Horror film posters of the 80’s – Blog Post 1 – Hwa-jin Jun

The 80’s brought North America some iconic horror films still watched today. They employed heavy use of traditional illustration, simple typography, and high contrast colour to instil unease and curiosity. A few classic examples include The Shining (1980), Evil Dead (1981), Re-Animator (1985), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986) (see fig 1)


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Figure 1. Posters for The Shining (Kubrick and Bass), Evil Dead (Humphreys), Re-Animator (n/a), The Thing (Struzan), and The Fly (Mahon).

Illustrations are composed of stylized realism with traditional mediums like paint and ink. Colour palettes vary, but enjoy the use of bright colours used in stark contrast to abundant black. The Shining for example, uses black text on blaring yellow, while the Re-Animator employs the use of primary colour detail on black background. Together with the use of high contrast lighting similar to chiaroscuro, the illustrations take on a sense of volume to create the illusion that objects are coming out from the depths of the shadows. For Richard Mahon who illustrated The Fly poster, these characteristics are pretty typical of his other compositions, though general film posters of that time show that it was a well-regarded trend (see fig 2).


Figure 2. Mahon’s illustration for the film Naked Tango (Mahon).

The subjects of illustration are of frightening suggestion, like the flash of an inhuman being or fearful gaze. The unease one feels when looking at these is due to the implied understanding that something eerie is to happen. When examining The Fly, it is the question of who — or what — might be appearing. Why is there a boy’s face frozen in a gasp of horror in The Shining? Fear of the unknown is a phenomena that holds many of us.

All capital letters are typically used for titles, though this is common to films outside the genre, including the use of sans-serif typefaces. Simply styled and easy to read, the titles have only the simple task of naming the film at hand. For the most part, they typically have little indication that they are tied to the horror genre.This does not detract from the mood the poster exudes. Instead, the emotionless, cold text starkly contrasts the dynamic background illustrations, and seems to further emphasize the horror the illustrations present. 

When you compare the evolution of horror posters from the early century until the 1980’s it is interesting to note that similarities arise in the use of black background and sparing uses of colour to create dark moods (see fig. 3) (Dainis). The use of large scale portraits and multi-person collages are thrown out in favour of busts and minimal compositions housing single figures or objects. Typography also becomes less visible; the amount of compositional copy has increased, though most of it has decreased in size to leave only a title and optional header easily visible to viewers. Title position has also changed — from being situated anywhere in the composition, they become aligned to the vertical axis and are also much less obnoxious in size and style.

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Figure 3. The posters for The Bride of Frankenstein (n/a), White Zombie (n/a), Dracula (n/a), and Frankenstein (n/a).



Works cited

Dainis. “Evolution of Horror Movie Poster Designs: 1922 – 2009.” Hongkiat,

Humphreys, Graham. The Thing. Digital file, 1981.

Kubrick, Stanley, and Saul Bass. The Shining. Digital file, 1978.

Mahon, Rich. “The Art of Rich Mahon.” Rich Machon, richmahon.com/

Struzan, Drew. The Thing. Digital file, 1982.

N/a. Bride of Frankenstein. Digital file, 1935.*

N/a. Dracula. Digital file, 1931.*

N/a. Frankenstein. Digital file, 1931.*

N/a. Re-Animator. Digital file, 1985.*

N/a. White Zombie. Digital file, 1932.*


*It seems the illustrators and designers have been lost, or are incredibly difficult to find. There was no information available as to who the artists maight be.

(Also the category of blog post 1 was not available?)