Monday 31 October 2011

George A. Romero: The Dead Posters

Seeing as it's Halloween this week and we're feeling in a spooky mood, let's take a look at the posters for George A. Romero's ongoing Dead saga, films that are synonymous with October 31st and will no doubt be getting many a viewing tonight.

Way back in 1968, not many people knew about the concept of zombies, a monster that would stop at nothing in their quest to eat flesh and destroy our way of life. Although not the first zombie movie (that honour belonging to 1932's White Zombie, depending on whose opinion you listen to), it did establish a lot of what we associate with the genre nowadays, by no means least the "...of the Dead/Living Dead" method of naming films. Overused it may be now, but George A. Romero and Night of the Living Dead was the originator. The poster is effectively simple; a collection of black and white images from the film pieced together into a collage, with the only use of colour being the garish green used in the title's jaggedy typeface. The poster tries to show audiences what to expect, with shambling corpses and the promise of horror and violence (not to mention some nudity), but it still doesn't quite manage to express what the film was fully about. Its content must have been a real shock to its audiences. Note the tagline too; "Pits the dead against the living in a struggle for survival". That's an interesting choice of words that will come back around again when we get to George's most recent work.

A bona fide classic for a number of reasons. The font, the horizon, the colour scheme... all iconic features. Little did the bit part player with only a brief appearance as a zombie know that his visage would be used to sell the entire film, albeit in graphic form. His dome shaped head substitutes perfectly for a rising sun, the sloping font perhaps following the trend set by a recently released film called Star Wars. The poster's also got one of horror's all time great taglines. "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth", finally a Romero poster that says everything it needs to to get audiences into theatres. You may have noticed the box at the foot of the poster, disclaiming that "There is no explicit sex in this picture". This was a measure put into place by the filmmakers when they received an X rating, which they chose to bypass by putting the film out unrated. The box served to inform audiences that they were going to see a horror rather than pornography, if the "of the Dead" didn't do that job already.

This is a clever continuation of the iconography set up in the previous film's poster, echoing the sun/moon detail, the sloped text and the zombified face, even if this more detailed rendering isn't a patch on Dawn's. George's name has got even bigger above the title, and the poster doesn't even attempt to create as memorable a tagline as that of Dawn of the Dead. To be honest, at this point in the series, if you didn't know what you had in store you deserved to have your wits scared of out you by the films opening scene.

After a prolonged absense from the zombie genre that lasted 20 years, Romero suddenly found himself being mentioned as a great influence on the mid 2000's zombie resurgence so jumped back into his ongoing saga with 2005's Land of the Dead. The film may not have ticked all the boxes his new fans were looking for, but there was some fun to be had. Click on the poster if you want to take a closer look at the approaching corpses, as the zombified faces of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright (who had just refreshed the zombie genre with their hit, Shaun of the Dead) and make-up artist extraordinaire Tom Savini (reprising his role of Machete from Dawn of the Dead) can be found amongst the ensuing mob. if you're wondering what the strange scribble of white is next to the credits, it's an autograph from Romero himself, along with the cutesy remark, "stay scared!". Why it's on the actual print poster I couldn't tell you, but it's a bizarre little touch that nods to Romero's affection to his legions of fans.

In 2007, people were all going on about found footage horrors and George saw the opportunity to take the series in a completely new direction. It's just a shame that, apart from a couple of good zombie deaths, the film wasn't quite up to scratch, particularly when compared to the other zombie camcorder film of 2007, the Spanish language REC. Diary of the Dead also found itself up against the monster smash Cloverfield, and with a substantially lower budget, couldn't deliver the same level of thrills. As for the poster, it does its job in a formulaic sort of way. Zombies are shambling in the way they should do, it shows the camcorder running low on battery and it holds over the green colour scheme that the poster for Land of the Dead used. It also retains George A. Romero's above the title credit and even gives him a little nod under the title too; "A new vision of terror from the legendary filmmaker", indeed. There's an alternate poster that features the cast, along with the witty tagline, "Shoot the dead". I'm not sure which one I prefer, to be honest.

Finally, to Romero's most recent entry into the Dead saga, Survival of the Dead. Although it seems like the poster is a simple show for the make up at first, it does have an a couple of noteworthy elements. We have the return of the Moon, an object that doesn't have anything to do with zombie mythology but keeps reappearing as a motif in Romero's films; and an interesting tagline that calls back to the original Night of the Living Dead from 1968. "Survival isn't just for the living" is a clever play on the series' association with the word 'living', and works in great juxtaposition to "Pits the dead against the living in a struggle for survival" that was used 41 years earlier. I'm certainly not suggesting that the series has come full circle and reached its final chapter, as I'm pretty sure that George has got a few more tales of zombies left in him.

So, there you go. The posters for one of horror's greatest and most definitely long running sagas. The posters are much like the films they belong to, massively different from one another whilst retaining that central theme that has fascinated audiences for nearly 45 years. I am a big fan of zombie films and a lot of that is down to Romero's work, rarely working with big name actors yet always delivering thrills and spills to his loyal audiences. Looking back to the poster for Land of the Dead, I think George said it best... stay scared.

Many thanks to the always excellent IMPawards for sourcing the posters.

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