Editor’s Note: I am posting this from St. Lucia and will not get home until late next Wednesday so please forgive the fact that these will probably be shorter, less well researched, and posted irregularly. I also can’t promise a theme most nights since most of the horror I’m bringing with me is from my Universal Horror boxset so there won’t be as much variety.
10/19/2017 – Movie Posters: The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
Directed by John Sherwood
It’s hard to really explain why I love movie posters so much. I don’t view them the way many view posters where they are just testaments to certain films, music, or whatever they like although there is certainly an aspect to that. I know I’m not alone as countless articles and even a documentary in 24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters (which I’ve avoided seeing largely because it seemed to get a pretty tepid response and disappear quickly after being hyped pretty heavily on movie site) have been made about the phenomena to go with all the modern revisionist posters being churned out for movies (and that usually garner at most a “cool” and then quickly forgotten about reaction) but they seem more focused on their status as art. And movie posters like trailers and horror itself are art. I mean look at the posters for Pan’s Labyrinth or mother! that I featured in my first article this year) and truly tell me they aren’t.
Instead, I find them fascinating as both a historical object which points to how films were (and to a lesser extent now are) marketed, as sort of a conjunction to the experience of watching a movie, sometimes just because they are hilarious, and because the way that at their best they can almost define a film. I’m not gonna rattle off a list of great horror movie posters since Google has me covered pretty well there with plenty of lists of them (though I do recommend going through some because they can be truly beautiful, hilariously silly, or hilariously bad) and because it will absolutely be a bitch to load and get through. I will point out the horror posters I do have in horror because I think they are very reflective of the styles I am most fond of and I think that’s the best way to really look at art.
Probably the best and most evocative posters are minimalistic but actually conveying something far more than the stupid minimalist posters that are everywhere and rely on knowledge of the film while still managing to all look identical. All three of those posters along with other famous ones such as Rosemary’s Baby, Jaws, The Thing, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and The Descent take a distinctive image and stick with it. They don’t crowd things out with pictures of the actors and unnecessary text, they are just the perfect answers the important question of “If you were to pick one image to define this movie by one image, what would it be?” while also providing a perfect tease for the film itself. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Alien even more than those images rely on awesome taglines to hook you. The tagline for horror films more than any other seems to carry import since they aren’t afraid to be viewed as silly and it can help them standout in a crowded market which relies less on reviews and movie stars than other genres. The images are all emphasized but the text is
Now we start to get into cheesy goodness. The first two Evil Dead films would be in that first category and towards the top of that list but the third film goes for a Boris Vallejo-style (he of the awesome poster for Q and National Lampoon’s Vacation). These are still similar in function to the minimalist poster (create a defining image for the movie) but with more going on it. Even then, there’s still a clean look to it and tells you everything you need to know (Bruce Campbell, fantasy film, not especially serious tone).
Grindhouse is an odd pick in part because it’s only half a horror film and like Army of Darkness is largely a nod to the work of others. In Grindhouse’s case even more so this is intentional as part of a top to bottom attempt to recreate a grindhouse title with better effects and a bigger name cast. Really it is two posters designed like that era, tied together in a recreation of an advertisement for a double feature. It has layers of greatness that along with the trailers are a highlight of the film (though it is still very good). But that style of poster (like that of today’s film) is over the top and seemingly willing to promise you the greatest experience you have ever had. It’s pure huckster, William Castle style charm that rarely feels cynical especially in its 50s and 60s heyday.
This is just full on cheese here. I’m sure you have all seen weird foreign posters which operate on a completely different style than the mainstream US style (which is often fairly directly ported to other countries and this one is no exception. Sure they tell you little about the movie besides “Take a look at all the things in this movie” (and in the case of certain countries such as Poland that may not even be true) which is rarely relevant outside of a kaiju or superhero film but they sure are fun to look at with Thai and Japanese posters being some of the most fun.
I didn’t even get into such areas as the classic 30s and 40s style which generally tried to combine dark evocative imagery with WAY too much an emphasis on text, the era of 60s and 70s posters (such as giallos and I Spit on Your Grave which is incidentally a great poster for a bad movie) which really traded on exploitation and shock value (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre being the best of that bunch), the fun VHS era of the 80s with brought back the fun in posters, the 90s which took it all away, or the 00s which made things boring but pioneered the alternate poster to combat this. I didn’t even talk about what makes a bad or boring poster but that is a subject for another day. I just wanted to point to the good and instead of just saying copy that, try to shine a light on why they are successful.
Well maybe I should actually you know show today’s poster.
Awesome, right? It promises us terror and trills and a giant monster straddling a bridge. So what if the film has precisely 0 of these things and there’s plenty of similar posters out there, it’s just awesome to look at and even if it is wholly unrepresentative of the movie (that scene to the right of “ALL NEW UNDERWATER THRILLS!” never happens and depicts more people then are in the cast but it sure is evocative.
Jack Arnold, giant misogynist and director whose films (aside from The Incredible Shrinking Man, Boss N-Word, and to a lesser extent The Mouse That Roared) are generally overrated, is gone from the series after two entries (both in 3D). The first film is fine I guess with the misogyny and general dullness keeping Gill-Man from achieving the heights of the other classic Universal Monsters he usually gets to stand beside. The sequel sucked and is only notable for being used on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and being the screen debut of Clint Eastwood. To this movie’s credit, they actually try to follow on from the plot of the last film somewhat. Granted that is in the broadest terms but that is the best compliment I can manage for this wretched film.
A rich crazy scientist hires a guide to take him and a small group on a trip to capture the titular creature in Florida. He brings his young wife just fucking murders two sharks for trying to eat (porpoises, not humans) and is so proud of herself. Yet the only thing the movie thinks to criticize even passingly is that she shot them with a gun (which Jaws assures me is not easy) and not with I’m assuming a harpoon or her fists like a man would. She’s told this by the asshole guide is constantly hitting on the wife and being a giant jerk and at one point sexually assaults her despite her repeated protestations of no.
Three of them including the wife dive down and the creature makes his first appearance at a little over 15 minutes in but she swims too deep and ruins it (the series really does not handle women well) since she has to be saved by a big, strong man They do at least try to make her an independent feeling woman with an actual character, they just fail miserably and their attempts just come across as condescending. The creature shows signs of being able to reason and outsmart the crew and for a second this almost feels almost like a crappy proto-second half of Jaws, but that goes out the window once they see him again.
They are trying to capture him yet harpoon him and light him on fire by throwing a fucking Molotov at him (after for some random reason Gill-man dumps gasoline on himself like he is about to protest the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm). He is of course badly scarred (nothing some head to toe bandages and surgery can’t fix). Gill-Man also has lungs as a sort of secondary breathing system and the monstrous scientists experiment on him and try to basically turn him into a human. They force him into clothes and locked him in a cage with livestock basically having recreated Frankenstein’s Monster with him looking doubly stupid without gills.
Gill-Man is horribly depressed and tries to either kill himself or return to his home but he is “saved” and brought back to captivity. Things only get worse for him when SPOILERS the scientist kills the sexual predator in a jealous rage (since he has 0 trust in his wife not cause of his actions) trying to make him look guilty. Happily, he is killed by Gill-Man who pulls a “I’m not going down for this shit” and nopeing the fuck out of there.
I’d have given the film credit if it made the scientists into the true villains here but nope, they have to go with the “happy” ending of the Creature wandering off like Bruce Banner as the scientists beam about how there’s hope for him yet to become fully integrated like humanity. You know the complete monsters this film depicts them as. END OF SPOILERS Fuck this movie and maybe one day we will actually get a good film in this series (considering the current state of the Universal Monsters, not fucking likely).
Next up: Who knows what new film lurks in the cards for tomorrow? The Shadow knows.