A truly weird movie deserves an equally weird and wonderful movie poster. As cinema became the dominant art form of the 20th century, it spawned another visual medium, the film poster, which at some point broke free to emerge as a significant and enduring international Pop Art phenomenon. Various movie-loving nations cultivated their own top artists and unique styles. The American movie poster had a sweet run, about 70 years, before distributors began to ditch illustrated posters for cheaper—usually lamer—photographic options. In Europe, chiefly France and Italy, they kept poster art going for another ten years. And even though it looks like Photoshop is here to stay, appreciation for the art of the movie poster is at an all-time high and constantly growing.
I’ve been collecting original movie posters since I was 3 years old (starting with the US one-sheet for The House That Dripped Blood), and I have always been drawn to the salacious and macabre. When I was closing in on 3000 pieces, I converted the collection to WestgateGallery.com (named after my childhood porno theater in Bangor, Maine), an online movie-art boutique specializing in classic, cult, exploitation, giallo, Golden Age XXX and horror posters, the more striking and outrageous the better. They’re historical artifacts and unbeatable design elements that belong on walls, not in storage. Here’s a small selection from my store that are especially relevant to this great website. Anyone who decides they need one of these, or anything at Westgate Gallery, mention “366” or “Weird” for 25% off any order, through the end of the year.
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Andy Warhol’s Bad (USA, 1977): While waiting for a long-overdue special edition uncut Blu-ray release including the complete dropped-baby-hits-sidewalk splatter-scene (what?? it wouldn’t stop crying), you can honor this gleefully toxic deadpan dark comedy cult classic with a 55 x 78″ Italian subway 2-panel, featuring Almoz art so stunningly surreal this poster could easily be Polish. True Baddies will recognize the blonde ‘do, handful of cash, cruelly white fur and vagina dentata as hallmarks of Queens electrologist/hit-girl dispatcher Hazel Aiken (Carroll Baker, perfection in the role), the meanest woman outside of a film.
Blue Velvet (USA, 1986): Depicting some Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) torment from the hour of scenes deleted from ‘s final cut, this Italian 39×55″ poster is many a fan’s favorite, thanks to the overwhelming sleazy darkness expertly conveyed by legendary maestro Enzo Sciotti.
Desperate Living (Baltimore, 1977): The official New Line mini-posters with the iconic Peter Hujar rat dinner photo are cool, but they’re burnt-vermin leftovers next to the gorgeous Italian paintings of the brilliant Tino Avelli. All three sizes are musts, but this 39×55″ is the best: blazing colors appropriate for this Disney-on-diet-pills fractured fairy tale, with ravishing portraits of the criminally underrated (and lovely in person) as “snotty bitch” Peggy Gravel, massively entertaining mega-ton Jean Hill as Peggy’s ex-maid Grizelda, and gangster-moll/burlesque queen Liz Renay as Mortville’s Most Beautiful lipstick lesbian, Muffy St. Jacques!
Lisztomania (UK, 1975): Far from Ken Russell‘s best work, but the most lunatic of his musical bio-fantasias, this movie grows more charming every year and is the perfect thing to screen for the Lenas and Zosias in your life as proof-positive how hard 70s movies rocked. Warner Brothers released this… nationwide… in multiplexes! A magnificent French 47×63 by Jean Mascii, with most of the cast of epically costumed wackos, led by Roger Daltrey, as Franz Liszt, holding a very phallic rapier—although Jean somehow left out as the Pope!
Don’t Look Now (UK/Italy, 1973): As a huge fan of creepy things and of Venice, I rank this movie astronomically high, and find every moment hypnotic; transcendent, even. The only problem is there was never a poster that did it justice, and even the almost-always reliable Italians choked. I thought the one-sheet from Spain was the closest, but they spoiled a beautiful painting by slapping big boxy photos of moptops Julie Christie and—more unfortunately— on top of it. Then I found this elegant, 20×28″ Japanese jewel which addresses the film’s giallo-adjacency with an unnerving red-cloaked doll. And no, they weren’t really having sex.
Cafe Flesh (USA, 1982): Very few photo-style XXX-rated movie posters from the 1970-89 “Golden Age” can compete with the especially creative sexy-tease illustrations by some of the greatest American commercial artists of the era. But Cafe Flesh is not your typical adult film and its poster designer (AKA Rinse Dream, who also directed) was not your typical pornographer. A highly successful Madison Avenue graphic designer and art director who came up with the iconic one-sheets for ‘s Dressed To Kill and Body Double, among others, he conceived this equally riveting dark-glam gem for his directorial debut. A canny neon-inflected wet nightmare that fuses Cabaret with A Boy and His Dog, and mercilessly mocks its intended audience while still delivering wood, the film eerily anticipated the AIDS pandemic to a startling degree. Jerry Stahl’s script ingeniously centers itself around “sex-negative” characters unable to perform sex acts post-nuclear apocalypse, enabling Sayadian to cast real actors (including Richard Belzer!) in almost every key role. Heavily MTV-influenced, Flesh became a midnight sensation on both coasts (at the 8th Street Playhouse and the Nuart, specifically). In a pleasing inversion of the frigid female porno cliche who pretends to enjoy sex for the sake of her man, poster-girl and future screen queen Michelle Bauer (credited here as Pia Snow) stars as a young woman hiding her secret sexual functionality, lest she be torn from her sweet radiation-impotent boyfriend and drafted into the Live Sex Show Army. We even have one for sale signed by Michelle/Pia.
Dead Alive (NZ, 1992): This is the only “adults only” splatter movie I have shown to young children. And before you judge me, or try to figure out if your kids were among them, let me say they all LOVED it, and I honestly felt that no harm would be done. To me, I mean. I never told the tots the title, and I also knew that if any of them broke their promise and tried to recount the scenes of cartoonish carnage and obscenely violent entrail-spillage, their parents/nannies would think they were lying their asses off. It’s just that demented. And really hilarious, zany and innocent. But you wouldn’t know it from this deliciously sick Japanese 20×29″ masterpiece by Hajime Sorayama, with its naughty-nurse-in-bondage fetish art that makes it look like some kind of Nikkatsu Roman Porno perv-fest like Nurses’ Dormitory—Assy Fingers (1985) or White Rose Campus: Then Everybody Gets Raped (1982). (Please add those two to the suggestion queue before you forget.)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (USA/UK, 1975): As we all know, this blog has a complicated relationship with RHPS, the cross-dressing grandpa of midnight movies. But I hope we can all agree that in a pre-cable and movie channel world, the film and its impossible-to-quash cult provided a valuable accepted outlet and social club for young LGBTs, and their bored straight friends who liked to make messes in movie houses. 20th Century Fox outdid themselves with this limited-edition one-sheet created specifically for the 10th Anniversary Halloween screening at NYC’s Beacon Theater. But it was now 1985 and the world was a much more uptight place, as evidenced by the douche-nozzles at Mattel, the North Korea of toy companies, pissing all over the birthday cake by threatening Fox with legal action for the scandalous and unauthorized use of Mattel’s precious Barbie dolls on the poster. How dare the depraved distributor of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls violate Barbie—the sacred, stripper-boobed emblem of American girlhood?! Never mind the epidemic of inadequacy and anorexia this spoiled blonde bitch had foisted on the female race for thirty years. Mattel was and is pure evil, and clearly homophobic, not to mention anti-fun-loving-sweet-transvestite. Fox yanked the posters and now they’re among the rarest Rocky Horror items. But eight years later, the toy twats were at it again with the launch of “Earring Magic Ken,” a blatant attempt to teach young girls how to identify and avoid non-hetero male peers, thereby robbing sensitive, witty, fashion-forward teen boys the fag-hags they so rightfully earned. You know what, Mattel? Maybe the studios that created original classic movie monsters should sue YOU for that pseudo-Goth whorehouse you call Monster High.
Videodrome (Canada, 1983): Are you a member of the ever-swellling cult for David Cronenberg‘s ultra-violent ahead-of-its-time paranoid thriller about our addiction to sleazy, sadistic, splattery “content” (which his first four films fed, fabulously)? If you aren’t, you should be, and this Italian 39×55″ is an ideal premiere plunge into the perverse poster pool. It’s big enough to impress, but framing it won’t bankrupt you; and the movie’s a classy Criterion Collectible, but the urgently expulsive Warren-Magazine-horror-comic art reminds one how deeply it offended the fun-loathing MPAA, who forced cuts on Universal via an X-rating-threat. (This happened constantly after Gene Siskel and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls scripter Roger “Fellate this pistol topless until the tranny blows your lesbo head off” Ebert started their whiny “pro-woman”/anti-slasher screed on PBS. The MPAA’s anti-horror streak was our version of the UK’s Video Nasty moral panic. Of course, theirs was much scarier– still, much of the “voluntarily” edited content from many American 80’s films is now lost. The poster’s only downside is that Debbie Harry is not pictured, but I’ve got some wicked Hairspray stuff we can talk about.
Through the Looking Glass (USA, 1976): I almost hate to demystify this Italian 39×55″, a personal favorite . The passionate, swoony face pulls you in, then the scalding-red, clawed Satanic digit flicks a shiver right to your spine. It could be an illustration in an antique Russian fairy-tale volume, or a much older wood-cut depicting a plot-point in some Faustian fable. Of course, the eye shadow rather strongly alludes elsewhere: to the intersection of New Hollywood Drive and Sexual Revolution Expressway! A lot of people really thought the American film industry and Porno Chic, its renegade, full-bushed stepsister, would somehow merge, and it never seemed more likely than in 1976. Looking Glass was intended to be a low-budget, R-rated psychosexual horror movie, but the backers insisted talented director Jonas Middleton make it XXX, like his previous two features. Those backers, BTW? A rather free-thinking mainstream Christian church. The resulting adult classic is my Golden Age favorite, and when distributor Distribpix FINALLY finishes their Blu-ray special edition, I’ll be hotly campaigning for its coverage here. Trust me, it’s weirder than f*ck, complete with a brilliant score by Hollywood composer Arlon Ober, a non-sexual supporting performance by a 14-year-old soap actress, a scene with her mom’s character shot with a state-of-the-art gyno micro-cam, and a tie-in novelization published by Dell—certainly the raunchiest book my grandmother ever bought for me. Hey, she said any paperback at the drugstore. (I was nine and had already devoured Jaws—with its shocking filthy sex-talk between Chief Brody’s wife and maverick icthyologist Matt Hooper—The Sentinel, and Valley of the Dolls). Anyway, this is about posters, and this movie had many amazing ones. The artist-assignments in Italy were handed out much more democratically, so many of the country’s most accomplished master illustrators painted for pornos! Ezio Tarantelli, for example, did both Lassie Come Home and Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls. This particular beauty was by Studio E2, which sort of specialized in more lurid fare. It depicts the bored-housewife heroine, Catherine Burgess, consorting with the demonic ghost of her late depraved father (kink icon Jamie Gillis) after the horny rich MILF discovers an antique mirror in her mansion’s attic is the gateway to Hell. Distribpix! Hurry up, please…
Violation of the Bitch [AKA Sodoma] (Spain, 1978): One of the most buzzed-about and re-Tweeted posters in the collection, we believe this giallo spagnolo was purchased by David LaChappelle at our exclusive gallery show last summer at Lethal Amounts in downtown L.A. I certainly hope so, because then we might be seeing Dave recreate it with his pal, animal-lover Pamela Anderson! Luckily, I have another one available for immediate sale. Also desperately in need of a high-def remaster, the film is the work of cult director Jose Larraz, whose run of wonderfully weird 70s mind-effers includes Whirlpool, Vampyres, and Symptoms (just restored from the original negative and released region-free by the good people at the British Film Institute), to name a few.
Calore in Corpo (Italy, 1987): The title translates as “body heat”, but Lawrence Kasdan and Kathleen Turner had nothing to do with this spaghetti skin-flick. It stars Benedetta Bonomi, Marco Casagrande and Marisa Costa, and was directed by Arduino Sacco, often credited under the alias “Dudy Steel” but better known by his unfortunately cystic nickname, Hard Sac. Little else is known about the film, but with killer Dali/Dada surrealist art (unsigned) like this fetching feline feast, who really cares? It’s available in 39×55″ and 13×28″ sizes.
Christian McLaughlin owns and operates original poster web-store WestgateGallery.com. (Mention 366 Weird Movies for 25% off everything!) He’s a Hollywood,CA novelist and playwright who’s written hundreds of episodes for bad TV shows and a few for some really great ones. His play Knife to the Heart, a comedy about circumcision written with Stan Zimmerman, will have its world debut in Chicago this summer, and he directs his first feature film, a slasher called Check-Out Time written with Terry Haley, early next year. He’s hoping like hell master poster artist Enzo Sciotti (www.enzosciotti.com) can be persuaded to do the one-sheet.