How do other countries see the homegrown horrors we create on celluloid? When “A Nightmare on Elm Street” debuted in Japan, did horror fans on the other side of the world get to see the art of painter Matthew Joseph Peak? Or when Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” finally made its way through the tangle of draconian censorship laws in the U.K., were audiences greeted with the original, jarring image of Leatherface going to work on one of his victims–or something stranger?
Throughout the month of October, we’ll be looking at the iconic cover art and posters for some of our favorite horror films–as they were seen around the world.
From the mid-’80s to the late ’90s, home video was becoming relatively widely available in the West African nation of Ghana, and locals to the Atlantic nation were growing hungry for genre fare. Given that during this period local video stores weren’t readily available among the ten territories and municipalities that make up Ghana, some enterprising souls took it upon themselves to create mobile cinemas, using small generators to power VCRs playing copies of recent-ish Hollywood and local fare.
Often unable to import the original posters, exhibitors would support their road shows by commissioning original art from local artists–oil painted posters which would be rolled up and carried from one screening location to the next, often creating montages based on the context of the films (or outright manufacturing impressionistic details in order to grab the eyes of curious viewers.
I’m going to try to write about the homegrown posters of Ghana without coming off as patronizing–a challenge that some bloggers and commentators seem to struggle with when articulating what interests them in these painted, “bootleg” images advertising Hollywood blockbusters.
When describing the work of cultures with a lower GDP or an aesthetic informed outside of Western art, it’s easy (and kind of gross) to throw around words like “primitive” or “raw” as though these are somehow qualifiers which make it okay to chuckle at the images on display. For the purposes of this piece, let’s try to look at the posters from Ghana not as outsider works from somehow artistically-challenged creatives, but as permutations of what we know–remixes and covers, if you will, to the slick, U.S.-made original.
Back at the beginning of the aughts, African art scholar Ernie Wolfe III documented some of the “greatest hits” from the homemade Ghanian poster scene in his 2001 book, “Extreme Canvas: Hand-Painted Movie Poster from Ghana.” The book and its second edition, which are long out of print, suggest that the people of Ghana weren’t really into dramatic or romantic films, preferring the splash of blood in genre fare. This makes sense: most of our biggest film exports are broad, loud, violent films that don’t require a lot of dialog or cultural context to follow.
It’s a surprise to see video shelf staples like “Demonic Toys” (1992) making their way overseas (I wonder what the percentage of Ghanian audiences saw this Charles Band-produced killer toy movie versus their U.S. counterparts).
The demon thing is kind of what drew my attention to the horror posters from the region: if the film, for some reason, didn’t otherwise require a demon on the poster, the artist would add one. In the case of “Night of the Demons” (1988), the artist saw fit to not only include the image of featured possessed co-ed Angela used in the domestic art, but as well as slithering snake woman which did not exist in the film.
Similarly, “Poltergeist 2” (1986) was apparently helped out in its Ghanian release with fly creatures advertised as menacing poor Craig T. Nelson and his family.
The changes–okay, outright misdirection and false advertising–speak to a long tradition of hucksterism and showmanship seen in film promotion, advertisement, and simple carnival barkering. That’s actually what these images remind me of the most–the thin banners that would adorn the side of carnival sideshows, tantalizing teases of the freakish and mind-blowing wonders and horrors within which live on long after you’ve shuffled out of the tent, disappointed.
The quality of the images, then, lies not in the figures which are often awkwardly and haphazardly arranged on the canvas, but in their ability to draw the eye and attract the potential viewer’s attention. I’ll leave you with this thought about the poster for the ancient cat demons and incest movie “Sleepwalkers” (1992): is the Halloween-appropriate image from the theatrical release the one that grabs you, or the Ghanian substitute with its tormented demoness and grinning Cheshire cats?