Friday, August 19, 2011

New World’s Poster Girls: Hot Flesh, Cold Steel

So—if you shell out the big bucks, you too can now have a Big Bad Mama poster of your very own. I would never have thought, when I went to work for Roger Corman, that the wall decorations I used to see daily would someday be prized as collector’s items.

Picture me, newly sprung from a UCLA PhD program, coming to work at New World Pictures in 1973. The wall art, for a sheltered soul like me, was mesmerizing. Like, for instance, the poster for The Young Nurses, which featured the photographed heads and upper torsos of four alluring young women, apparently bare but grouped so that nothing too indecent was visible. Near each figure was a suggestive quote: “In this hospital the patients come first!” “Doctor, I thought you were only going to give me an injection!” A poster on another wall proclaimed that “it’s always harder at night for the Night Call Nurses.” But all this was tame compared to the lurid images and breathless prose to be found on New World’s women-in-prison posters. Surrounding a skillfully erotic painting of buxom babes writhing in their shackles would be several lines of screaming text: WOMEN SO HOT WITH DESIRE THEY MELT THE CHAINS THAT ENSLAVE THEM! . . . MEN WHO ARE ONLY HALF MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE MORE THAN ALL WOMAN!

Marketing was not part of my job description, but at New World Pictures you ended up doing it all. So I played a modest role in hyping films like Cockfighter, Death Race 2000, and Jonathan Demme’s directorial debut, Caged Heat (WHITE HOT DESIRES MELTING COLD PRISON STEEL!). No matter what the film’s actual subject, the posters favored cars, guns, and skin. Ideally, as in the case of the poster for female blaxploitation flick TNT Jackson, the three came together in an image that was brassy and bodacious, with a strong appeal to the male of the species.

New World’s posters were so over-the-top that when I learned we were going to be distributing Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, my first concern was that an in-house marketing campaign would undercut the dignity of this magnificent movie. But Frank Moreno, Roger’s head of sales and a man prescient enough to realize that we could reap hard American cash from a Swedish art film, soon put my mind at ease. As he’d promised, Cries and Whispers was treated with loving respect: a professional ad agency came aboard to design a poster that was both highly dramatic and a model of good taste.

No discussion of New World posters is complete without mention of the works that graced Roger’s own office walls. In his personal lair you would find large and rather battered placards given to him by a French producer after the 1968 student revolts in Paris. They were emblazoned with revolutionary slogans like «Salaires Légères, Chars Lourds» (“Light Salaries, Heavy Tanks”) and «Le Patron a Besoin de Toi, Tu n’as pas Besoin de Lui» (“The Boss Needs You, You Don’t Need the Boss”). These sentiments may have been fitting when Corman took on the Establishment with The Wild Angels back in 1966. But they always seemed to me oddly out of place as décor for a rising film producer known for his skinflint ways.

(This post is dedicated to Susan Henry, who egged me on, and to Brian Bankston, who gives his own loving spin to a discussion of poster art on his Cool Ass Cinema site. Part 2 surveys Roger Corman’s monster movie period, and Part 3 includes his Poe films. Brian promises that there’s much more to come.)


  1. Thanks so much for the kind words, Beverly! This is an incredible, historically significant post in the study of exploitation filmmaking made all the more fascinating because it was written by someone with first hand knowledge!

    And the links are much appreciated. Also, there's a bit of Corman stuff in part one, too. I absolutely love the artwork for THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH. An unbelievable level of sexuality in it for 1960.

  2. Yes, that's an amazing poster. I don't know much about who did the art work on Roger's early films, but of course I remember John Solie's iconic depiction of nurses, female gladiators, etc. I always thought Solie had some strange notions of female breasts, though. We women in the New World office were sometimes invited to pose (believe it or not) for the poster artists, but none of us showed any inclination to "pop our tops" (as Jim Wynorski would put it), even for a fat $50 bonus.

  3. Awesome post! I have a very great love for movies posters, especially from back in the day when that poster was actually expected to sell you the movie - as opposed to tell you little except it is playing inside the theater where you see it. In fact, a lot of theaters just put up the teaser poster these days, meaning no one ever really gets to see the final release poster at all. I do Maniacal Movie Poster Mondays over at my blog - a department that recently celebrated its first anniversary - in these posts I spotlight three movie posters and chat a bit about the movies they advertise. They seem to be pretty popular posts among my natterings. And because I'm not shy - here's a link to one random entry in this series:

  4. Thanks, Craig. I look forward to checking out your post. Please remind me -- recently I interviewed a major poster collector who'd also personally worked as a publicist on great films like 2001. One of these days, I'll write up a piece on the subject.