The Art of the Sell — “The Howling” movie poster

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 


Horror movies present different opportunities when it comes to their marketing, at least when it comes to the movie posters. There’s less necessity to convey elements of plot, milieu, or tone. Simply establish its a horror film, and most of that is understood. Similarly, heavily pushing the presence of familiar stars is less important. There is — and always has been — enough of an audience fully prepared to queue up for the experience of being scared alongside strangers in the dark that offering thunderous assurance that familiar faces will be on the screen felt a little less important. Jack Nicholson was one of the biggest stars in the world when he made The Shining, and yet the most prominent poster used to peddle the film barely acknowledged his presence.

A horror movie poster can get by with a single striking image, as long as it offers the promise that scares will be delivered. Few posters do this better than the one sheet for Joe Dante’s The Howling, released in 1981.

The tagline is unimpressive, but the image is riveting and forceful. Part of its power comes from the sense that the deadly carnage is happening on the other side of the poster itself, tearing through the paper. Razor-like nails. A woman screaming. And the person looking at the poster could be the next victim. It’s a meta touch that didn’t show up on posters very often back then. Hell, it doesn’t show up on posters very much now.

The design choice completely set the movie apart. I’ve seen The Howling, and I don’t remember a bit of it. But I’ll never forget that poster. All by itself, it’s scarier than most horror movies I’ve seen.

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