The horror movie genre has some amazing classics that are still relevant today. One known example of this is the almost one hundred years old film Nosferatu (1922), which in its time was inspired by avant-garde artistic movements such as Art Nouveau and Expressionism.
The font selected for its title was Berthold Herold Reklameschrift BQ by Heinz Hoffmann, and it fully captured the essence of the film.
That is the goal for every designer in charge of choosing a font to write the title of a horror film in the movie poster: to select a type that will speak to the target audience in the right way.
In today’s article, we’ll see five of the most common typography trends in the industry of horror movie posters, trends that have become so because they achieve the difficult task of representing horror through type.
When you are done with this article you will want to check out these other genres.
- Top 7 Fonts Used in Romance Movie Posters
- Top 5 Fonts Used in Comedy Movie Posters
- Top 10 Fonts Used in Action Movie Posters
Sure, when we think about horror movies and typography, we generally imagine red words leaking blood or trembling. But in fact, not all fonts for horror movie posters need to be especially flashy or distinguishable.
Do you know how Stephen King, the god of horror, always manages to create terrifying situations out of the most common elements ever?
Your dog, your car, your kid, your parents… the most familiar things in life are turned into blood-freezing horror in the hands of Stephen King, and the industry of poster design has not ignored this phenomenon (after all, there are like sixty different movies based on his books).
What makes the most interesting kind of horror is not always the obviously extreme but the subtly subverted. Many designers choose a font as common as Helvetica for horror movie posters to point out that there are strange, terrifying things lurking behind what’s known or even what’s loved.
What better example then than Rosemary’s Baby (1968)?
The horror cult classic by Roman Polanski uses no other than Helvetica Neue Medium in its poster, with a slight modification that ties both words of the title together, symbolizing the bond between Rosemary and her child.
And let’s not forget Poltergeist (1982), as that title treatment was Helvetica outlined!
From the ‘70s on, one of the most commonly used types for horror movie posters was no doubt ITC Serif Gothic, created by Tony Di Spigna and Herb Lubalin around 1972. “ITC” stands for “International Typeface Corporation,” a company owned by Lubelin.
“Serif Gothic” kinda speaks on its own. I mean, this font was used so much that Di Spigna, a type designer, actually has an entry on Wikipedia.
ITC Serif Gothic has been said to be the one thing that stays coherent through the whole Star Wars saga (which honestly it’s quite impressive).
It appeared in some of the merch for the shark-related horror film Jaws (1975), but it was also the official type of a horror hit that premiered a few years later…
Halloween (1978), directed by John Carpenter, is one of the most undeniable horror classics of all time.
This movie not only established the beginning of a saga that already has a dozen movies and it’s probably making more (thanks to Danny McBride); it also established a lot of the tropes of the horror genre.
Its poster has also become a long-loved classic, and the font used for the title? ITC Serif Gothic Heavy.
The font worked because it was modern and elegant at the same time. And both the borders of the type as the pumpkin in the poster’s background were the bright orange color largely associated with Halloween.
The ‘70s were simpler times: a mysterious hand holding a knife and a killer font were enough to induce fear. The simplicity and brilliance of the typeface worked so well that it was then overused like crazy for horror films during the ‘80s.
Proof of this is that nostalgia-based Netflix’s horror show Stranger Things (2016) uses another ITC font, ITC Benguiat.
Twin Peaks (1990) is another beloved horror classic, and even though it is a series instead of a movie, it also went for ITC Avant Garde Gothic for the title.
This time there’s no Halloweenish orange, but an odd combination between brown and green instead. The choice of color in the font is a simple way of invoking the idea that something’s not quite right: it is familiar enough not to shout “horror!” right away, but it still hints at it.
It is a sad fact in human history that every empire shall fall, and ITC’s reign over horror movie posters was no exception. No, once the ‘80s were over, so was that trend, and a new one began to arise: Carol Twombly created in 1989 a font that would not only conquer horror movie posters but movie posters in general… The ‘90s saw the rise of Trajan.
This font is easy to read and easy to edit to add interesting effects that will modify its personality.
It is also majestic enough to elevate even the worst cinematic projects. Maybe it is because the font calls the Roman Empire to mind, which in turn is kind of associated with the roots of the western civilization, but Trajan simply seems to be appropriate for every film project that aims to cause a shock.
So, of course, it works for horror movie posters. Prom Night (2008)? Trajan. The Human Centipede (2009)? Trajan. The Conjuring (2013)? Trajan. The Last House on the Left (2009), Sinister (2012), Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Pompeii (2014)?
Well, if it’s not exactly Trajan, it certainly derives from it.
Helvetica is not the only mainstream typeface that made its way into the industry of horror movie posters. There are many common elements in life that can be perverted and turned into something scary.
Well, Futura might be the font with the most versatile personality of all time because it’s also a big thing in horror posters.
Early examples go as far as Kubrick’s existential-horror classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but Futura Extra Bold (or a very similar font) has also been used for a much more recent Kubrick film, the disturbing thriller Eyes Wide Shut (1999), and that same font was slightly modified for the horror classic Scream (1996).
Okay, okay, so much for subtle subversions… but what about the actual blood-dripping, red trembling fonts for horror movie posters?
Well, the fun ones are custom-made. That was the case with the poster for The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and -God bless the internet- Astigmatic took the trouble of creating a quite similar font, called Rocky AOE.
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) used an original font designed by Dan Perri. Long before that, when Perri wasn’t yet known in the industry, he built his way up when he re-designed the Weiss Titling font to create the title sequence of The Exorcist (1973).
Stanley Kubrick didn’t always settle for Futura or Futura Extra Bold, you know? He also went for customized typography sometimes.
There’s a sort of urban legend going on about the crazy requirements that the director demanded from famous movie poster designer Saul Bass regarding the font for the movie title… Yes, we have urban legends about typography in movie posters, okay? We like fonts. And movies… the point is that Kubrick was crazy demanding, but the resulting font is amazing.
There’s a similar version called Shining NFI Demo; anyway, let’s move on…
Have we already talked about zombies? No way we’re ending an article about horror movie posters without talking about zombies.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) was ground-breaking for the movie horror genre and the industry of horror movie posters. The original lettering of the film’s poster opened the door to many other typefaces of the sort because it installed the branding of zombie-themed films.
A close enough font is Deanna, created by Chris Hansen, who actually took the font of the original movie poster as reference.
But if you’re not sold on that one, this might be your time to try and design your own horrifying typeface!
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