How The Possession Poster Raises the Bar For the Horror Genre
It’s really easy to be cynical about horror movie posters. Most of them are garish, Photoshop nightmares unworthy of a second look. But we really owe it to ourselves to bask in the sublime surrealism of the one-sheet for The Possession. A poster like this one, for a low-budget horror film with a decent pedigree (Sam Raimi is among the producers) that will play as late-summer counterprogramming in multiplexes around the country, comes around, oh, never.
I’ll grant you that it is of questionable construction. It’s flat and nearly monochromatic, the Photoshop is sloppy in spots (especially where the wrist meets the mouth), and it feels like a detail from the poster for another Raimi film, Drag Me to Hell:
Still, there’s beauty in the simplicity. Take away the title, taglines, and credit block and you instantly know this is a person-possessed movie. No weird upside-down people, no impossible-for-even-the-most-elastic-yogi posing, no one stuck to the ceiling — just a person being mauled from the inside out by a demon clawing its way out of that person’s maw. Any other image meant to illustrate “possessed” looks like unicorns and rainbows in comparison.
And why not? Reality is always stranger — and scarier — than fiction, and, my God, this really happened! Somewhere, out in the world, someone is telling the story about that time a girl they knew vomited up a gnarled ghoul hand that then ripped her face off. That’s the takeaway, anyhow, when “Based on a True Story” is placed above the poster’s horrific, inspired image.
It’s an audacious juxtaposition. For nearly a decade, horror movies brandishing their ripped-from-reality bonafides have hewed to relatively realistic depictions of their content. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, for example, is atmospheric and unsettling in its depiction of a girl lost in foggy desolation. Similarly, the remake of The Amityville Horror exists in a scuzzy, off-balance suburbia, but it’s one that feels relatively in-step with our world. Even the ridiculous, porny poster for The Devil Inside feels grounded in some perversion of reality. Not so for The Possession. It’s a true story spewed forth from the interior worlds of Lovecraft and Dalí.
Our first instinct is to laugh at the absurdity of selling a movie using this image as “based on a true story.” But disbelief quickly gives way to something like awe. On one hand it’s a complete inversion of how to market a real-person-possessed movie. Instead of people contorted by unseen supernatural forces — that is, something we can go in believing actually happened — we’re getting a person brutally face-hugged by a tangible hellspawn, a practical and realistic impossibility that subverts the scare power of these sorts of movies. It’s not frightening, after all, if we know it can’t really happen. (Shock cuts only go so far.) On the other hand, it’s a deft commentary on these kinds of films. We all know they’re ridiculous. But you’d never know it to look at their posters. From the images to the copy, they’re humorless voids of self-righteousness, like an ad for a sanctimonious documentary or a foreign art-house film. Except these are ads for movies about a kid puking, what, smoke? A scarf? Oil? Liquid gold? Or being suspended upside down, against one’s control. And on and on. The Possession one-sheet, in the grand Raimi tradition, is self-aware and calls attention to how ridiculous it all is while simultaneously giving us a good, solid modern horror movie image.
I’d be surprised if the image on this poster is ever brought to life in The Possession (but here’s hoping!), and time will tell how grossly it misrepresents the tone and content of the film. But all that seems beside the point when you have a poster of such sly wit and artistry.
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