NEW YORK — Horror movie posters — be they blockbuster films or indie cult classics — are highly collectible, whether the movies they advertised were great or so bad that they were good. Works of art in their own right, horror posters take storytelling to the next level through visuals. Arguably, they sometimes overstep the boundaries of good taste, but that’s part of the fun.
“Horror movies differ from other film genres because they capitalize on visceral reactions and focus on the villains, which is reflected in the movie posters,” said Amanda Sheriff, author of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Movie Posters and The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Horror. “They typically depict menacing villains, protagonists in peril, the threat of violence, ominous settings, and grotesque imagery. The best posters are designed to promise a fun and frightening viewing experience.”
From creepy villains and misunderstood monsters to damsels in distress or terrifying experiments gone horribly wrong, horror movies terrify us as children and fascinate us as we get older. While each generation has its own monsters (Freddy, Jason, Godzilla and Chucky to name a few), the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman will always rank high among favorites for collectors.
Not surprisingly, a 1931 three-sheet insert poster for Frankenstein, the original sympathetic monster, holds a world auction record price of $358,500, set at Dallas’ Heritage Auctions in March 2015. Heritage also holds the record for a one-sheet poster — Dracula (from the same film studio, Universal, also released in 1931), which sold for $525,800 in November 2017.
“Every cliché of cinema horror was created with this film: the mad scientist, the misunderstood monster, the angry villagers carrying torches, the dark laboratory filled with science fictional devices, and the creepy assistant,” according to Heritage Auctions.
Grey Smith, director of vintage posters at Heritage, said horror movie posters combine several design tricks to make them so compelling. “Title and design are the draws. The titles of the great Universal films make them in great demand and the better the graphic, the better the demand. But that being said, almost anything to have survived from the 1920s and ’30s of the great horror films is of demand. I believe horror posters are so avidly collected as horror films make a very strong impression on young people and when they grow older with money to collect, those are films that were important to them.”
Michael Bollinger is senior cataloguer and resident horror specialist at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa., and coincidentally, is Amanda Sheriff’s husband. He added, “Striking Gothic and oftentimes grotesque imagery tends to linger with an audience, piquing interest. That morbid curiosity acts as a hook, compelling moviegoers to check out the film.”
From Nosferatu to today’s movies, horror movie posters have evolved stylistically over the years. “Early horror posters were dramatically painted in bold colors, usually featuring large renderings of the villains with inset images of the heroes,” Sheriff said. “They transitioned to photo-based imagery, in some cases using artistic collages and in others basic cast photos or glimpses of the gore.”
Within the horror genre, there are notable poster subgenres that appeal to collectors, including the silent film era, classic Universal monsters, the ’50s sci-fi/horror, Britain’s Hammer Studios horror, giant monsters like King Kong and Godzilla and slashers from the ’70s and ’80s, Sheriff said. Collectors are also drawn to international horror films and among the most visually striking posters are those for the Italian Giallo films of the late 1960s and ’70s.
Among the most collectible and desirable posters, the early Universal Monsters posters are typically the rarest and achieve the highest prices. Rare posters for such films as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera have brought hundreds of thousands.
“As for popularity and accessibility, posters for Alfred Hitchcock hits like Psycho, 1950s sci-fi/horror posters like Attack of the 50-Ft. Woman, and slashers like Friday the 13th are consistent favorites,” Sheriff said.
Asked about what would bring the most money, Smith theorized some of the best have yet to be sold. “I suggest that the top posters may be those posters that have not appeared in the market before and still remain elusive, such as a Dracula 1931 three-sheet, anything from the silent classic Nosferatu, a U.S. one-sheet to Metropolis, a Mummy 1933 six-sheet or a Frankenstein 1931 style D three-sheet,” Smith said. “All are unknown and should bring large sums in the market.”
The market for horror posters remains very strong, especially for key titles and key horror posters. “The earliest horror movie posters dominate the highest prices paid for posters, holding many records within different size categories,” Sheriff said. “Across all time periods, horror posters regularly sell for higher prices than their contemporary competition from other genres. This may not be the case when going up against Marilyn Monroe or James Bond, but if an average horror poster sale is compared to an average sale for a comedy or drama or action poster, it’s likely that the scary stuff sells for more.”