RADIANT CIRCUS chatted with artist Ben Turner about classic 80s movie posters, lurid VHS aesthetics & his design for MIDNIGHT EXCESS #2, Ranjit S. Ruprai’s late night collab with The Celluloid Sorceress (11 MAY 23:00+, Rio Cinema).
By RADIANT CIRCUS
The 1980s are enjoying a cultural renaissance as film makers, programmers and designers channel the retro spirit. How did you end up with such a strong 80s vibe in your work?
I think it stems from my childhood and early teens, a lot of people my age probably have similar memories – exciting visits to the video shop where you would be surrounded by wall upon wall of tapes, all featuring these amazing set pieces, explosions and monsters of all shapes and sizes. Some were exciting, some were creepy, some were terrifying. I’m not sure it’s as obvious in all my work, but it’s probably in there in some form.
As befits the 80s, your design for MIDNIGHT EXCESS #2 features plenty of character composition, big hair and dramatic shafts of light… Is there a toolkit for 80s inspired poster fandom?
You have to be careful as it’s a fine line between homage and cliché. Flashes of neon are quite a popular addition to illustrations, but it’s not the only design element that reflects that time period. There’s fashion, fonts, colours, even shapes that can emphasise a particular time. For other projects that needed to reflect the 1980s, I have looked at the colour schemes employed by some of the films of the time, such as THIEF and MANHUNTER (I like Michael Mann!). It’s also worth bearing in mind that there were so many different styles in the 80s, there’s so many different things to reference. New Romanticism, New Wave, Synthpop, Disco, the emergence of Hip-Hop into the mainstream, and that’s just a small section of the music, all with their different styles and traits. The fun is in the research, looking at all these areas and finding something that fits the needs of your design.
Which original 80s poster artists should newcomers look at first?
I mean the obvious one is Drew Struzan who is an absolute master of the craft, but I would look at Graham Humphreys who did the original key art for THE EVIL DEAD and Matthew Peak who worked on numerous ELM STREET posters. They both still do fantastic work today and I would definitely recommend checking them out.
And if you had to hang a gallery with your favourite 80s cult film posters, what would we see?
The things that stood out for me then and still do are the posters for FRIGHT NIGHT, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, HOUSE. Fred Dekker’s NIGHT OF THE CREEPS and THE MONSTER SQUAD both have some great key art.
Many folk won’t know the Vanity double bill that’s showing at the next MIDNIGHT EXCESS. How did you go about creating this design?
The films are so wonderfully over-the-top – a kung-fu musical and a bizarro action film – that it felt appropriate to lean heavily into the 80s aesthetic. We went through a number of possible options, all centred around various portraits of Vanity with some hints at the two films that make up the screening. During this process, Ranjit (SUPAKINO) mentioned old VHS tape packaging and that took me right back to recording films off the TV. It felt like a great visual to reference and led to the colour scheme and the shapes employed to frame the portraits of Vanity. Those lines that feature so prominently on much of the VHS packaging also doubled up well as an abstract version of neon disco lights. Video Cassette Discotheque!
Are the original release posters ever a reference or does that lead you in the wrong direction?
I may look at them to see what stills they’ve used, what scenes they’ve focused on, but generally I want to go in a different direction. The original release posters have said what they need to say and it feels redundant to repeat that. I think it’s always best to go a different route and try to shed a little light on the film from another angle.
One of your other images we love is for THE THING where you’ve created a scene that didn’t happen in the film. How much fun was that?
Thank you! I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter so it was a joy to produce that piece! That piece has a special place in my heart as it’s where I first began to realise that the film/subject is just a jumping off point and my illustrations don’t have to be a literal representation. The creature design in the film is magnificent and has been captured wonderfully by some amazing illustrators over the years. With that in mind, I wanted to see if there was another angle to explore. And that was the jumping off point for that illustration. That, and parka jackets, lots and lots of parka jackets!
Drew Struzan talks about creating his painting for the original THE THING poster in one overnight frenzy (for a film with no rushes or available artwork…). Has such adversity ever created something beautiful in your work?
I tend to be quite meticulous when it comes to my work. There’s always little things that change along the way, but I’ve never had to do anything like Struzan had to do for that piece. You hear that story and you do wonder if you’d be capable of doing something like that. It’d certainly be an interesting challenge.
Back in 2015, The Guardian reviewed Tom Hodge’s book about VHS key art with the basic conclusion: “The more compelling the art, the more execrable the film…”. How much of a fan of lurid VHS are you?
I’m a huge fan! I think there’s definitely something in that quote. Films didn’t enjoy the coverage then that they do today – no internet, no social media, etc. Film posters and VHS covers had to make a real effort to get your attention, particularly the ones that didn’t feature big name actors or famous directors. A lot of the time, the covers in the video store were all you had to go on. In a way it made things a little more exciting. VHS quality roulette! For every brilliant film I watched on video as a child, there’s another not so great film that just happened to have an amazing piece of cover art!
Lurid VHS key art was ultimately deemed bad for our health and self-regulated by the industry. What are the designs that set your heart racing?
MONSTER IN THE CLOSET, THE VIDEO DEAD has quite a cool cover. MAUSOLEUM with its creepy skull. DEATH VALLEY has a wonderful bit of key art. I was always fascinated by the covers for CRITTERS and GHOULIES too.
Finally, we’re gathering survival tips for midnight movies. How would you suggest our audience survives until the near-dawn?
You cant go wrong with a nice cup of coffee! But, I would say, the films featured in this screening are so incredibly weird and wonderful that no-one should have any trouble staying awake!
And that’s the meat of it…
MIDNIGHT EXCESS #2:
SUPAKINO & The Celluloid Sorceress present a Vanity Double Bill of BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) + the UK theatrical premiere of NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE (1986) at Rio Cinema (11 MAY 23:00+).
- Box office: now open
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*THE SMALL PRINT: Some of these words are not our own. All opinions and artwork credited to the original authors and their collaborators. We try to get the details right: let us know if any links, dates, venues etc. are broken or just plain wrong. Updates will be made to the online edition only. Rights to NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE/THE LAST DRAGON final poster are retained by Ranjit S. Ruprai/SUPAKINO. All other original image rights on this page are retained by Ben Turner.