We love things that go bump in the night, especially when it comes to movies. There’s no denying it: for millions, horror movies are simply scary good fun.
For fans of the genre, collecting horror movie posters is a scream. Witness the incredibly high values put on classic horror movie posters. One of only two surviving movie posters for the 1931 horror classic Draculabecame the most valuable movie poster in history when it sold at auction for $525,800 a couple of years ago.
The movie poster showcases the menacing visage of Bela Lugosi. Lugosi, an imposing figure at 6’1” with piercing blue eyes and a Hungarian accent, was born to play Dracula. He was so brilliant, so convincing in the role that it came to define his career, which in part explains why the poster from his first vampire movie is so valuable.
It’s important to remember that contemporary films have a variety of marketing materials at their disposal but in the 1930s, studios mostly had to rely on a movie poster image to captivate an audience.
“Considering the sheer beauty of the poster and the timeless popularity of the film, it’s not a surprise that the demand was so high,” Grey Smith, Heritage Auctions vintage posters director, says of the Dracula poster.
“It is a matter of opinion, but this poster probably is the most beautiful of all of the styles,” Smith says. “And one of only two styles that pictures Bela Lugosi in realistic terms or a faithful rendering – the other is a photographic image.”
The previous record-holder was an only-known copy of the poster for London After Midnight, which sold for $478,000 in 2014. The poster “is one of the most sought-after posters of the 20th century and the only example known to exist,” Smith says. “The movie is considered to be one of the holy grails of lost cinema and was reconstructed more than 10 years ago using more than 200 still photographs and a continuity script. This is the only copy of the rare U.S. one sheet known to exist.”
Lt. Col. George J. Mitchell, Jr., an Associate Member of the American Society of Cinematographers, owned the Draculaposter since the 1950s. Mitchell was a longtime cinematographer and photographer, who after World War II and a 20-year career in the U.S. Army, started a small film production company in San Diego.
“The reason my dad purchased the poster is because he loved horror films. He was drawn to the Bela Lugosi poster because it brought back childhood memories of seeing the film when it was first released,” Mitchell’s son, Arthur Mitchell, said. “He remembered going to the theater … and remembered that there was an ambulance stationed in the lobby, in case anyone was so scared they needed medical attention.”
The threat of being scared to death? Now there’s a movie to remember.
Paul Kennedy is an editor of Antique Trader.