Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: 'Poster Art from Classic Monster Films'


During a recent trip to Paris, my wife and I were passing a cinema presenting a revival of In the Heat of the Night. She commented that the poster looked strangely modern. It was, indeed, a non-vintage photo composite, the kind you’ll see promoting any contemporary film, slapped outside any contemporary theater. Quite a shame, considering that the original poster advertising Norman Jewison’s film was terrific: graphic, kinetic, painted. It was art, something contemporary movie posters most certainly are not.

Prior to the ‘80s, painted movie posters were the norm, and the loss of them meant the loss of a legitimate subcategory of pop art. In his new book, Poster Art from Classic Monster Films, Philip J. Riley eulogizes this sadly defunct art form by presenting striking, full-color posters from the major films of Universal’s golden horror age, beginning with 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and creeping through the decades to 1954’s This Island Earth, when that era shuddered its last.

These posters are magnificent. Many will be familiar to Monster fans, though there are some interesting variations included throughout. The real treat in Poster Art from Classic Monster Films is Riley’s inclusion of numerous hand-tinted lobby cards, so we get to see the Frankenstein Monster’s beige (not green!) face, Ygor’s purple cloak, and Im Ho Tep’s green (not beige!) bandages for the first time. Certain films, such as Dracula (both English and Spanish language versions) and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, were promoted with what looks like exclusively painted lobby cards, although it’s possible the artist just put on the tinting with an unusually heavy hand. Even more fascinating, Erik’s face has been blurred out from the Phantom of the Opera lobby cards, probably because Universal didn’t want to spoil Lon Chaney’s big, horrifying surprise.

There’s no commentary, and barely any captions, so it would have been nice if Riley had supplied a bit more text, perhaps providing some information on the artists. Still, this is art that speaks for itself, and we can be grateful to him for collecting it all in such a swell volume. It’s nice to see that even when Universal was cutting corners on the screen, as it did with some of its later Horrors, it still invested in memorable, artful promo paintings. If only modern film companies maintained such attention to detail.

Get Poster Art from Classic Monster Films at Amazon.com here:
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