Bang your eyes: the 13 hardest rocking heavy metal movie posters

The poster is to Heavy Metal movies what the album cover is to heavy metal music. One glance, and you know where it stands: proudly part of the genre, but boldly rippling with the promise of a one-of-a-kind experience, while also embodying metal aesthetics and expanding hard rock’s most visceral visual vocabulary. Mike "McBeardo" McPadden presents the 13 eyebangingest posters ever.

The following Heavy Metal movie images exquisitely and explosively hammer the might and mayhem of the combined art forms smack into your corneas. Mosh without blinking.

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The Crimson Ghost (1946)

The Misfits’ broken-smiled logo skull came neither from nowhere nor, directly, from supremely metal graphic artist Pushead. The icon is, in fact, the titular anti-hero of Republic Pictures’ 12-part sci-fi suspense serial, The Crimson Ghost. Film fanatic Glenn Danzig adopted the fiendish face, Metallica bassist Cliff Burton appeared almost constantly in a Misfits logo t-shirt, and the punk-metal crossover took black-winged flight from there. We’ve all wanted those skulls ever since.

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Black Sabbath (1963)

Movies and heavy metal music have gone hand-in-cloven-hoof since genre-inventors Black Sabbath named their pitch-black hard blues ensemble after a 1963 horror anthology directed by Mario Bava and starring Boris Karloff—pictured here decapitated and, seemingly, loving it. Always a-head of the game, dear Boris.

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Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm (1968)

Heavy metal’s inborn obsession with the atrocities of organized religion—in particular the one fixated on the upside-up cross—manifests repeatedly in simultaneous disgusted condemnation and rapturous celebration. Witchfinder General expertly realizes this duality. Vincent Price stars as a heathen hunter scorching Europe to “not suffer a witch to live.” For U.S. release, B-movie mogul Roger Corman retitled the film after the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Conqueror Worm. UK doom metal giants Witchfinder General restored the original name to full glory with both their very moniker and an eponymous 1982 anthem.

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Mark of the Devil (1970)

The German shock-show Hexen Bis Aufs Blut Gequält (“Witches Are Tortured to Death") reconfigured the artful Witchfinder General into pure visceral exploitation. It’s true historic impact, however, came by way of U.S. distributor Hallmark Films, which sold Mark via two brilliant taglines—“Positively the most horrifying film ever made!” and “Rated V for Violence!”—as well as in-theater giveaway barf bags. The same year Black Sabbath established that rock proper would forever be dwarfed by the dark monstrousness of heavy metal, Mark of the Devil made plain that a new extreme epoch of gutbucket horror would reign at the grindhouse

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Immoral Tales (1974)

Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a 16th century Hungarian noblewoman infamous for bathing in the blood of female virgins, remains one of heavy metal’s most sanguine inspirations. Noteworthy musical tributes include black metal pioneers Bathory and Cradle of Filth’s 1998 concept album Cruelty and the Beast. The Blood Countess has inspired no dearth of metal movies, either, from early fright films up to Hostel Part II (2007) and Julie Delpy’s The Countess (2009). Cinema’s two best Bathory treatments also happen boast two terrifyingly enticing posters: Hammer Studios’ Countess Dracula (1971), and eroticist Walerian Borowckyz’s Immoral Tales (1974). Like the films’ notorious subject, they’ve aged beautifully.

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Simon, King of the Witches (1971)

The searing psychedelic poster imagery for English occult hair-raiser Simon, King of the Witches is likely better known than the movie itself, as metal bands have long incorporated its brain-popping eye candy into show flyers and other visual ephemera. Headbangers should watch the actual movie, as well, which is perfectly summed up by Electric Wizard mastermind Jus Osborn thusly: “Simon is THEE Electric Wizard, a really freaky head movie that features a true wizard. It’s kinda druggy and hard to understand, but that makes it cooler. You just have to keep watching it till it makes sense. LSD is recommended!”

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Suspiria (1977)

Splatter maestro Dario Argento’s gothic mind-fuck gore opera is metal from its teen ballerina witch school to its skull-splitting score by prog monsters Goblin to its legendarily too-scary-for-TV commercial campaign (YouTube at your own risk). This stark, elegant poster manages to be understated while also dominated by a cascade of blood pouring forth from a slit throat. It set a template for metal visuals that continues to dominate; just check your band shirt collection and consider how many aren’t jet black with white images touched up by splashes of crimson.

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Satan’s Baby Doll (1982) (aka La Bimba di Satana)

Charges of connubial relations with the Prince of Darkness have been leveled at heretics from ancient times through the Salem witch burnings to a spate of sexploitation movies that parallel the evil-ution of heavy metal. The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), The Devil Inside Her (1977), and Satan’s Mistress (1982) are landmark Luciferian potboilers. The same year of Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, the Italian nunsploitation nugget La Bimba Di Satana incorporated an exquisite oil painting of, indeed, the bimba and Satana in lurid embrace. A wisp of smoke obscures any potential offensive buttcrack (the DVD cover is uncensored); remove it and this image would have functioned perfectly on the cover of any 1982 heavy metal long-player.

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Deathstalker (1983)

Conan the Barbarian could lay severe claim to being popular culture’s most heavy metal character not to emerge from The Lord of the Rings or the Bible (either the Satanic or the other one). The 1982 John Milius-Arnold Schwarzenegger big screen opus Conan the Barbarian is a perfect Heavy Metal Movie, made even more so by the myriad rip-offs it spawned. Italy, in particular, went plum pazzo for magic medieval sword slaughter (do not miss Lucio Fulci’s 1983 lunacy Conquest), but stateside exploitation kingpin Roger Corman kept right up. Of the latter, one of the best barbarian B-flicks is Deathstalker; its poster, painted by fantasy artist extraordinaire Boris Vallejo, simply slays all other comers.

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Demons (1985)

Lamberto Bava’s high-octane, hard-gore splatter bash Demons is heavy meta: it’s a horror movie that terrorizes its audience with an onslaught of flesh-eating demons, the plot of which is about an audience at a horror movie that gets terrorized by an onslaught of flesh-eating demons—only their demons are for real… but not, because, you know, it’s just a movie. A rip-roaring massacre sequence is set to “Fast as a Shark” by Accept, and Demons’ soundtrack is otherwise highlighted by Mötley Crüe, Saxon, Billy Idol, and a stunningly harder-than-you’d guess number by Rick Springfield. The album cover is emblazoned with Demons’ alternate poster artwork: a disembodied satanic hand squeezing multiple theater rows of panicked moviegoers in its merciless mitt. It’s the coolest.

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Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

The poster for Hard Rock Zombies indicates that the movie’s a rollicking, good-timey monster romp. While hilarious, it’s not quite a comedy, and white it’s also “horrific”, Hard Rock Zombies can’t really be called a “fright film.” Unique, however, it is, chronicling the misadventures of a touring metal band trapped in a town called Grand Guignol where the residents include homicidal dwarves, a matriarchal werewolf, and (you are reading this next part correctly), Adolf Hitler. Given that maniacal mixed bag to peddle, the poster’s effort does muster a horn-and-a-half up.

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Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Scary, surreal, and action-packed, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors returned the Freddy Krueger franchise to the high-class horror of the original while expanding outward with brain-bending special effects to pound home a series of nastily black-humored punchlines (subsequent sequels transformed Freddy into a hacky stand-up comic—and not with the good kind of hacks). The Thai poster, pictured here, sumptuously communicates Elm Street 3’s balance between absurdist chuckle-chills and high-tech terror. Despite myriad heavy metal song tributes to Elm Street’s anti-hero, including “Freddy Krueger” by S.O.D., this installment generated the series’ sole hit single, “Dream Warriors” by Dokken. MTV played it to ribbons.

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Black Roses (1988)

No fan of heavy metal and/or horror cinema circa 1988 forgets where he or she was upon first fingering Black Roses. Director John Fasano’s immediate follow-up to his previous Heavy Metal Movie classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987), Black Roses hit video stores in a raised VHS box. The plastic cover image of a skeletal hand gripping an electric guitar intertwined with deadly flowers physically rose up against a background of eerie eyes like a relief map. Somehow, the movie made good on that package’s promise, delivering an unforgettable crackpot saga of a metal band cruising into small town USA and transforming local teens into parent-eating monstrosities. Just like heavy metal always does.

Mike "McBeardo" McPadden's Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos & Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big-Scream Films Ever explodes with way over 666 true headbanger classics—raging with disturbing documentaries, bulging barbarians, Satanic shockers, spluttery slashers, post-nuke dystopias, carnivorous chunk-blowers, undead gut-munchers, midnight mind-benders, concert films, killer cameos—plus witches, werewolves, bikers, aliens, lesbian vampires, and vengeful vikings galore...the heaviest sin-ematic sensations of all time!

Published 4:00 am Wed, Aug 13, 2014

About the Author

Brooklyn-born Mike "McBeardo" McPadden is the author of Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos, 7 Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear-and-Eye-Ripping Big Scream Films Ever! and If You Like Metallica.... Mr. McPadden also edited two volumes of Mr. Skin's Skincyclopedia, pseudonymously authored Mr. Skin's Skintastic Video Guide, and contributed chapters to the anthologies Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, The Official Heavy Metal Book of Lists, and The Official Sex, Drugs, and Rock-and-Roll Book of Lists.

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