The History of Horror Movies


Nov 27


"Defend Your Country: Enlist Now in the United States Army" Recruitment Poster by Tom Woodburn

“Defend Your Country: Enlist Now in the United States Army” Recruitment Poster by Tom Woodburn

The Golden Age of cinema peaked throughout the fifties, as pop culture seemed to become more embraced, and movie posters began to use a similar propaganda like style that was sparked by posters generated during World War 2. During this time movie posters became an exceptional form of advertising, and horror films used the poster as a great tool to manipulate people’s fears and dreams.

Ava Gardner in The Little Hut (1957)

Ava Gardner in The Little Hut (1957)

The general aesthetic of horror films from the Golden Age is often associated with the pop art movement, which began to take flight during the fifties – containing bright colours, bold text, and montages of dynamic imagery. Generally the subject matter for these posters was often the main character or creature, a pin-up girl, a large title with flat colour and a shadow, and a small portion of text to display the names of the actors & actresses involved in the film. The posters were often hand-drawn and painted, just like any other piece of artwork.

The extraterrestrial creature was often the focal point of the poster, along with the movie’s title, as they were often the largest imagery on the poster. Secondary to those two elements would often be the pin up girl, and the cast’s names. These features came together to create a genre of practically identical movie posters, as many of the posters made during this time followed these tropes, but were just arranged in different ways.

Movies depended heavily on their posters as their main source of advertisement, this meant artists and graphic designers had to make sure they knew who their intended audience was, and they had to effectively communicate the illusion that the movie was trying to depict. It became clear to designers that teenagers were the intended audience for a majority of horror films, so they often made posters that illustrated scary looking creatures, hypersexualized women, and fantasy. Essentially designers had to intrigue viewers to see a world unlike their own, so they dove into the interests & desires of their audience, hoping to appeal to the largest audience possible, by making posters that were quite explicit, but would still peek the curiosity of its possible viewers.

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Movie 1: Creature From the Black Lagoon

In the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, we see a large sea creature holding a pin-up girl who seems to be in distress. Your eye probably then also sees the bold white title with a black outline and shadow, the text is sans serif, and has a slightly rigid texture to it, which is another common trait of Golden Age movie poster typography, the use of mimicking unsettling textures that amplify the feel of the movie. The movie title’s text also alternates between words that contain drastically large capital letters and drastically small capital letters – the most important words of the title are emphasized by this (Creature & Black Lagoon), while the transitional words of the title (From The) are less emphasized, once again making the viewer focus on the most important parts of the movie poster.

Next to the title we see two unknown figures, both looking like divers, possibly the heroic figures of the film – but by making these figures mysterious the designer once again gives hints about the film, without revealing too much, and also sparks possible plot lines, like: will the girl be saved? Or will the creature prevail? –  these unanswered questions help entice the viewer. Near the bottom of the poster we see a series of three images that also give a glance to other scenes in the movie, and above these images is medium sized sans serif type in yellow, displaying the names of the starring members of cast, while the other cast names are below it in a smaller white sans serif font. In the background of the poster there is a green and blue gradient, that helps symbolize the aquatic aspects of the film. Even though Golden Age posters had a lot of contrasting elements, they were still able to achieve an overall cohesiveness through the use of hierarchy, by changing the sizes and colours of certain elements Golden Age posters were able to direct the viewer throughout the entire poster.

The bright flat colours of the type definitely stand out among the dreary swamp like colours of the background. The type is almost over exaggerated in a way that reflects the fear of the movie. Another iconic feature of the Golden Age posters is their tendency to combine many different fonts in different colours, this creates lots of tension, which is also perpetuated by the horror movie genre itself. The slanting of the movie’s title is another trait that is seen throughout this genre during this time, the title’s are often warped in different ways to give a creepy tone that best reflects the theme of the movie. With having an arched title for this poster, it makes the title stand out like crazy, but it also creates a great sense of movement, that works well with perpetuating the hectic-ness associated with the fear depicted in the imagery of the girl being held captive by the creature.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Movie 2: The Day The Earth Stood Still

In The Day the Earth Stood Still poster, similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, we see what looks like an alien (or the main creature) holding another pin up girl who seems to have been captured by the alien. In the background we see outer space with a creepy giant hand grabbing the Earth, meanwhile war and destruction occupies the mid-ground. Just like  the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster, the movie’s title is in a white font, the font is quite bold, and is sans serif with a small black shadow behind it. Judging by the heavy weight of the font, it looks very futuristic, yet still portrays these underlying serious tones. There is slightly smaller bold yellow sans serif text at the very top of the poster that helps set the scene for the movie, once again without spoiling anything, but just enough to entice the viewer. At the very bottom of the poster we see a lighter weight type, that is still yellow and sans serif, displaying the cast names. The yellow text at the top and bottom of the poster help to perfectly frame the imagery, this happens a lot with Golden age posters, where the text often surrounds the important imagery, helping frame and emphasize it. 

Both The Day the Earth Stood Still poster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon poster are practically identical, in terms of subject matter, even the type uses the same colours, since the yellow and white contrast so well from everything else on the poster, so that they don’t get lost in the imagery. Both paint a picture of similar scenarios, just taking place in different environments. The Golden Age posters definitely assert the main creature as their source of fear, along with the typography, these two elements work hand in hand to create the drama in the poster. 

After World War 2, the Golden Age horror films showed new enemies for people to fear. People started to become more afraid of the monster they could not see, or the monster that harmed society, or the monster that was made up of their worst nightmares. This led to the creation of tons of movies that fed off of these fears, and curated great amounts of movie posters that were able to meet the expectations of potential movie goers and start tropes that carried on throughout the following decades.


Additional Information 

Graphic design that influenced Golden Age Poster design

The contribution of design played a key role in the success of movie poster images. The concept of creating a visually stimulating artwork that represented film was becoming an increasingly competitive field of work. As the world was going through a rapid change in society, typography was altering as well. In the Golden Age, the viewer is becoming increasingly apprehensive in noticing patterns of design from past decades, borrowing from previous images across the globe. The act of reusing ideas without plagiarizing is classified as Pastiche 

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(left ) Jean Carlu – Office Of Emergency Management, 1941

(right) Saul Bass – Man With The Golden Arm, 1955


Various Graphic Design Posters that contributed to the advancement of horror film style:


Paul Rand – Orbacks department Store, 1946



William Sandberg – Nu (now) , 1959


Laszlo  Moholy-Nagy ,  Pneumatik , 1923


These 3 posters all use a very playful approach when considering space and orientation. The way they are assembled are done in a way of randomness  but seem to be done in a practical order, a level of precision is required. they are simple but yet haunting, unsettling but extremely interactive.