NEW YORK — The year 2021 marks several anniversaries for classic monsters and horror films. At Halloween — or anytime, really — it’s fun to explore movie posters and collectibles featuring the characters that have sent shivers up the spines of generations of movie-goers.
Two of the most iconic monster movies debuted 90 years ago, in 1931: Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein, featuring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster. The films elevated their stars into cultural icons, spawning several sequels and reboots. Also, 80 years ago, in 1941, The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., made its entrance into the horror genre. Chaney was the son of the actor who was the Phantom in the classic Phantom of the Opera, a 1925 silent film widely credited as the first horror movie.
Horror movie posters of the 1930s, in particular, command top prices and routinely set records because they are so rarely found in fine condition. Original one-sheet and multiple-sheet posters created for theaters were intended to be ephemeral, and most were thrown away after a movie’s run finished. Vintage film posters that somehow managed to survive are highly prized, so collectors will spare no expense to conserve and back them with linen to make them more durable. A one-sheet poster from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, with striking art by Albert Kallis, sold for $20,000 in January 2021 at Van Eaton Galleries. Widely considered one of the top monster movies, the black and white 3D film from 1954 spawned two sequels. The movie marked Universal’s return to the horror genre following a hiatus that began in 1948. Before then, the studio had released a few monster or horror films annually since the mid-1930s.
Godzilla may have been billed as “king of the monsters” but on LiveAuctioneers, the auction leader is Frankenstein’s Monster: an insert poster from the 1931 Frankenstein film brought more than $200,000 in 2013 at Heritage Auctions. Only a few original posters have surfaced for this movie, including a couple of one-sheets, a six-sheet and lobby cards. In contrast, Frankenstein collectibles, toys and fan-made art are more readily available and affordable, such as a contemporary life-size statue depicting Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster that realized $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019 at Dan Morphy Auctions. The figure was realistically molded from foam, painted and outfitted in a black wool coat, trousers, and oversized boots.
Movie monsters have inspired countless artists. Pop Art legend Andy Warhol included a screenprint of Dracula in his Myths portfolio among cultural icons such as Superman, Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Howdy Doody and Uncle Sam. Interestingly, Warhol decorated all of the color screenprints in this series with diamond dust, except for the one depicting Dracula. A 1981 example of the Dracula screenprint sold in May 2020 at Hindman for $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium.
Many elementary-school aged boys in the United States in the 1960s probably had, or remember, the Aurora model-building kits, including dinosaurs and movie monsters. Debuting at a toy convention in January 1962 with Frankenstein’s Monster, the latter series was a big hit, and during the next decade, the stable of monster kits included Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and King Kong. The Phantom of the Opera kit, featuring the Phantom, was one of the earliest issues, going into production in 1963. An example sold for $200 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Van Eaton Galleries.
Classic monster and horror movies showcased the best special effects, costuming, and makeup of their day. While they lack the shockingly realistic gore and violence of modern horror films, there can be no argument but that they launched the genre. Fundamentally good stories and stunning performances by lead actors, who managed to convey powerful and wrenching emotions while covered in green foundation, wearing a grotesque rubber suit or swathed in fur, have made made their characters fascinating and timeless.
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