April 11, 2010

Movie Poster Rehab: "The Shining"

When I was a kid my bedroom walls - every square inch of them - were covered in horror movie posters. I was always intrigued by the artwork and design of movie posters; and horror films in particular had some gems. I had posters from the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Psycho series on the wall, some in rotation as new posters were acquired. But I never had The Shining, which is worth noting because it was one of my favorite films. But if you look above, you'll see its underwhelming original theatrical poster. There's a lot I don't like about this poster, chiefly the strange choice to go big with "The" as if that part of the title was somehow more significant than "Shining" and also the bizarre choice to place a face that doesn't belong to any of the characters in the film inside the lettering made this a big miss for me. Eventually the poster was revamped, once the movie moved to foreign markets, where the image of Jack Nicholson's axe coming through the door while Shelly Duvall cowers became the basis of the new one-sheet. The Shining is a very well regarded horror film; widely considered a classic of the genre but there really is no iconic poster for this film. When you think of something like the The Exorcist, you can picture the image on the poster; the silhouette of Max Von Sydow in front of the house. They become part of the movie's identity. It seems a crime that such a fine movie - from director Stanley Kubrick; a man who knows a thing or two about design and composition - could have a poster so desperately in need of some graphical design love.

This first poster - artist unknown - seems a little too on the nose for me. There's a lot of iconic imagery that a designer could use as a jumping off point for a poster idea and this one seems to have decided to mash in as many as possible. We've got Danny on his big wheel, we've got the creepy hallways of the Overlook Hotel, we've got the ghostly twin girls that try to lure Danny to his demise, then under the title treatment the artist also adds an axe, as if to say, "scary, get it?" Just to make sure you don't think this is a story about children playing in hallways. On the positive side, I do like the color scheme, the retro vibe and the wallpaper like pattern has been subtly added.

That doesn't mean, however, that aren't some quality posters for this movie, they're just not the product of the studios marketing department. Perhaps because of the lousy original artwork, or perhaps because the movie is very well liked, a lot of Shining posters have surfaced online, ranging from one-sheets commissioned for mini-festivals, design class assignments fan made work.

These two posters - the origin of which I know nothing - may well be the work of the same artist. They favor a very minimalist design and 60's vibe, particularly in the font and play on the trapped theme and the hedge maze at the Overlook Hotel that plays a big role in the films finale.

The Alamo Drafthouse - an Austin, Texas staple for cinephiles - is a movie house that also doubles as a restaurant and bar, and they often host their own second-run events (including a traveling road show that saw The Shining screened at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The Stanley Hotel is the place that inspired writher Stephen King to write the novel the film is based on and to this day, on channel 42 at the Stanley The Shining runs non-stop.) For this event, they commissioned artist Billy Perkins to create the red Jack Nicholson print above. The red one is sold out, but the blue one, used for an Alamo Drafthouse event in Oregon, can be purchased here. Purchasing one for me would make a delightful surprise.

The Alamo Drafthouse also commissioned the above poster, from Jeff Kleinsmith, I believe for another event they hosted. Again this design goes heavy on the hedge maze. While I like the artwork, I don't feel it really speaks to the movie very well. With so many iconic images in the film, the twin girls, the typewriter, the elevators, the axe, etc, it seems strange to use a skull, an image that doesn't play in the film at all and sort of clumsily says "scary."

The bulk of the last reel of the film sees a crazed Jack Nicholson chasing his family around the hotel with an axe, so there are a few posters that utilize that weapon to maximum effect. Above, on the right we have Matt Needle's simple - but effective - take. The image on the left, from artist Tom Whalen is my favorite Shining poster period. More of Whalen's excellent movie work can be found here.

I'm a big fan of this one, from artist Leon Bedore, better known as Tes One. His design incorporates the link between Danny Torrance and his father Jack in the film. Jack Torrance is trapped at his typewriter, slowly going mad typing the same thing, essentially writing himself in a circle. Meanwhile Danny rides his big wheel through the labyrinth like halls of the massive Overlook Hotel, essentially endlessly driving in a circle. The tennis ball, that the ghostly twin little girls try to lure him with appears on the poster coming out of the octagonal design of the Overlook Hotel's carpet. This simple, bold design really works for me. It can be purchased here.

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