There’s nothing I love more than a good horror poster, but there’s a rule of thumb I’ve learned to follow: Don’t judge a slasher by its poster. Especially in the ’80s, publicity teams knocked out near works of art on a monthly basis in an attempt to get their films noticed amid the noise of the literal hundreds of other slashers flooding the market. Here are some of the best of the crop, posters so great I wouldn’t mind having them framed on my wall, if not for the pesky fact that the movies they’re attached to just can’t live up to their lurid promises.
SWEET SIXTEEN (1983)
There’s something about an uncluttered poster design that is just so much more quietly menacing than a mad jumble of sleazy imagery. Unfortunately, this elegant poster is the subtlest thing about SWEET SIXTEEN, a mid-80s slasher that handles Native American issues with all the delicacy of a gold brick.
EYES OF A STRANGER (1981)
I actually dig EYES OF A STRANGER, which has two strong heroines and some fun Tom Savini effects, but how the hell was a middling post-grindhouse slasher bestowed with such a transcendent design? This is one of my favorite posters of all time, even though it has zilch to do with the content of the film. It’s just such a stunningly bizarre image, beautiful and menacingly off-kilter in equal measure.
THE UNSEEN (1980)
This Solvang-set slasher from the director of FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING is forgettable, but its poster is the exact opposite. It’s a fun, spooky image that captures the imagination by not giving too much away about what’s actually going on.
NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
NEW YEAR’S EVIL has its charms, but the poster promises something that it patently isn’t. From the look of it, you’d think you’re getting a taboo-busting killer thriller where the bad guy subverts holiday traditions, murdering people using party horns while dressed in a Baby New Year diaper or something. I’m just saying, this poster is the only thing about the film that actually incorporates the tropes of the holiday in a major way, which is something that I highly value in my calendar slashers.
Slasher posters that want to distinguish themselves need a solid hook, and boy does HUMONGOUS have a sharp one. This twisted playset design is infinitely more playful and macabre than anything in Paul Lynch’s FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 riff set on an island.
DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (1980)
DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE is a nasty little early slasher that hails from the time before the genre had shaken off the grubby grindhouse grime of the ’70s, but this poster makes it look like a stylish masterwork. I just love the way the image is incorporated into the title itself, a deadly little prize to be discovered by those who give it more than a passing glance.
PHOBIA, a pioneering hospital-set thriller, got lost in the shuffle during the first big year of the slasher boom, but the poster stands out among the crowd with its eclectic, funky look.
STRIPPED TO KILL (1987)
I don’t think you need to be told that STRIPPED TO KILL is not the CITIZEN KANE of 80’s slasher movies. However, its poster is an explosion of the best of ’80s poster-making, leaning into all the retro genre tropes in the barrel. A beautiful woman? Check. A looming, disembodied killer? Check. A thematically linked object that transforms into a knife? Checkmate.
CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988)
Here’s another gem that screams ’80s. CHEERLEADER CAMP is fun, but it can’t match the delightfully macabre perversion of an American archetype that the poster pulls off. I give it an A!
PROM NIGHT (1980)
This is the second Paul Lynch film on the list! The dude must have had a great ad team. Although PROM NIGHT has been minted as a slasher classic, it pales in comparison to its peers, including its own sequel HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II. But this poster is beyond compare, turning the drab thriller into a lurid dreamscape that beckons you in.