I wasn't intending to feature a third horror movie poster in a row for this column, but then I saw House, and, more importantly, I saw this poster.
Made in 1977, House is a cult Japanese comic-horror film never previously released in the US and directed with bonkers abandon by Nobuhiko Obayashi. Obayashi, who now has some 35 features to his name, started out making experimental Super8 films in the 1960s (you can see one of them here) which led to a career making commercials, often with American movie stars. (His priceless Charles Bronson commercials for the cologne Mandom can be seen on YouTube). He is best known in the U.S., if at all, for 1989’s Beijing Watermelon which played at New Directors/New Films in 1990 (even though it was his 22nd film) and which Vincent Canby described in The New York Times as “in every way a rather ordinary conventional movie.” He has just one film on DVD in the States, 1999’s Sada, a chaste and kooky retelling of In the Realm of the Senses.
House, however, was his breakthrough feature and in no way a rather ordinary conventional movie. As Obayashi tells it in a filmed prologue to Janus’s re-release of the film, it was his attempt to bring some child-like playfulness to an industry that had become stodgily middle-aged. Ostensibly a classic haunted house tale, House follows seven wonderfully monikered schoolgirls—“Gorgeous,” “Fantasy,” “Melody,” “Sweet,” “Mac,” “Prof” and “Kung-fu”—on a visit to Gorgeous’s mysterious wheelchair-bound aunt for a deadly summer vacation fraught with homicidal pianos, bloodthirsty clocks, dancing skeletons and demonic kittens. Directed as if there was no tomorrow, Hausu is a cornucopeaia of filmic effects: animation, cheesy musical numbers, dreamy slo-mo, comic undercranking, and luridly fake backdrops. I have seen the film aptly described as “an episode of Scooby Doo directed by Dario Argento” and that doesn’t even come close to conveying the inventive madness Obayashi throws at the screen.
The brand new kitty-from-hell poster was designed by Sam Smith—aka “Sam’s Myth”—a Tennessee-based designer and musician (he drums for Ben Folds) who has recently been making posters for Nashville’s historic Belcourt Theater. His design for a midnight screening of House this summer caught the eye of Janus who took it on for their national release. Smith has finessed the original title treatment for the film (hand-drawn lettering with the O animated as a gaping mouth with jagged incisors) and combined it with an image of the aunt’s possessed housecat which flashes on screen during the film’s demented climax, and everything fits together perfectly to create one of the most striking posters of the year.
Below are some of Smith’s alternative designs, which play knowingly on some of the film’s imagery. I like these designs for themselves but they don't really capture the mad élan of the film the way the final poster does. But scroll down for a couple of Smith’s very fine Godard posters for the Belcourt and check out his Flickr page to see more designs, including a lovely one for Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro and a hilarious take on Antichrist.