ONTD Halloween Original™: 25 Movie Posters with Optical Illusions

The Mist © 2007 MGM

"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination."
- Jim Jarmusch, director of Broken Flowers and Only Lovers Left Alive

There is an art to making film posters. But that art is not always creative or even original. Action movie posters tend to be orange and blue, comedy posters may have two actors standing back-to-back, and movies about sex might feature a between-the-legs shot. So there are clichés to posters.

What about horror movies? One of the most common tropes is using environment or scenery to form a "hidden" face, skull, or something else entirely. Some viewers will catch this immediately, and then others will need a few seconds.

So here is a collection of posters from the horror and suspense genre that partook in the optical illusion trend. As you can see, not every graphic designer can pull it off.

Directed by Eli Roth

While vacationing at a cabin in the woods, a group of friends are driven to madness as they are infected with a flesh-eating virus.

Eli Roth's directorial debut is a memorable one because of the visceral imagery it contains. It may be responsible for the wave of gore and torture porn that inundated the horror genre in the 2000s. Cabin Fever was inspired by Roth's real-life experience of contracting a skin infection while vacationing overseas in Iceland. The poster has the modern staple of trees forming a skull's eyes and nose, and the house forming the mouth. The movie's sequel and prequel both have posters with similar yet less efffective designs.

Directed by Paddy Breathnach

Tourists and their guide searching for psilocybin mushrooms in the Irish woods find that they might not be as alone as they originally thought.

The designer of this silly slasher's poster didn't break any molds by using mushrooms and open space to form a skull-like visage, but they did it creatively at least. The movie itself is a trip yet not nearly psychedlic enough considering.

Directed by Neil Marshall

A year after a tragic accident, a British woman joins her friends in a trip to North Carolina,USA. There, they enter an unexplored cave system. Quickly, though, they realize that something dangerous and hungry is lurking inside.

This beloved British horror boasts one poster design that plays homage to Salvador Dali's famous skull portrait. Most people didn't realize the connection, though.

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

After the hosts of a posh party reject them, two men return to take the guests hostage as well as torture them.

This Italian exploitation flick was deemed a "video nasty" in the UK at one point for good reason. Content aside, this movie has one of the most stunning painted posters, which has paved the way for homogeneous designs today.

Directed by Mennan Yapo

A woman is informed that her husband has died the day before. The next day, her husband is well and alive as if nothing happened. Yet the following day, her husband is dead. She believes her days are happening out of order, but no one believes her. So now she has to find a way to save her husband.

Despite popular belief among cinephiles, this Sandra Bullock movie is not a remake of the Japanese movie Yogen, which translates to "premonition." The Bullock flick isn't horror by any means nor is it exactly thrilling. It's a fantasy drama that was panned by critics. The poster sports tree branches that eerily form Bullock's facial features.

Directed by Alvin Rakoff

A cruise ship sinks after being hit by a mysterious freighter. The survivors board the strange ship without knowing that it was once a WWII Nazi torture vessel.

This movie isn't exactly memorable, but the poster is. The 2002 movie poster for Ghost Ship ripped off Death Ship's poster. Or rather, it tried to.

Directed by Steve Beck

A salvage crew comes across a seemingly empty ship from the 1960s. Upon boarding, though, they experience paranormal activity.

And here is the poster that tried to copy Death Ship's, but there's nothing subtle about this at all. That being said, Ghost Ship is the better of the two movies, if not only for the amazing opening sequence.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Every Halloween, the small town of Texarkana hosts the annual drive-in showing of the 1976 movie -- 'The Town That Dreaded Sundown' -- based on the infamous 1946 "Moonlight Murders."  One year, a copycat Phantom Killer chooses his first victim in a series of grisly deaths to come.

This meta slasher about the original Town movie is well-made and full of some beautiful cinematography. It's rare to see a movie of this subgenre of horror to have such artful camera work and editing. The poster, on the other hand, is drab. The backdrop of the skull formed by trees was an odd touch.

Directed by Nick Jongerius

An Australian woman and other tourists in Amsterdam get stranded at an abandoned shed next to a notorious windmill. Soon, members of the group start to disappear one-by-one.

You might think this is going to be a run-of-the-mill (pun unintended) slasher. Wrong. There's much more going on in this Dutch movie. Maybe too much. But at least the filmmakers tried. The poster has a cloud resembling a skull in the background. Although really, it looks more like a panda.

Directed by James Mangold

Ten strangers stranded during a storm at a desolate hotel realize they're being systematically killed off.

The poster for this clever mystery has a hand composed of a face and several bodies posing as fingers.

Directed by Ab Ac

Having been confronted by a woman claiming she's pregnant with her fiancé's baby, a distraught bride attempts suicide. She instead survives and an evil presence is now stalking her. The only way to stop the entity may require another near death experience.

The doctors skillfully form the features of a skull on the poster of this obscure Indonesian horror movie.

List of directors

Ten spooky, interwoven stories taking place on Halloween night in a suburb are told.

This horror anthology doesn't quite measure up thanks to inconsistency, but the poster is welcomingly festive.

Directed by Rupert Wainwright

A coastal town is attacked by vengeful spirits brought in by the fog.

This movie is an example of a really poor remake that came out during the boom of horror reimaginings circa 2000s. Even if you don't like the original, don't subejct yourself to the 2005 version. However, the face formed in the fog on the poster is nicely done.

Directed by Brad Parker

When a group of tourists pay to visit Pripyat, they learn during their exploration of the area that they are definitely not alone.

This lukewarm horror movie about the Chernobyl disaster has a lot of glaring problems. One of which is the poster. There's supposed to be a giant radiation hazard symbol formed by dark clouds in the sky, but it looks more like fan blades.

List of directors

A group of people hired by a third party to steal a coveted VHS cassette from a house get more than they bargained for when they watch the footage on the other video tapes.

The first entry in this franchise of incoherent anthologies makes proper use of its concept by forming a Punisher-like skull on the poster with the VHS tape spines.

Directed by Marc Schölermann

A group of pathology interns play a game to see who can commit the perfect murder.

The busy poster for this thriller is understated at first, but once you see the skull design, you'l be in awe.

Directed by Sid Bennett

While searching for a cryptid in the Congo, a British expedition team is transported to another world where dinosaurs still exist.

This British sci-fi movie utilizes the found-footage filming style, which works for the most part. With good special effects and earnest acting, The Dinosaur Project is fun. And the artwork on one of the posters is downright gorgeous. There's a fanart poster for Jurassic World that poorly emulates it, too.

Directed by Dagen Merrill

People camping in a Turkish ghost town play a game of "Murder in the Dark" that goes too far.

This movie was shot in an experimental, improvised fashion. That makes it worth one watch, even if there is no payoff in Murder in the Dark. The poster isn't too exciting, but at least they didn't use trees to make the skull, right?

Directed by Darrell Roodt

Young explorers foolish enough to enter an abandoned facility on an island in the center of a lake encounter an unstoppable predator.

This Syfy TV-movie will never come close to the underrated brilliance of the original Lake Placid, but the home video art is striking.

Directed by Casey La Scala

As friends attend a wedding, the apocalypse happens. Now, everyone must examine their life and their choices during the end of days.

This religious horror movie is preachy and should be avoided, but the poster is pretty slick.

Directed by Serge Rodnunsky

A man suspects his new landlord, who keeps the building very cold, has been dead for ages and he is harvesting bodies to keep himself alive.

This low-budget horror movie looks unwatchable, but at least the poster is crafty.

Directed by Kevin Smith

A podcaster visits a reclusive and disturbed man with a penchant for walruses.

Kevin Smith's dive into body horror, Tusk, has a delightful poster that is so simple yet effective.

Directed by John R. Leonetti

A teenager finds a Chinese music box that grants wishes at a deadly price.

Wish Upon is more or less a combination of the "The Monkey Paw" story and Final Destination. The ending is also mean-spirited if you like tha. The poster takes the inner workings of the movie's music box and creates a skull.

Directed by Jonathan Demme

To catch another serial killer still on the loose, an F.B.I. cadet enlists the help of an incarcerated serial killer.

The moth on the poster looks like a Death's-head hawkmoth, but if you look closely enough, you'll see how the graphic designer incorporated a prominent Dali inspired skull image.

Directed by Matt Reeves

A group of friends film their escape as a mysterious monster attacks New York City.

The main poster for the hit 2008 sci-fi movie has a few Easter eggs. One: in the sky, a cloud looking like the head of the film's monster can be seen. Here is an edited image that highlights this better. And two: if one mirrors the smoke on the lower right side of the poster, you'll see the Cloverfield monster again. Here is the mirrored image to better illustrate this.

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[Other entries in my ONTD Halloween Original™ series]