Pressed To Kill
The Art Of The Horror Film
Press Advert 1918 - 1979:
Alraune to A L I E N
by Paul Sutton
Camera Journal Publishing ISBN: 9798671400588
Just a very short review on this absolutely wonderful tome I was gifted for Christmas called The Art Of The Horror Film Press Advert 1918 - 1979: Alraune to A L I E N. It does what it says on the tin, I guess (or, you know, what it says on the cover) in that it’s an image heavy look at a whole big bunch of wonderful reproductions of all those black and white adverts for (mostly) horror films that would fill various newspapers, not to mention weekly magazines like Time Out and What’s On In London and which would fill the younger version of me with a sense of wonder. As in... I wonder why I’m not old enough yet to rush out and see these things at my local cinema?
After a wonderful montage page followed by an intro showing the first press ad for The Night Of The Flesh Eaters, which would soon rise to fame as Night Of The Living Dead... and then a written introduction, the book starts off way earlier in 1918 (yeah, the clue was on the cover) and a film called Alraune. This ad shows a huge monster which, as the author explains on his comments about the numerous versions of this tale, is also one of the first pieces of ‘sensationalist’ press advertising for such things, I would guess, since there’s apparently no monster to be found in the actual film.
He then takes us on a tour of many wonderful press ads sourced from a few places, most of which are either from the UK or America. And there’s some wonderful stuff in here. You’ll also find a bunch or krimi and giallo press ads too and, I would normally complain bitterly about the cruel fate in hell reserved for people who think giallo/krimi films, or even American slasher films, are somehow horror films when they’re clearly completely different genres but, to his credit, Sutton does acknowledge that there are a few non-horror films thrown into the mix here, pretty much because he either just likes them (I would assume that’s why Planet Of The Apes makes it into the book) or because the way in which a film has been advertised in terms of the illustrations used, is also something which is either inherited or influential on the way various horror films were sold. So that would explain why Close Encounters Of The Third Kind gets a look in, I guess.
And I learned a few things as I read through this box of delights of frights, such as the subject matter for the very earlier ads being reminiscent of the art of William Blake. I also found how certain graphic elements such as a woman brandishing a man’s decapitated head for one film, The Thing That Couldn’t Die, would be co-opted into the art for various double or triple features (or all nighters), even though the particular film in question was not part of the screenings. Similarly, I noticed the old trailer chestnut of... “To avoid fainting, keep repeating... it’s only a movie... only a movie... only a movie...” etc in its typographic, boxed out form is on the press ads for a few different movies in the book.
For the most part, the ads are shown chronologically to their initial release (including some of the re-release ads) but sometimes, where he wants to show a stylistic trend or, you know, show where people are ripping each other off, such as the various shark movies which came before and after Jaws (again, not a horror movie... it’s just a shark, get over it), then he’s grouped these together in a way which doesn’t screw up the sense of the history of these things too much.
I was also spotting stuff I’d not seen before. For instance, one set of five ads which run through a sequence of pages on which they were printed (presumably) in 1935 for The Bride Of Frankenstein, shows Elsa Lanchester’s Bride transforming through horizontal slats into Karloff’s monster. This is backed up with another shot of Lanchester on another page from the same year and, bizarrely, not from the re-release. I say bizarrely because, I don’t remember a single bit of advertising in terms of posters and trailer for the film giving away the look of The Bride in any of the marketing... only on the re-releases once everybody had seen Elsa’s iconic make-up. Why they did this on the press ad campaigns at the time is, therefore, a complete mystery to me.
As much as the book is informative, though, it’s also entertaining. I loved Sutton’s recollections about certain things, especially the poster and TV campaigns that terrified all us kids warning us against the threat of ‘rabies’ invading our country at the time. I remember the impact those infomercial type horrors held for people growing up in the 1970s. I also love his conclusion about Hayley Mills turning up in the thriller Twister Nerve... “Disney kids often rush to cleanse themselves in the dark side after a long childhood built on a pedestal of smiles.” The same could be said of people like Kurt Russell, of course and I love the combination of humour and truism which the writer brings to the table here. All in all, The Art Of The Horror Film Press Advert 1918 - 1979: Alraune to A L I E N is a thoroughly good read and, I noticed the last page is an advert for a sequel volume, The Complete Horror Film Adverts of the 1980s by Paul Sutton, which it projected as being out in October 2020 but, I can’t seem to find a copy listed anywhere as yet. Maybe it got delayed by the current plague but, well, that one is definitely going into the shopping basket when it comes out.