Here at Modern Horrors we recognize and celebrate that the genre we all know and love has evolved in such strange and unpredictable ways. But that doesn’t mean we don’t look back from time to time and enjoy what used to be. So today we’re looking at some posters of yore to see how effective their messaging was. A good horror movie poster toes the line between showing and telling. We usually get a victim being… victimized, an antagonist, some cheesy font along with some wince-worthy tagline. Although, to be fair, not all taglines are created equal, and some are so good that they lift an otherwise mediocre poster to greatness. But to be clear, most do not. Anyway, let’s take a look at some classic movie posters and see what we think.

The Prowler

The Prowler is a pretty typical horror movie poster as far as cliches go. Although perhaps it’s the oversized moon in the background or our lovers embracing, but is anyone else getting a Moonlighting vibe? But instead of Bruce Willis holding Cybill Sheperd we have Bruce’s better acting cousin, the prowler, dragging his victim from or towards that house in the distance. I’m guessing it’s the former because our victim was a bit too comfortable and safe for our prowler’s liking, and he wasn’t going to stand for that. It’s almost romantic actually, perhaps it’s hinting at their connection. The tagline “it will freeze your blood” is a bit dry for my taste though.

(4) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So what we have here seems less like a poster and more like a challenge. The tagline of “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” almost dares the viewer to witness the horror within. We also get the menacing figure of Leatherface and his weapon of choice, a chainsaw that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in years. A female is being attacked, but we can’t entirely see what’s going on in this scene, and there’s the rub. Walk away from this poster and keep your sanity intact or satiate your curiosity, see the movie and develop a new phobia. You decide.

The Slumber Party MassacreHalf-dressed females being terrorized, check. A typography that was decided on a lunch line, check. A phallic weapon of choice, check. The Slumber Party Massacre was a terrible movie, but that’s a fun, dumb poster right there. Our killer is so dedicated to framing these ladies between his legs for this shot that it literally hurts to look at. Again that tagline, “Close your eyes for a second…and sleep forever” is really terrible but not in a fun way. It loses all the cheesy charm this poster has worked so hard to achieve.


Next up, something a bit different:

(3) Rosemary's BabyOften imitated, never duplicated. Perhaps one of the most sinister movie posters of all time. The poster for Rosemary’s Baby projects a sense of dread through a minimalist design that focuses on the subject. From the simple font to the image of the baby’s pram in the shadows, this feels ominous. Overshadowing it all is a picture of our protagonist Rosemary; her eyes are open, she seems calm and accepting of her fate, but what fate is that? Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this, that is, until we move on to:

(2) JawsThis is a bit different. The white and blue that dominates the poster are playful colors. The movie is playfully suggesting that you should never step foot into the ocean again. We get a very large imposing shot of our big angry shark with his jaws agape, he’s hunting yet another female who’s yet to realize this is going to be the worst summer ever.

At this point it would be silly for me not to mention the elephant in the room. Women in peril. Horror movie posters are riddled with ladies in danger. This goes back to the concept of final girls, and the idea that women are the more vulnerable sex. Unfortunately, it’s something we’ll have to get used to. While thankfully, some modern horror films eskew this tradition, it’s still prevalent in the genre. With that said, on to the next one:

(9) I Spit on your GraveHow about this? It’s evocative, exploitative, and misogynistic, or is it? Actually, yes, I’m pretty sure it is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. While movie posters before and after it have shown strong female leads fighting back I Spite on your Grave felt a bit like a threat to an industry buried in its own bullshit. Okay we’ll circle back around to the half-naked, clearly beaten and bloodied woman on display. The tagline here is just too good not to go first: “This woman has just cut, chopped, broken, and burned five men beyond recognition… but no jury in America would ever convict her!” Maybe that’s true but damn, what happened here? Did all five men get the same treatment? Did she prioritize who got what based on what was done to her and by whom? It says so much yet still poses so many questions, sort of brilliant actually. Okay back to our lovely lady here. She’s clearly made to provoke, her clothes are torn in the best way possible, she has cuts and bruises all over her, and she’s carrying that big knife around in the most inept way possible. Because she’s that serious. We want to see her cut someone down so bad. The bottom tagline reminds us yet again “… an act of revenge!” just in case you weren’t sure, murder will happen to men in this film and they probably deserved it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors

I remember seeing this poster as a young kid and finally understanding what true terror was. In the distance, under a dark and cloudy night is one of the scariest houses in horror, with its iconic red door, that house embodied a lot of evil to me as a kid. But hey there’s hope! If you look closely you can see a light on upstairs? Maybe we weren’t doomed after all. Maybe someone finally managed to stay awake when you asked them to! Huzzah! Also, while plenty of horror movie posters have our victims running away from the threat, here we have our four would be heroes stepping up to the challenge to take on Freddy and not be cut to ribbons. “If you think you’ll get out alive, you must be dreaming.” is so good and obvious though. The Nightmare on Elm Street series was always about messing reality, and this poster showcases that better than any other in the franchise. If you couldn’t tell this one is my favorite.

Blair Witch ProjectNow this is pretty creepy. The trees at the top force your focus into the darkness below. The film’s propaganda is front and center telling you the only thing you need to know because there’s nothing scarier than a true story. The movie’s “final girl” Heather just below was further proof that something was out there and it was coming to get you. The font is pretty good here too, real subtle but effective. The Blair Witch Project lived and died in the darkness and this poster represents that very well.

ScreamThis poster is great simply for the fake out that occurs five minutes into the film. Drew Barrymore was a huge actress in the 90s. Seeing her on the poster for Scream gave the film some gravitas (I’m sure Wes Craven directing helped too). But our heroine was in prime position to be everyone’s new favorite final girl. Yet, the hand over her mouth didn’t belong to Ghostface, the movie’s killer. It looked like it was Drew’s, maybe suggesting that she had a surprise in store, like perhaps, she’ll be killed within minutes of the movie’s opening act. It was a switcheroo, but it was well done.

Friday the 13thLast but not least, the poster for Friday the 13th is either really good or really bad, depending on what level you like your cheese at. We get a great silhouette of a killer holding a bloody knife. We should note that it’s a gender neutral silhouette. And then we get a drawing, five soon-to-be body bags hugging in the dead of night in the woods. There’s a cabin behind them but perhaps they’re locked out. Maybe someone lost the keys. More likely they heard a noise that scared one of them, so they all went outside to check. Probably that second dude in line, he obviously a chicken. The two at the end there seem to be sharing an arm so they’re clearly not equip to thwart a killer either. My money’s on the girl in the red sweater, she stands out to me, she may be our final girl. The tagline is pretty bland also, by the time I got to the end I was expecting it to rhyme and it didn’t. Boo.

I can’t say modern horror movie posters have come that far along since these movies were in theaters, but horror as a genre certainly has, and it’s always fun to see how movies thought the most effective way to engaged with their audience was.