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.
The current ubiquity of “Evil Dead” stands in contrast (and is likely because of) a period where the name of the splatter classic and its two follow-ups was synonymous with hard-to-track down, shocking horror movies.
Even as the franchise tilted more and more towards comedy over three films — “Evil Dead” in 1981, “Evil Dead 2” in 1987, and “Army of Darkness” in 1992, with a remake of the first film from director Fede Alvarez earlier this year — once upon a time, the series was transgressive and weird, the subbasement thoughts of some boys from Detroit with an abiding love of the Three Stooges.
On paper, “Evil Dead” isn’t a likely candidate for a franchise, much less a beloved one complete with catchphrases, comics, video games, and cuddly versions of its chainsaw wielding hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell). But all monsters lose their fangs over time and this saga of mutilation, dismemberment, madness, and death has endured even as it spawned a host of imitators which have attempted to strike that same difficult balance of horror, shock, and comedy cultivated by director Sam Raimi along with his brothers Ted and Ivan, and a major assist from the Coen Brothers (documented entertainingly in a recent oral history of the second film at The Hollywood Reporter).
The three films are well-traveled at this point: it’s hard to think of a series outside of the “Star Wars” movies which have had more editions and re-releases over the years theatrically and on home video (head to eBay with the search “Evil Dead” + DVD and see the diversity of the results).
Subsequently, the imagery — a man, the dead, and a saw — have made their way onto posters when the three films ultimately went global. And you can see a definite shift in the way the films were perceived (and received) as the series progressed: from the dire, straight-up horror of the first film to the slapstick, fantasy-tinged action of “Army” (a fourth film is perpetually being threatened but with Sam Raimi’s increasingly busy workload, highly unlikely anytime soon).
France’s poster for “Evil Dead” borrows the central image from the U.S. marketing — one of its starlets struggling against the subterranean dead – but adds a hypnotic twist, reconfiguring the film as an avant-garde phantasmagoria.
Japan likewise reused assets from the U.S. release featuring Ash fending off the forces of darkness but framing the whole thing with a white border, making the stark imagery of the original poster somewhat less dangerous somehow (maybe it’s the cartoon hands in the margins). However, you have to show some love for the 20th anniversary home video release which simply features a big, bad, mean still of the possessed Henrietta (Ted Raimi).
Thailand offers one of the more baffling takes on “Evil Dead II” with its poster featuring a headless Ash ready to do some damage in front of a graveyard that at no point materializes in the film (perhaps my favorite piece of art conjured up for this movie besides the theatrical “skull” poster).
Spain, by contrast, opts not to over-think it, offering up a mix of the skull face and a painting of Ash being throttled by his own Deadite-possessed hand.
The skull makes one more appearance still in the painted “Army of Darkness” poster, also from Spain, which is more or less identical to the U.S. poster (the coloring is a little brighter) but maintains visual continuity with “Evil Dead II” by keeping the skull in the edge of the image.
Japan, meanwhile, converts the third movie in the series into a pop art oddity, a candy-colored piece of craziness that would probably be shown in a double bill with “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (a time-tossed cinematic lineup that makes a lot of sense, now that I think about it).
Finally, I’ll leave you with one oddball entry, the art for “The Holy Virgin vs. Evil Dead,” a 1991 Hong Kong film which shamelessly lifts part of the title and old skull face for this CAT A (adult-rated) martial arts/horror nudie.