goes out of the window.
Still, it’s pretty fly in my opinion, even next to one of the most iconic posters of our time.
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