Logo Wars: Halloween Edition
Welcome to a special Halloween edition of a new series we’re calling Logo Wars, where we take an in-depth look at hot topics within our industry like marketing strategies, branded design, and overall implementation – then compare to previous versions of themselves or industry competitors.
How do you reinterpret a classic? There is no simple answer to that question, but many have asked it. Some succeed, but many more fail (RIP Gap rebrand). Ultimately, no rebrand or reboot escapes from the altercation with its predecessor without a few scratches and scrapes as evidence. Despite this, two horror film classics have undergone the reboot treatment and the results will be unleashed on audiences this October. Halloween, out October 19, and Suspiria, out October 26, are reinterpretations or reintroductions of classic horror films from the 1970’s. Both new films have leveraged nostalgia from the originals in their marketing campaigns, while also using surprise screenings at film festivals to accumulate buzz leading up to their release.
In this special Halloween Edition of Logo Wars, we’ll take a look at the process behind successfully marketing a horror remake to an entirely new audience, without alienating the fans that made the originals the pop culture staples that they are.
The reboot trend, which picked up steam in earnest following the modern, ultra-violent retelling of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, has seen dozens of low-budget horror classics and guilty pleasures, re-released in the years since. Each arrives with shiny new posters and dramatic trailers promising more shocks, more scares and more gore than before. As we know, a trend forms when an idea (in this case: remaking a “revered” classic for a modern audience) exceeds expectations. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake earned more than $100 million from just a $9 million budget and thus, a trend was born. Platinum Dunes, the production company behind the remake, followed this success with remakes of The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Each achieved financial success within their own right, but none received a sequel or the audience reception that their franchise forebears had. If you look at the marketing for the originals, these films had bold, memorable posters. Some are hand-drawn and, in the case of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, title treatments that are considered iconic today.
Posters for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). (left to right)
Now if you look at the remakes…
Posters for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), Friday the 13th (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). (left to right)
Would you even be able to tell that the images above are for four different movies had the titles been removed? Not only are the posters oppressively dark, but the lazy, Times New Roman title treatments do a complete disservice compared to that of the originals. It begs the question whether they even wanted to market these films at all. The reboots make no attempt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to taglines either; instead, opting for the trite, “based on a true story.” Black Christmas, one of the first “slashers” ever made, bore the memorable tagline, “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl…it’s on TOO TIGHT.” It was remade in 2006, but despite a clever tagline, “This holiday season, the slay ride begins.,” it was received with very little fanfare. The remake was released on Christmas Day in 2006 and while counter-programming can be an effective marketing strategy, the mass-market appetite for a mean-spirited, holiday-themed, slasher beyond Halloween is probably pretty slim.
Poster and Title Treatment for Black Christmas (1974) and Poster for Black Christmas (2006). (left to right)
What sets Halloween and Suspiria apart amongst this sea of lazy sequels and reboots is much more of a concerted effort when it comes to marketing. Audiences have gotten savvier, and therefore, when big studios started going lax, fans took notice. As a response, art studios like Mondo, Bottleneck Gallery, Hero Complex Gallery, and Gallery 1988, among others, started to call upon officially licensed prints as movie posters, which aficionados would actually want to hang on their walls. These prints, which typically run in quantities of 300 or fewer, sell out instantly and fetch absurdly high resell rates on the secondary market. Smaller scale filmmakers and studios caught wind of the fervor these releases had inspired, and began to commission art pieces as part of their own marketing strategy. Both Halloween and Suspiria have taken advantage of this method, rewarding fans with exclusive pieces of official memorabilia. This not only raises awareness, but also strengthens brand loyalty within the audience – to once again see studios care about the imagery and marketing which support their films. It lends a certain cachet to a particular film, to be associated with the alternative poster community.
Which brings us back to the original crux of the reboot; how do you reinterpret without offending? What we see between Halloween and Suspiria are two different, but equally effective approaches.
The original Halloween is overflowing with imagery that is still referenced today in film and pop culture. Budgetary constraints on the original film resulted in the legendary mask being purchased from a local department store. It ended up being a mask of Captain Kirk, or William Shatner, from Star Trek. When the reboot was announced, Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted an image that instantly went viral, featuring her in the costume she wore in the 1978 original: “Same porch. Same clothes. Same issues. 40 years later. Headed back to Haddonfield one last time for Halloween. Release date 10/19/18.” It established early on that the sequel’s marketing would be leaning in favor of a nostalgic approach. It would be foolish to attempt to ignore, or worse, outdo something that so many hold near and dear – just ask Rob Zombie (director of the 2007 Halloween remake) – so they embraced it instead.
Artwork from the 1978 original.
Artwork from the 2018 reboot.
The emphasis from the poster this time around is on Michael Myers. His infamous mask is front and center, dominating a majority of the real estate, while the title treatment is subtly tucked into the bottom corner, under his gaze. The storyline in the film is a direct continuation of the events from the 1978 original. Michael escapes from the institution that has held him since that evening, intent on hunting down his former victim, Laurie Strode, who is still suffering from the trauma of that fateful evening.
The poster expertly sells Michael’s omnipresent menace. Laurie has lived with a larger than life fear of her attacker for 40 years and this poster illustrates that point simply and effectively. It mirrors the poster for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in some ways, but that poster lacked the context that this reboot holds, as far as the relationship between Laurie, Michael, and the Halloween holiday in Haddonfield itself. You can’t celebrate Halloween without acknowledging the “shape” in the room.
On the other end of the spectrum, we find Suspiria. The original film, directed by Dario Argento, is a classic model of an Italian genre known as “giallo”. It is lauded for its vivid color palette and extreme imagery, among other things. Attempting to replicate it would be foolish, like a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn. For a film as vibrant as the original Suspiria, it received similar treatment with its marketing: trippy posters and title treatment.
Poster for the original Suspiria (1977), official posters for the 2018 remake and an officially licensed print by Sara Deck for Mondo. (left to right)
The filmmakers behind the remake opted for a more muted, somber tone, using flourishes of red for impact when needed, but still amplifying the bizarre and intriguing imagery in posters and trailers. The posters and title treatment borrow heavily from the work of Saul Bass, and frequent Pedro Almodovar collaborator Juan Gatti, which has helped the film carve out its own unique identity within the property lines of an already pronounced presence.
Both new films are being received positively. Halloween, with it’s nostalgic marketing approach, officially opened as the second largest October opening weekend ever at the box office – with $77 million. Audiences and critics alike were pleased, and the remake earned an 80% “fresh” rating on review aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes. Suspiria chose not to ignore its past, but simultaneously understood that imitating it wasn’t likely to end well, so they took things in a bold new direction. It seems to have paid off: buzz is on a high from recent festival screenings of the film and some critics are already calling it a modern masterpiece. One key takeaway is that neither film phoned it in like many remakes before them. Reports just this week suggest that Robert Englund (aka Freddy Kreuger) believes he has one more Nightmare on Elm Street film in him and Lebron James wants to produce a Friday the 13th reboot. Hopefully they’ve all been paying close attention.