Another jam-packed poster from the Fifties, this tells you all you need to know about the movie it’s promoting in so many sections it’s a wonder they had room for the title. A ghastly horror movie made on a B-movie budget and with Z-movie aspirations, The Unearthly has to be seen to be believed (yes it’s that bad/good), and yet, this particular broadsheet once again confirms that often enough, the humble poster has more to offer than the movie it’s advertising.
The eye literally has too many places it can go at first glance, but the top left hand corner is a good place to start. “Lured!” it says, a comment that is at once alluring itself – lured? lured by what exactly? – and also slightly dangerous in intent. Lured – that can’t be good. And so it proves: the rest of the strapline makes it clear with its reference to monsters. But the poster’s designer then adds something that’s a little bit clever and unexpected. He or she drags the word “monsters…” down towards the doorway that an amply proportioned woman is about to enter. While John Carradine looks in her direction, almost urging her through the doorway, the woman looks uncertainly, and worriedly, behind her. (Modern day audiences might wonder if she’s thinking, does my bum look big in this? She probably isn’t, though.) It’s a neat way of drawing the viewer’s attention in a specific direction, and having a shapely damsel in imminent distress is always an attention grabber.
Across the middle of the poster is the title, with its large, uneven lettering and promise that “there’s no escape from…” The red letters against the sickly green background make for an effective colour counterpoint, and there’s definitely no escaping that. And then there are those eight images from the movie itself, several of which feature men transformed into hairy beasts with wild, staring eyes (Carradine’s evil Dr Conway performs illegal experiments to prolong life but for some strange, inexplicable reason they always go wrong; talk about persistence over experience). These identikit Mr Hydes look like the special effects department raided the Cro-Magnon man exhibit at the nearest natural history museum, and as such are about as frightening as hairy mannequins can get.
Other images display one of Dr Conway’s ill-fated operations, a man trying to embrace the bars of his cell, and dear old Tor Johnson carrying a bosomy starlet. If for no other reason than that the movie featured Tor Johnson, you’d know it was bad; he played the same character in every one of his movies and, sad to say, he was awful in all of them. With Tor’s expression-free features on the poster, any remaining likelihood that the movie will be worth watching is despatched immediately. And further evidence that suspicions about the movie should be encouraged lie with the credits and the director’s name: Brooke L. Peters. Never heard of him? That’s no surprise, as it’s a pseudonym for Boris Petroff. Never heard of him? That’s no surprise either.
While the credits occupy a modicum of space and focus on the leading actors, the poster manages to include one last “surprise”: a rosette declaring that the movie is “guaranteed to frighten”. Similar claims were foisted on dozens of low budget horrors during the Fifties, almost as if the makers were daring people to come and watch their movie. But the rosette is a nice touch – if a trifle over-confident – and as a final flourish to the poster and its overall effectiveness, it’s a little like having a piece of cake with a cherry on top. The Unearthly may not be the best movie in the world – it’s probably not even the best movie released on 28 June 1957 – but this poster has far more going for it than the movie, and has too many elements that work well individually and taken as a whole. A deceptively clever poster then, and one where its design and construction can be rightly celebrated.
And for fans of dear old Tor Johnson, here’s a lobby card where he features more prominently: