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Horror Posters from Around the World: Attack of the Big Floating Heads

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.

For some reason, in the late ’90s, distributor Dimension Films was determined to ruin horror movie poster design. And for a brief window of time, there, they succeeded, inflicting the world with a series of base-line competent floating heads in shadow which would go on to infect other studios. The result was a period of uninspired horror movie art that relied on star power rather than concept to sell the picture.

Dimension, an arm of the previously Weinstein Brothers-led Miramax would have celebrated 21 years of introducing exciting, sometimes trashy, but generally interesting horror and genre films to audiences using some of of the ugliest art in the business.

"Scream" Poster

It all seemed to kick off with Wes Craven’s “Scream” in 1996, which actually arrived in theaters with the far more artful image of Ghostface’s victim (Drew Barrymore?) covering her mouth in, presumably, shock. But “Horror fans needed to know Skeet Ulrich was in it, dammit,” said some imaginary executive, leading to the image that would form the template for horror movies for at least the next ten years.

"Scream" Poster (Big floating heads version)

In this era where filmmakers, inspired by Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s film, playing with the conventions of slashers and other horror movies, Dimension attempted to present each as very literal variations of “X Little Indians,” where “X” represents the number of up-and-coming and veteran stars available to fill out the body count.

One reason I suspect these posters were appealing to designers and producers in this period was that they first, clearly identified the cast of the movie, and second gave viewers a preview of the body count to follow. Seriously, in how many cases did more than 25% of those floating faces survive beyond the credits? And how many of you would have been disappointed if they had?

Assaulting our eyes (and only vaguely providing context to the film they were advertising), these designs would ultimately be adopted by New Line for their “Final Destination” series as well as the post mod “Urban Legend” franchise and has even popped up as recently as this year with the cheap-o slasher “Smiley.”

It’s seriously one of the most dull aesthetics a designer could adopt, but for some reason, it endures.

"Final Destination" Poster

"Urban Legend" Poster

"Smiley" Poster

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