They just don’t make movie art like they used to.
We can compare and contrast the big horror franchises until we’re all blue in the face, but one thing that nobody can deny is that A Nightmare on Elm Street is the clear winner in the art department. The hand-painted posters for the first five films in the series are as iconic as the imagery in the films themselves, and we have artist Matthew Joseph Peak to thank for them.
Fresh out of art school, Peak was hired to design the original A Nightmare on Elm Street poster for New Line, and after knocking it out of the park – who could ever forget the image of Nancy sleeping in her bed, with Freddy’s glove looming overhead? – he subsequently stayed on board to create the posters for the first four sequels. That art played no small part in popularizing the franchise and its outside-the-box villain, undoubtedly helping to drive home video rentals and sales – passing by those tapes at the video store was nearly impossible, as I can attest.
What’s interesting about Peak’s Elm Street posters is that it’s not until Dream Warriors that Freddy is physically depicted on them. The more popular Freddy became, the more of him you saw on the posters; in the art for the original film and its sequel, Freddy is more of a rough concept. Like the films, the poster art was wildly creative, further setting the series apart from the pack.
Peak explained his process in the documentary Never Sleep Again:
I had absolutely no direction from anyone. All of the Nightmare on Elm Street poster art was conceived from a pencil sketch idea, and then brought to a type of opaque watercolor. A lot of movie work is, ‘Oh, here’s a picture of a person. Here’s a picture of the scene.’ And I never approached artwork that way. It’s always been on a concept basis and getting to the core of what’s there. I’m pretty proud of having done the first five and helping launch it. Helping create it.
Below you’ll find Peak’s original Elm Street 1-5 paintings without any text or credits, which is really cool to see because you can truly admire the raw artwork. Peak did not design the poster for Freddy’s Dead, but he did do the art (also below) for the soundtrack. Also take note that the Dream Child art was originally a bit different; the baby was eventually replaced by a carriage.
Hand-painted movie posters. You just can’t beat ’em.