In his introduction to my 1992 film poster book, Graven Images, Stephen King succinctly observed that "If a movie is a dream, then a movie poster is a dream of a dream....and when we are talking about films of the fantastic and the posters that hype them, you can take that and raise it to the tenth power."
The films of horror, fantasy and science fiction which comprise the fantastic film genre date back to the very origins of the motion picture art form. In 1897 French pioneer film maker Georges Méliè made Le Château Hanté in which a devil is vanquished by a crucifix-wielding protagonist thereby establishing a horror/vampire movie tradition recently utilized once again in the forty million dollar opus directed by no less that Francis Ford Coppola. Interestingly enough, Méliè's ?? was a mere sixty-five feet of film in length and coincidentally conceived the same year an Englishman named Stoker published a novel called Dracula.
It was that same Méliè magic that first took man to the moon via his 1902 short, Le Voyage Dans La Lune, while across the Atlantic six year later the Selig Film Company became the first studio to filmatically introduce Dr.Jekyll to his monstrous alter ego, and it is really surprising to recall that Frankenstein's creation first saw the light of day in the same 1910 New York Edison laboratories which had previously given the world the light bulb.
Since those inauspicious beginnings the fantastic cinema has produced not only the biggest thrills and chills (and often thereby returning to their respective producers, the biggest bucks!), but some of the finest poster art ever created. Even fifty years ago no one would have believed, nor could have conceived, that these films would have a lifespan behond a few years let alone their accompanying promotional advertising. Who would care if they did? Two world wars did their worst to obliterate these delicate pieces of art, not so much by bombing and fire, but by the paper drives calling for their bundled sacrifice for the benefit of all mankind. These posters that survived were rescued from oblivion not by society's elite, but rather by the social misfits who recognized decades before those elitists, the beauty of the mishapen but misunderstood monsters, madmen, phantoms and fiends whose visages lured so many of us into the darkened realms of movie theatres in cities and small towns around the globe.
We "chosen few", hardly more than children, saved these precious, priceless artifacts from cellars and attics, silverfish, fire and flood, and were by our interests, outcasts of the fifties and sixties. Looked upon with disdain by our parents, ridiculed by our oh-so-cool peer groups we nevertheless persisted in collecting and watching as many of these fantastical movies as we could at any opportunity. For an hour or two these wondrous films would spirit our souls to alternative worlds where the forces of good invariably (at least, until recently) triumphed over the denizens of darkness. Or they might scare us to death with invasions by every conceivable type of 'thing' from 'out there'. Occassionally, some of these films would provide us with glimpses of a utopian future at a time when the words "duck and cover" fortelling a supposedly real atomic threat were a part of our schoolday life. Again, it was those marvelous posters which beckoned us to leave our worries or boredom behind at the doors of those epochs of our youth.
Today, we longtime collectors of posters and related film memorabilia rejoice in that what was once deemed unrespectable has gained the highest degree of respectability. Auctions worldwide hold these same posters in esteem and offer them to new generations who share the same love of film and art along with those child-misfits of decades past. If there is one line I continue to hear spoken, and a line I myself often uttered throughout my early collecting days of the sixties it is, "Gee, if only I was around collecting ten years ago when these posters were going for next to nothing". I heard this line from people bemoaning that a poster that had cost less than a dollar had climbed to three dollars just much as I later heard it from others who were conversing about posters climbing from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Like the mad doctors portrayed by Lugosi, Karloff and Atwill, my friends deemed me insane when I bought the first poster to ever sell for a thousand dollars - a one-sheet of the 1931 Frankenstein. That purchase occured in the mid-seventies and accounted for a fifth of what I was making teaching that particular year. On my forty-sixth birthday, October 17, 1993, I witnessed one of four known existing copies of this same poster sell for $198,000 in a Hollywood auction, the same city where I had purchased it and where it originally sold to theatre managers for ten cents in 1931.
Author of Graven Images