I’m writing about something very on topic today – horror! Yes, it’s Halloween. I was perusing the internet for a good horror film to settle myself in front of this evening, when I noticed the abundance of horror remakes / re-tellling these days. But what I found even more striking was how much the poster / DVD cover artwork have changed, particularly the typography and lettering.
So much meaning can be conveyed through the use of type alone – you see a word written in a certain way and it immediately sends you a particular type of message. So I thought I’d compare the original artwork of a few films with the remade artwork, and see if the message had changed.
It’s also interesting to imagine what happens when you take the title in isolation, away from the rest of the image – some of the titles rely heavily on the rest of the supporting artwork to get their meaning across. I must also point out that I did come across an awful lot of variations between posters for the same version of the film (especially between original theatrical posters and DVD release!).
First up is Frankenstein, above. The 1931 version is very bold and ‘comic-like’ but the title comes across very well – by the shape of the letters alone it’s communicating that it’s a horror film, so in isolation, it would be immediately clear. The 1994 version in contrast uses a straightforward serif typeface, completely unadorned save the use of the lightning behind it. Seeing the word alone there, without said lightning, may not necessarily give the same meaning, though it might suggest the time period it’s set in.
Next up is Prom Night. Much like Frankenstein, the 2008 remake uses a serif typeface, totally unadorned and says absolutely nothing in isolation. The original 1980 version however doesn’t need any graphics to get its message across – the blood dripping off ‘Night’ speaks volumes, not to mention the word ‘Prom’ in the style common on varsity jackets so associated with American teens at high school. Put the two together and you know exactly what’s going to happen in the film.
On to The Haunting. For the 1963 version, it looks like the designer has gone all out on creating a title that encapsulates everything this film is about. There is so much detail from the shapes of the letters, to the graphic nuances of the little turrets, and on to the incorporation of the graphic below. You know what you’re in for, and it has so much character. The remake on the other hand – well it’s pretty much says the same as the Frankenstein and Prom Night remakes…
The A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 remake sadly doesn’t fare any better, and again follows the same serif type trend. But the 1984 version again says all you need to know – it’s a traditional horror style typeface, much like the original Frankenstein one, all jaggedy and scratched looking – reminiscent of Mr Krueger carving it out in his notorious talons himself…
In the case of Cat People, the 1942 version again follows the stereotypical horror font, all wobbly jelly, like you will be when you watch this film. The 1982 remake here is quite interesting; it does have a distinct personality, I’m not convinced that in isolation it screams horror, but it definitely says something I can’t quite put my finger on. Combined with the photo of the woman, it’s actually starting to turn a little sci-fi for me… It’s scruffy, but it says more than some of the others.
Finally good old Dracula. I have to say that I love both of these titles. For 1931, it’s full of character, maybe erring on the side of comedy – on seeing it you can almost hear him saying ‘Mwah hah hah, I vant to trink your blood’ spoken through the type. So it’s not so much scary, but it definitely follows one of the many genres of Dracula there are. Compared to the other remakes discussed here, the 1992 titles are great. As well as looking like dripping blood, it uses an almost Blackletter/calligraphic style typeface traditionally associated with historical Eastern Europe, tied to culture and national identity. It’s also very classic and safe, in so far as the meaning is explicit. It definitely shouts Gothic horror.
My favourite title of all the above? It has to be the 1980 Prom Night. Quite simply, it’s great, and does its job amazingly well. For me, it knows its audience and how to grab its attention by the way it says what it is visually. These film posters do warrant a lot more discussion, especially in terms of the images themselves, and indeed other factors that inform them such as social and historical context. And additionally, why are plain serif typefaces used in such abundance for film posters these days, as the examples above were far from being the only few. However that’s outside of the realm of what I want to discuss here.
But do let me know any thoughts you have on these, or any other horror film remakes you think have interesting titles that do or don’t work, or other meanings you attribute to them, and whether they have been improved or not…