[Micah's Mausoleum] Top 15 Horror Films of 1983, Ranked By Their Poster!

Micah_2

A column where horror and nostalgia meet. Topics range from VHS, Vinyl, repertory screenings and a hodge-podge of anything else horror related that that harkens back to the days of yesteryear.

It’s a twofer! This is both my list of the top 15 horror flicks of 1983 and my ranking of them by their studio issued poster. And not surprisingly, my favorite film is not my favorite poster. For example, Videodrome is my clear favorite film, but I’ve never loved the poster.

Poster art has dramatically changed over the years. Each decade has had it’s own style, starting in the 1920s which focused heavily on hand drawn scenes from the films. The 1930s and 1940s brought iconic and bold typography and what would eventually become the bane of movie poster existence, the floating head. Experimental and concept posters began popping up in the 1950s and 1960s along with using the typography to tell a story or invoke a mood. The 1970s shifted towards photography. But for me, the 1980s is when movie posters hit their peak (and boy did they plummet after, yeesh, the ‘90s).

Seeing posters in the ‘80s almost always brought a sense of awe and wonder. The posters made the films appear to all be amazing adventures I needed to see. Or they scared the piss out of me. Maybe I say that because I grew up then and am partial to the era, but I have a hard time believing a stock photo of an actor with sparks flying around him/her summon the same feelings from the youth today. For my money, the posters below are better than the vast majority of today’s efforts.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

15. The Dead Zone


The first of David Cronenberg’s movies to make my top 15 horror flicks of 1983, but the poster is my least favorite of the best of the best. It’s just a little too simple for my tastes. It doesn’t pass the “Wall Test” which is whether I would hang this on my wall. The film itself, based on a Stephen King novel, features a young Christopher Walken giving a performance on par with anything in his storied career. And it doesn’t even need more cowbell.

14. The Keep


I hadn’t seen this film until Netflix finally freed it from oblivion (no DVD release) in 2010. It’s since disappeared and has once again become difficult to find. Michael Mann’s slow burning effort takes a lot of undeserved flack. I dig it. Plus it features Nazis, Ian McKellan and a red-eyed demon – what more do you need? This poster though is pretty blah. Love the typography castle, but wish there was more of it.

13. Videodrome


30 years ago a movie was released that centered on television and nefarious technology taking over our minds and lives. It’s more relevant with each passing day. In fact, it’s frightening on topic in today’s world. On a personal level this is one of my top 5 films of all time – horror or otherwise. The poster does a solid job of communicating the film, but falls a little flat when compared to some of the more imaginative one-sheets on this list. Which is a bit of a shame for a movie as mind-altering as this one. Or maybe that’s what the cathode rays want me to think. Long Live The New Flesh!

12. Twilight Zone: The Movie


This is a great example of an anthology poster. It’s hard to cram 4-5 mini-movies into on poster and sell it effectively. It’s a proven concept and this particularly version works well. The famous opening lines (I bet you read them in Rod Serling’s voice) set amongst the stars is all that is needed for a brand with this much recognition. No more, no less. You’ll have to watch the movie if “you wanna see something REALLY scary.”

11. Cujo


It’s a fence, with bloody typography smeared upon it. Simple and effective. If this was remade today I could easily see this as a teaser poster, followed by character posters for everything and everyone all the way down to the mailman. I’d vote for Vera Farmiga to take on the Dee Wallace role. Oh wait, a remake IS in the works?

10. Nightmares


Another anthology poster. Another simple design. This one uses the forced perspective to insinuate that the things that go bump in the night are, in fact, coming for you. The movie is worth a watch if only to check out game wizard Emilio Estevez fighting an evil arcade game. As if that’s not enough, there’s also much enjoyment to be had from Lance Henriksen, as a priest, pitted against a demonic Chevy 4×4.

9. Xtro


This movie is bonkers amounts of fun. Reading the Wiki plot summary has become a favorite past time of mine. It features sentences like, “Sam and Rachel make love in the abandoned farm, but she gets afraid because his skin starts to bleed and decompose.” and “Tony sends a toy tank to kill Michael. He discovers Analise and runs away, but a Puma kills him.” While it reads like something written by a crazy person the true crazy is that is the actual plot. The one-sheet is amazing for the fact that it plays on success of E.T. with one of its two hilarious taglines.

8. Sledgehammer


This is the only SOV (Shot on Video) do-it-yourself horror flick to make my list. It’s perverse and shocking to say the least. Sledgehammer’s status as a cult classic hit a modern peak when Mondo released it on VHS in 2011, featuring the original poster art. It’s one of those images that I’ve always been drawn to since my days of wandering around my local video shop.

7. House of the Long Shadows


Four of the biggest names in horror history, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and John Carradine team up in this horror comedy farce. For that reason alone it makes it worthy to seek out if you haven’t yet. It also marks the last time Cushing and Lee ever appear in a film together. Besides that, I LOVE this poster. How can you not? It’s a wonderful illustration.

6. Frightmare


This movie is probably my least favorite of these 15, but its one-sheet is all sorts of splendid. A quick rundown of its features: Skull. Check. Knife. Check. Snake. Check. What else can we throw in there? Lightning. Check. Creepy house on a cliff. Check. Full moon. Check. Thorny bushes. Check. Hand coming out of ground. Check. Great tagline. Check. Yeah, the Frightmare poster has got it going on…in a good way.

5. The Hunger


Ah, yes. 1983’s best Egyptian bi-sexual vampire David Bowie Tony Scott flick. In keeping in tune with the film’s feel and tone the poster is very stylistic, invoking a dreamlike sequence. The light emanating from the vampire’s chest region also seems to be quite interesting. It raises a question. If I watch this movie will I get to unravel the mystery of the boob light? I better watch and find out. And that’s why this is a great poster. It’s a marketing win.

4. Curtains


The film is about a gaggle of actresses auditioning for a role at an old creepy mansion who are killed off by a masked crazy person. Think Slasher meets Giallo. The poster is clearly not for that movie. It’s about a doll and weird curtain demon. But that’s what makes it great. Was this artwork left over from another movie? Who signed off on this? The mystery may never be solved.

3. The Deadly Spawn


I love how the poster has a bit of that Vincent Van Gogh Starry Night in the sky, but also giant teeth monsters. Take that, Fine Art! The movie itself is a load of fun, especially if you consider the budget was about the cost of two Big Macs and a side of fries. And it absolutely passes the “Wall Test.”

2. Christine


I’m not usually one for text-laden posters. See the Blue Lagoon one sheet as an example of the worst of the worst. Christine is an exception. The paragraph explaining the film is the stuff of legends. At its core, the film centers on a love triangle. It just so happens one member of the triangle is a cherry ’58 Plymouth with a penchant for losing its temper. “The Other Woman” is in trouble. This poster sells it so well. One might say it’s bad (ass) to the bone.

1. Sleepaway Camp


One of the quintessential ‘80s horror posters, this one sheet has made many top 10 posters lists of the decade. And rightfully so. When I think about perusing the local video store in the early ‘90s, the two images that immediately come to mind are the hair noose girl from April Fool’s Day (1986) and the dead shoe from Sleepaway Camp. Sure, from the typography to the hand written note there’s plenty to enjoy, but at the end of the day shoe murder trumps all.

Follow Micah on Twitter and make sure to check out his movie poster site, Poster Collective.

 
  • Darkness69

    Great article! I totally agree with you on The Dead Zone, it’s too simplistic, given the absolute awesomeness of the movie. However, I’ve tried to imagine a better one and whichever segment of the film you actually focus on, it would give a wrong impression of the movie. For example, if you feature an image of Greg Stillson and bombs, it would be like some sort of a political thriller impression, or if they used an image of the killer’s shadow, the impression would again be a wrong one. I looked it up on Imdb at they have a better poster there – Walken’s face all troubled and it works better than this one, in my opinion.
    I like the Twilight Zone, Hunger and Christine the best – Plymouth Fury FTW!

    • Micah

      Yeah, I agree that other poster was better. But one thing I liked about posters back then was there usually was only 1 version, maybe 2-3 at most. In my opinion it helped sear the images into our brains and develop recognition. Nowadays if you ask someone if they like a new movie poster you always have to ask which one due to the glut of alternatives.

  • Mayday

    Great article. Christine is such a classic poster that totally caught the vibe of the film with simple imagery.

  • Ravinus

    Made me want to watch Deadly Spawn again. I was always drawn to that poster. Xtro and Cujo are close seconds for me. Cool article.

  • bloody-ian

    Awesome poster-post. I just saw Nightmares, again. Fantastic! More 80s posters! There’s a Nightmare O. Elm St 2 poster that is gorgeous.