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!
are what are definitely by far the most popular pieces
I have created: my series of custom posters for the
Classic Universal Monsters.
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.
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...
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.
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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
curved title, receding into the distance, works well
I think with the placement of the cast, and the flat
lower-half of Frank himself.
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.
feel this poster has a more direct, pulpy feel, to match
the newer approach of 1940's-style Universal horror
- "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
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.
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.
am infinitely happier with this one, and now I feel
like it's just as good as the other ones in the set.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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!
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
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.
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!)
Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - Eh,
I just can't stop with these "Universal Monsters" posters
, even when it isn't a "Universal Monster"!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
& 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.
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
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.
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.
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...
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
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).
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!
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
I've put too much thought into this?
PSAs: Glenn Starnge - I can
never resist a series!
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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
all art & design © 2012 Rob Kelly, characters
and likenesses © Universal Films