There are books that arrive where your jaw just drops in surprise. Case in point is Philip J Riley’s book ‘Poster Art From Classic Monster Films’ and just a page flick tells you this is going to be good, even if the book is just pictures. Rare ones that aren’t usually collected together in one book and tiny dotted around text.
Starting from 1933 with ‘The Hunchback From Notre Dame’ all the way to ‘This Island Earth’ in 1955, you see material from 29 films. Although it varies from film to film, you get a selection of posters, some foreign, and cinema stills, mostly in colour. Riley explains in the brief introduction that he’d been collecting them which writing his other books but it wasn’t until BearManor Media, that he found a publisher that would print them in colour the way they should.
My knowledge of early colour cinema posters is that the colour processing was only marginally better than the colour in early comicbooks and pulp magazine, mostly keeping to bright contrasting colours to catch the eye at a distance. For horror films, this was most green and yellow, with red kept for the lettering. They were also loaded with information. Looking at the ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) posters, Karloff had mostly fourth billing until one had his name at the top, clearly showing how quickly he caught on to the cinema-goers. Looking at the later ‘Frankenstein’ films, where the creature is pale green tinted explains how the likes of ‘Famous Monsters Of Filmland’ magazine continues the imagery of him being that way when in the films, the make-up was definitely gray.
The cinema stills are in a different order though. I remember in my youth seeing them in either black & white or colour, the latter being more expensive to produce and were passed from cinema to cinema in the UK. I can presume the same happened in the States but was surprised to see so many with limited colour. In those days, there was no set photographer as we know them today and any photos taken were in black & white, often from the film itself, but I do recognise how the colour was done as there was no colour film at the time. Again, in my youth, my Dad had a set of dyes that allowed some colour to be added to the photos and this looks very much like that technique before they were mass printed in colour. Considering how delicate and/or intricate the pinkish washes on the skins that tends to indicate that was how it was done although if any of you out there want to add your thoughts or corrections to this, please do.
Sorry, that’s me getting technical. I suspect most of you who buy this book if you missed it in 2012 will be after it if you have a historical bent for early horror films and you’ll be well served here. I wish Riley had added some text about the various posters and photos but suspect that would have either added more pages or acted as a distraction from the art.
The occasional observation that came to me is something like one of ‘The Hunchback From Notre Dame’ (1923) where the cast had shown in photo ringlets as they really are than as the parts they played. For the 1935 film ‘The Raven’, we have ‘Bella (Dracula) Lugosi’ on the posters in case viewers didn’t make the connection as to who he was. Many of the posters were paintings not photos.
There’s even the Abbott and Costello monster films included. About the only ones missing are those for a certain royal giant gorilla but, then, I suppose that depends on your definition of monster and he’s certainly had more exposure over the years.
This is a horror book that you might want to let your guests peruse but double-check that they haven’t ‘borrowed’ when leaving your house. It’s at a good price and they should get your own copy, leaving you to curl up in a candle-lit room to cherish the time when monsters roamed the film in black and white and only the posters and stills were in colour.
(pub: BearManor Media, 2012. 136 page illustrated large softcover. Price: $34.95 (US), £23.00 (UK). ISBN: 1-59393-486-6)
check out website: www.bearmanormedia.com