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Movie poster artists have been frightening people into the cinemas with their scream inspiring designs for the best part of a century. To celebrate the coming of All Hallows’ Eve, gallery owner Bruce Marchant gives his expert insights into this creepy but utterly compelling genre, that, more so than any other, attracts the obsessive and life-long collectors.
What has happened to the price of horror posters in recent years?
It’s a very strong genre. The earliest horror film posters dating back to the 1920/30s have gone crazy, and the 1950s examples have seen a consistent rise too. The early Hammer Horror posters have become very collectable, and a market now exists for the later titles and their respective posters, which is no surprise.
Why does the horror genre hold such appeal?
This genre is different from anything else, and historically the films and their posters have stirred a unique fascination. As early as the silent era the love of the horror movie was born, with hits such as The Cabinet of Dr Calagari and The Phantom of the Opera drawing in the teens and 1920s cinema crowds. Taking it even earlier, Thomas Edison was responsible for releasing an early short film of Frankenstein in 1910. This genre therefore truly spanned the twentieth century and its popularity has never abated.
Is it one of the most collected poster types?
I would say it isn’t necessarily the most collected, but horror posters are the most expensive. It was the first type of film poster to start being seriously collected back in the 1960s. So the market is mature and as a consequence, prices are now very high.
What’s more important to a collector – the title or the poster itself?
From the 1950s to the 1970s many of the poster designs were better than the films themselves. The 1930s were when the best movies were made, largely produced by Universal Studios. The success of these early horror films saved the studio from bankruptcy. From this adversity some of the best ever horror movies were made – Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man.
Did Universal Studios specialise in horror more so than any other studio?
In the 1930s Universal Studios made more horror films than any other studio. Its horror back catalogue is unrivalled. As well as paving the way in the 1930s, all the late 50s and early 60s Hammer Films were released in America through Universal.
RKO as a response employed Russian-American film producer Val Lewton in the 1940s, who had success with Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man and The Body Snatcher, but in truth no other studio has really come close to Universal’s repertoire.
Which is the quintessential horror poster for collectors?
The 1931 teaser for Frankenstein. There is only one known, which creates even more mystery around it. To me it looks a bit like a Warhol painting.
Personal fearsome favourite?
I remember seeing the teaser poster for The Omen and thinking that is genuinely chilling. The special style poster for The Exorcist is another one that stays with you – in a sinister sense. Both share an overuse of black and monochrome style. I also like the teaser for The Invisible Man from 1933. With the words “Catch me if you Can” looping across the artwork. Such a cool poster and incredibly rare. There are less than half a dozen known to exist.
What advice would you give a collector starting out?
Unless you have very deep pockets, I’m afraid you can ignore Universal, as their classic 1930s titles, such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, are now each commanding well over £200,000.
If you are in search of entry level, then the later Hammer Horror posters are more affordable, such as The Brides of Dracular (1960), Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Dracula Prince of Darkness (1965).
One of the titles that I believe has a great future as an investment is the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Remember the market will continue to rise for posters kept in pristine condition. Later horror blockbusters like Alien are slowly rising in value. This title currently exists in higher numbers and is therefore less expensive to buy, particularly if you can get your hands on the 1979 teaser. Also check out titles like Rosemary’s Baby and The Evil Dead.