A natural follow up to his book, The Art of Horror, Stephen Jones once again provides eye-candy galore in The Art of Horror Movies. As an illustrated history, it is geared to the neophyte, although older horror fans will love the poster art as it claws at their nostalgia-clogged heart strings, and the highlight articles, such as The Man of a Thousand Faces (who else but Lon Chaney), that remind us of how this grotesque and arabesque cinema evolved through its stars and subject matter.
This time around, Jones slices up his art according to the decades, using descriptive words like thrilling thirties, frightening forties, and fearsome fifties. Each decade is handled by a different contributor: for instance, Lisa Morton handles the Evil Eighties, Tom Weaver takes on the Thrilling Thirties, and Ramsey Campbell goes crazy over the 2000s Maniacs to name a few.
More importantly, especially to those new to all this colorfully naughty movie-making, each decade identifies key stakeholders that drove home the decade's most notable movies. For instance, in the stylish sixties, names like AIP, Hammer, Amicus, and Tigon stand out as much as their garish movie poster art examples from Spain, France, Britain, and other countries. If Lon Chaney helped define the sinister silents of the 1920s, it was actors like Barbara Steele and Vincent Price (both highlighted) who helped define the memorable horrors of the 1960s and 70s.
Laying out this predator and perpetrator landscape across the decades provides a unique view of how it (and its promotional artwork) had changed over time. One can sense the earnest exuberance of the early horrors (1920s to 1930s) and how that gave way to the more homogenized terrors of the 1940s (with some exceptions, of course). The 1950s followed with their more rational and scientific monsters, but then a complete u-turn takes place in the 1960s as George Romero and Alfred Hitchcock bring the horror closer and make it more real.
Of course there was that sweet spot, from the late 50s and running through much of the 60s, when monster kids were born and gleefully frolicked among the flippant tombstones, but it didn't last long enough, sadly. It did see a rekindling when those monster kids sprouted into eager monster young adults in the 1970s, ready to devour anything related to horror, science fiction, fantastic cinema, and comic books. Those Satanic Seventies came in and screamed bloody terror with a vengeance, all the way into the 1980s, when that decade exploded into a manic expression of old and new bogies and maniacs. The 90s and 2000s just upped the ante on the angst, the gore, and the philosophy.
Ironically, it is during the last two decades or so that we can see the decline of the opulent and more imaginative promotional art of the earlier movies, to give way to the sterile photographically-inclined look in favor today. The Art of Horror Movies illustrates that idiom, "they don't make them like they used to," all too well.
This article originally appeared at From Zombos’ Closet.
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