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Halloween and Horror Movie Imagery at the English Cinema

by Mike Bloomfield and Chris Bloomfield (10/27/13).

With Halloween fast approaching, it’s that time of the year when we sit back, turn off the lights and scare ourselves silly with a good horror movie. Horror’s success as a genre is mirrored in the collecting interest in horror movie posters. As examples, an original poster for “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) sold for $334,500 in 2007 and in the same year a poster from the 1933 version of “King Kong” sold through Christies for $96,000.

The horror genre boasts some of the most diehard movie fans, many of whom have 30, 40 and 50 years’ worth of collecting behind them. However, if one considers the fascination with Vampire-chic among contemporary teenage audiences, it is clear to see that fresh blood will ensure this market has excellent longevity. This article will consider the phenomenon of “Halloween,” alongside some of the other key components of the Horror movie poster market.

“Halloween” U.S. 1-sheet (1978): The Halloween setting is focused on here in a creepily effective use of the pumpkin. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

“Halloween” U.S. 1-sheet (1978): The Halloween setting is focused on here in a creepily effective use of the pumpkin. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

Halloween and the Slashers

Perhaps the best place to start on our tour of horror/Halloween movies would be with that archetypal horror classic named after the occasion, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” Released in 1978, the film was a huge success and helped to spawn the “slasher” sub-genre of horror that would dominate the 1980s. It also introduced the near-invincible psychopath monster in Michael Myers, something that would later be replicated with Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger in the “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises, respectively.

The “Halloween” U.K. quad poster works well in its relatively simple design, capturing the unseen terror of Myers through the ominous “hand” imagery. Presenting a slight spin on the focus of the hand is the U.S. 1-sheet poster design, which clearly concentrates on selling it through the Halloween setting while also hinting at the mysterious and supernatural power of Myers. Expect good examples of the U.K. quad to cost between $300 and $400, while the U.S. 1-Sheet retails currently at approximately $800.

“Zombies: Dawn of the Dead” (1978): Brooding and intriguing use of color here helps to build an uneasy sense of dread with the dark silhouettes of the zombies. (Photo: www.chantrellposter.com)

Zombies

Of course there is more to the horror monster than the slasher villains of Myers, Vorhees and Krueger. The zombie has become a mainstay in the genre since George A. Romero helped to put them on the map with his influential and low-budget film, “Night of the Living Dead,” made in 1968. Romero often infuses a socio-political agenda into his pictures with this also being the case with his best known work, 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead.” A critique on consumerist society, the film again demonstrated that unlike zombies themselves, horror movies could have brains.

The U.K. quad for the film, with the title “Zombies: Dawn of the Dead,” by British poster artist Tom Chantrell, offers some truly daunting and eerie imagery and features a bold use of color. The ghostly depiction of the zombies looming over the dark silhouette of the city captures the essence of the film brilliantly. This rare poster will usually fetch around $650.

“Vampire Circus” (1972): Sex, gore and thrills: The key elements that would populate much of Hammer’s 1970’s output is on display in this vivid design. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

Hammer Horror and Vampires

Aside from the zombie, another popular monster in horror has been the vampire. Strongly associated with horror is Hammer Studios, which specialized in the genre. Throughout the 1950s to the ’70s, Hammer’s horror films provided increasingly gore-laden entertainment, often utilizing the vampire. Vic Fair’s poster design for “Vampire Circus” (1972) is an excellent example. A plethora of disturbing and explicit images are shown with Fair deciding to experiment with the design and insert not-so-thinly veiled phallic symbols to the sides. The distributors apparently did not notice these and the design went into print for all to enjoy. Expect to pay in the range of $400-$500 for this piece of entertaining horror memorabilia.

“The Shining” (1980): Simple photographic imagery, yet nevertheless still deeply unsettling and taking full advantage of Nicholson in “Here’s Johnny!” mode. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

The Haunted House

The haunted house and ghost tales are often mishandled in the horror genre. However, to see a truly effective and creepy effort, look no further than Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining” (1980). Its production was long and problematic, often thanks to Kubrick’s intensely methodical approach and King himself disapproved of the end result. However the picture has since established a strong legacy as one of the greatest and most iconic horror movies ever released, with Kubrick’s attention to detail coming under high praise and analysis.

Although simple in design, the U.K. quad for “The Shining” takes full advantage of Jack Nicholson’s crazed leading turn as Jack Torrence and makes reference to the immortal, and improvised, “Here’s Johnny!” scene. A hugely influential film, with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese since commenting on its masterful ability to scare, the U.K. quad poster comes at $350.

“Frankenstein” (1957, re-release of the 1931 original): Striking imagery of one of the horror genre’s most celebrated creations: Frankenstein’s monster. (Photo: moviepostermem.com)

Classic Universal Horror

Amidst some of these fairly recent horror productions, it is also important to remember the films that helped to put the genre on the map. Arguably one of the most iconic is James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931), which remains to this day well-acclaimed, with Boris Karloff’s performance as the monster becoming a symbol of classic horror. Although original posters are rare, an original insert movie poster for the film sold for $262,900 in 2013. The quad poster for the film’s first U.K. re-release celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1957 remains a highly collectable and attention-grabbing piece.

Although rather tame by modern standards, the striking design remains a memorable one. The focus on the monster shows that, even by 1957, the creature had already become a symbol of dread and fear and a stalwart of the genre. The exquisite and bloody close-up detail of the monster’s face helping to cement its legacy, these posters attract prices of $700-$800.

Conclusion

The horror genre has experienced highs and lows in the history of cinema yet the classic movies and their accompanying posters that we have just examined here demonstrate just a fraction of the quality filmmaking that has helped the genre to become one of the most popular in cinema. The extravagance of many of the films allowed the poster designers the chance to experiment and create either effectively simple or beautifully (should that be horribly?) detailed pieces of artwork. This has meant that the posters, much like the films themselves, will live on and provide good scares for countless years to come.

Horror is one of the best-established genres and one of the most diverse in terms of sub-sects. It also attracts both hardened veteran collectors, as well as a younger generation inspired by recent releases. Therefore, investment potential in the genre looks sturdy and long-lasting.


Mike Bloomfield has been collecting cinema & music memorabilia, with a particular focus on U.K. concert memorabilia & quad cinema posters from the 1960s and ’70s, for 30 years. He runs the two MEM Music and Cinema Memorabilia websites—RockPopMem and MoviePosterMem holds private exhibitions too, provides insurance valuations, a consultancy service to the auction industry, and has contributed to various book publications. You can e-mail him at info@memcollect.co.uk.

Chris Bloomfield contributed to this article.

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