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Warning: What you see here may frighten you--it may even shock you. If you keep scrolling down the page, you may get the scare of your life. To those of you who do--well, I warned you!

   
 

Below are what are definitely by far the most popular pieces I have created: my series of custom posters for the Classic Universal Monsters.

They started with the one you see immediately below--The Bride of Frankenstein. It was done more as a lark, and I didn't originally intend to so a whole series of them. But after completing the first one, and seeing how well it turned out, I moved onto Frankenstein, and from that point on I was off to the races.

I've said a number of times, after completing yet another poster, that I wouldn't do any more, feeling like I've exhausted all the most compelling monsters and creatures. But then I'll come up with another idea, and off I go. So, you never know...

 

The Bride of Frankenstein - I am a HUGE fan of the classic Universal Pictures' Classic Horror Monsters films--Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Invisible Man. I recently purchased a DVD set of all these films, and while I worked with them playing over the past month, I kept trying to think of some way to pay "tribute" to them, and have fun in the process.

So I came up with the concept of producing a series of posters for the films, pretending as though they were being re-released in theatres. I wanted to have them be a combination of retro and modern design styles. I kept thinking, what would catch my eye while walking through a theatre lobby?

I wanted them to have a cohesive look, since they were all part of this imaginary reissue series. But, of course, they each needed to look distinctive, too--from the Grand Guignol horror of the Frankenstein films, the moodiness of Dracula, and the later, more studio-backlot-ish style of The Wolfman.

Bride of Frankenstein was my first, and I think my best attempt at these. It looks classic and modern at the same time, and the blood-red background helps set the tone for a film about death, body parts, and graveyards.

   
 

Frankenstein - Obviously a direct companion piece to Bride, this, Bride, and the Invisible Man are the only ones where I use the more fanciful, script-y font for director James Whale's credit.

Obviously, the Jack Pierce-created makeup for Frankenstein's Monster is on of the recognizable characters on the planet, known to everyone whether they've seen the film or not. Having this beautifully iconic an image as the center of the poster does half the work for you.

The curved title, receding into the distance, works well I think with the placement of the cast, and the flat lower-half of Frank himself.

   
 

The Wolfman - Each poster features tag lines from the original ad campaigns. The Wolfman's tagline (too tiny to read here, it's "Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright"), fit just perfectly in the moon-shape behind Lon.

I feel this poster has a more direct, pulpy feel, to match the newer approach of 1940's-style Universal horror films.

   
 

Dracula - "While I love the colors on this one, now that I look at it, I think the portrait of Lugosi as the Count looks a little too goofy to really convey the horror of the story. If I ever get really motivated, I may re-do the central image and keep the rest." --Me, March 2007

Dracula was the last of the first set I had worked on; and I think I got a little ahead of myself, in that I was so excited about what I was doing that I wanted to finish it and have all four to look at, even though the Lugosi portrait was weak and I think the color choices were iffy, at least compared to the others. It's always bugged me that Dracula was simply not the best possible job I could've done at the time.

So while I was doing prep work for Hunchback of Notre Dame and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein(below), I decided to redo the Lugosi portrait to something less goofy and more sinister; in particular I love that sharp angle of his cape over his his right shoulder. The original red I used was too bright, so I went with something a little more subtle. And finally, I put in the background color a little more carefully and added the cobweb.

I am infinitely happier with this one, and now I feel like it's just as good as the other ones in the set.

   
 

The Mummy - I think this contains one of my most arresting central images--the crepuscular face of Boris Karloff's Imhotep. I went through lots of fonts looking for something strong and vaguely hieroglyphic-y, but not too modern, either (I didn't want any comparison to the look of the 90s Brendan Fraser remake...ugh).

One of my original intentions was to have these posters have a repetitive, consisent look, using the same approach and even images if appropriate. So the Mummy poster was a nice treat, since two of its four main characters are played by two actors from Dracula, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan, so I simply got to re-use their portraits here. Gee, why couldn't Universal those guys in every movie?

   
 

The Invisible Man - I was determined that The Invisible Man poster would be my crowning achievement...in my head, I saw the main image of Griffin (played by the great Claude Reins) as a nearly invisible one, fading into the background, which I thought would look go over like gangbusters.

Then I tried it, and...it just didn't work. The IM main image looked muddy, not transparent. It had none of the power I thought it would. Oh well. Not wanting to entirely give up on the idea, I went transparent with the logo, which I thought looked just great (aided immesurably the cool-o found I found to use). Since, unlike the other films, IM gave off no "feeling" of color to me (the sandy oranges of The Mummy, the Grand Guignol red of Bride of Frankenstein), I decided to play up the invisible thing once more, but going with all blacks, whites, and greys.

   
 

The Phantom of the Opera - For Phantom of the Opera, I completely ignored the fact that the film, unlike the rest, was shot in color. I worked on the main image in color just to see what it looked like, but it stuck out so much from the rest that I decided to stick with the program.

I'm not too sure now about the use of yellow on the insets, but I do know my favorite part of the poster is the Phantom's shadow, cast upon the logo at the bottom. I think it's really neat.

   
 

Creature from the Black Lagoon - And finally, one of my favorites, The Creature From The Black Lagoon. For reference on all the various characters, I found a whole book on the film on ebay. After I got it in the mail, I realized it was part of a "Monsters" film book series for kids that I read and re-read when I was a wee lad, attending Johnson Elementary all those years ago. The Creature poster went pretty smoothly, all coming together like I saw it in my head. One nice touch that was an accident was the Creature looking directly at "the beauty" played by Julie Adams, a nice (to me, at least) metaphor for the obsession the Gill Man develops for the comely Miss Adams.

And, now that I look at it a while after its completion, I realize I inadvertantly reflected the approach of the later Universal films with this poster--the Creature one is more filled, more "noisy" somehow, more trying to grab your attention than the somewhat more classically-styled era of the Frankenstein films. As horror and sci-fi became more commonplace in movie theatres, each film had to be a bit more loud, a bit more Startling! and Shocking! to get an audience to pay attention, and I think I've (again, accidentally) conveyed that here.

I had an enormous amount of fun on these; and I hope it shows. Most of all, I would hope that if something like these ever did get used for this purpose, that they'd maybe get a few new people interested in seeing these great films.

There are some more classic Universal films, but they're mostly sequels of their original hits, not leaving me with a lot of creative interest in trying them. But who knows? Universal did a lot of great 50s sci-fi films.

   
  The Phantom of the Opera - 1925 Silent Version - I thought I had covered all of the classic Universal monsters, but when my pal and fellow artist (and monster fan!) Steve Spatucci helped me record a phone interview I did with actor Norman Alden (Ed Wood, Back to the Future, and the voice of Aquaman on The Super Friends!), I figured the best way to say "thanks" was not with some lame-o gift card, but with a new Universal Monster poster, made just for him.

I didn't have too many iconic characters left to choose from, but then I realized I never tackled the original 1925 Phantom of the Opera--arguably one of the most famous monster faces of all time. Luckily, when it came to putting the poster together, Lon Chaney's visage is so famous, so intriguing, and (still!) so creepy, that it really helped make this one of my more successful monster posters (IMO).

I had originally drawn a lot more of the Phantom, including his arms and more detail on the cloak. But after seeing how it conflicted with the type at the bottom, rendering the rest in black made a lot more sense. Sometimes I have to sacrifice my own time and effort to make something look better in the long run, and this is one of those cases.

I enjoy doing these monster posters so much, and I get such a good response from them, that even though their many times the work, I always finish one of these up feeling very creatively satisfied. Luckily Steve liked it too, and before long it'll be hanging on one of his studio walls along with other genuine monster merchandise, so it'll be in good company!

   
 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - I had decided there was at least one last classic monster in Universal's stable that I hadn't tackled, and that was the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Since I've done so many of these, putting this one together was fairly easy and a total pleasure--Lon Chaney's make-up as the Hunchback is so visually dynamic, even all these years later--that having that as the central image starts you out on the right foot. I think the most difficulty I had was picking the font, trying to find something not too cartoony but still remaining "loyal" to the ones Universal used on the original posters.

I had briefly wondered if there were any other Universal monster films worth doing up like this--Son of Dracula(a pudgy, Lon Chaney, Jr. Dracula? Nah), House of Frankenstein?(too many of the same characters), Dracula's Daughter?(nothing, but nothing actually happens in that movie--really, go see!--so nah to that one, too). So I figured Hunchback was it, until... (see next!)

   
 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - Eh, I just can't stop with these "Universal Monsters" posters , even when it isn't a "Universal Monster"!

As a fan of those Universal Monster movies from the 30s and 40s, it always sorta bugged me that Universal never did a version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the one classic literary monster that's on the same par with Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, etc.

I guess that's because MGM did a a version in 1931 (which is the one reflected here--it even won Frederic March an Oscar for his performance) and then did another one (with Spencer Tracy, less well-received) in 1941, so maybe Universal never felt like they had enough time to make a mark with their own version.

In any case, I felt like it would be fun to graft the 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde into the Universal Monsters poster framework I had built, as if at some point down the line they got the rights to it and released with the rest of their classic monster movies. I debated for a while how to portray the Jekyll/Hyde persona--have them both as the main monster?

When I realized that would make things way too crowded, I decided the obviously right way to do it was focus on the monster--Hyde--and have Jekyll as a co-star, even if March spends way more time being Jekyll than Hyde in the film.

Like I mentioned before, I'm always a little concerned about watering down my collection of Classic Monster Posters, because they are by far the most popular work I have done, and I don't like to add one to the roster if I don't think its as good as the rest--but I think this one came out really well, and I'm happy to add it to the collection.

   
 

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein - Then realized there was one more film, and one of my all-time favorites, too--Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Not only would it give me my first chance(incredibly) to do portraits of my favorite comedians, Bud and Lou, but it would allow me to do a lighter, sillier poster, but still within this series. I did get to re-use my Wolfman piece, but I had to do a new Frankenstein(since this was Glenn Strange, not Boris Karloff, under the neck bolts) and it timed out perfectly just having finished a new Bela Lugosi Dracula.

I had just as much fun putting this one together, maybe a little more because it gave me an excuse(not that I need one) to watch the movie all over again. Working on this one felt like a great way to wrap up this long series I started four years ago, not knowing they would become the most popular, well-received pieces I've ever done.

And as much as I love the overall design I came up with for these, I think I want to try something different so it's time to officially bring this series to an end, just like Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein did for the Universal horror monsters.

   
 

"I've Created A Monster!"- Every time I finish up a new "Universal Monsters" poster, I promise that it will be the last one I ever do, because I always feel like I've exhausted every possible subject.

But, inevitably, I come up with yet another idea for one, and the lure of continuing what is by far my most popular work is too strong to deny. So I open a new folder, and start working...

This one is a bit of a departure, since its for a film that doesn't exist. After watching an excellent documentary on Universal's #1 make-up man Jack Pierce on a DVD re-release of The Mummy, I realized that I would love to see a full-length, movie-sized documentary on the man that created the iconic look for almost every single movie monster, as widely-known today as they were 75 years ago.

So I came up with a cast of movie titans that might want to talk about Pierce's work, like Guillermo Del Toro, Rick Baker, Peter Jackson, plus archival footage of Boris Karloff, James Whale, and of course Pierce himself (who tragically died, nearly forgotten, in the 60s).

My original title was Man of a Thousand Faces, but my pal Pierre Fournier (of the great blog Frankensteinia) suggested that Pierce deserved his own title, not a gloss of the one attached to Lon Chaney. Pierre was right, so I went for a more exploitative, fun title, and I think its much better. Thanks Pierre!

Oh, one last thing--this time, I promise I will not be promising this will be the last new Universal Movie Monster poster I'm going to do.

   
 

This Island Earth - I had wanted to get around to doing a new set of Universal film posters for a while. I had pretty much done every one of the classic monster films of the 30s and 40s (with some exceptions) and had decided to move into their classic sci-fi period of the fifties. And even though most of the films were still in black and white, I knew I probably wanted to do them in color, to help convey the new ideas and concepts these films were all about. While the classic monsters were based on supernatural and more earth-bound origins, the fifties films were all about science gone mad. (Knowing I had to do them in color is probably what kept me from doing them for so long, since I knew they'd be so much more work)

One of my favorites from this period was This Island Earth, one of the preeminent sci-fi films of the time. Aside from the unusual setting and tone, the thing most memorable about the film to me was the introduction of the Metaluna Mutant, the mute alien creature in the second half of the film. I knew I had to have him peering out towards the viewer, pincher at the ready.

Even though it was a lot more work having to worry about color, this piece really came alive for me, getting to use these beautiful, bright, bold colors. This thing really pops for me. For the most part, when I look at my own work, all I can see are the flaws or the things I could've done better/ But this piece just gets better to me every time I look at it. I just love this thing.

   
 

It Came From Outer Space - Embarking on another one of these "Universal Monsters" posters is always fraught with a self-imposed set of expectations. They are by far the most popular illustrations on my site, so if I decide to try and add another one to the series, I'm hoping that it measures up to the others. It would weaken the whole effort if there were a couple that weren't so good.

Of course, if the end result came out really bad, no one but me would ever see it, but from my experience that doesn't seem to happen. No, the ones in the series I don't think have measured up have just missed--they're not truly bad, but they are a missing a certain something that keeps me from adding them to the official roster.

But overall, I'm pretty happy with this one, a poster for the 1953 classic It Came From Outer Space. It presented a different challenge than the rest of them because the "It" in question is not seen that much in the movie, and not at all on the original posters. Seeing a full on, clear shot of the alien would really ruin the effect, so I went for a similar approach the original Universal art department did--you see the one giant, creepy eye, but all the other details are hard to make out.

This poster is a bit more crammed with stuff than the usual approach, but I thought it worked with all the crazy colors. Speaking of colors, I decided when I moved onto the 1950s era, sci-fi Universal films, the posters would be in color, as opposed to the monochromatic look for the 30s and 40s monster ones. So I had to continue that here, and overall I'm pretty happy with the results.

   
 

Monster PSAs: Bela Lugosi - I have no idea how I came up with this idea--the image, colors and all, simply popped into my head one day and I tried to getting it down as best as I could.

If I wanted to analyze this (and why not?), I'd say I've always been interested in the idea that the classic Universal Monsters--so terrifying in their day--are now mostly considered warm, friendly icons, suitable for kids. How things change.

Running with that, I liked the idea of using the monsters in sort of PSA-style announcements. And since Bela Lugosi was so bedeviled with financial problems in his life, I think he would be concerned with the average American citizen's staggering amount of credit card debt.

I also wanted to it be a very quick, almost sloppy-looking piece--like those underground "street art" illustrations Shepard Fairey was famous for before he did that Obama piece (hey, I'd like some of my stuff to be in the National Gallery, too--although I doubt this'll be the piece that gets me in there).

Maybe I've put too much thought into this?

   
 

Monster PSAs: Glenn Starnge - I can never resist a series!

After finishing the Bela Lugosi PSA-type poster, I of course let my mind wander, trying to come up with some other, public service-type messages that some of the other Universal Monsters could deliver.

Once I finished the Glenn Strange portrait, I worked on crafting a gentle, reassuring message, since, from what I've read of the man, he was an exceedingly sweet guy. After all, who wouldn't want Glenn (as Frankenstein) telling you he's sure you're going to be okay? I know I would!

I actually like this one better than that Bela poster--this portrait especially has that simple, kinda cruddy look that a lot of the Frankenstein/Universal Monsters merch had from the 60s and 70s, before stock art guides took over.

   
 

Monster PSAs: Lon Chnaey, Jr. - My third attempt in the "Monster PSA" series, this one screamed out at me when I saw a still of Lon Chaney, Jr., in his breakout role as Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man, with his hand on a doorknob.

To me he looked like he was checking the door for heat, the way you're supposed to do when you think there's a fire. Voila!

   
  Monster PSAs: Boris Karloff - This one took a little longer to come up with: not because the joke is so clever, but because Boris Karloff is such an iconic figure of 1930s movie horror that I had trouble deciding which image to go with!
   
  Monster PSAs: Claude Rains - In the middle of a very busy couple of weeks, I managed to work up another one of my Monster PSA posters, this time features Claude Rains as The Invisible Man, making a very self-aware statement.
   
  Monster PSAs: Lon Chaney, Sr. - Embarking on another one of these "Universal Monsters" posters is always fraught with a self-imposed set of expectations. They are by far the most popular illustrations on my site, so if I decide to try and add another one to the series, I'm hoping that it measures up to the others. It would weaken the whole effort if there were a couple that weren't so good.
   
 
e:namtab29@comcast.netp: 856.261.2265 • all art & design © 2012 Rob Kelly, characters and likenesses © Universal Films