A favourite time of year, Halloween movie nights became themed with autumn favourites and the local TV channel’s choice picks. Popcorn always flowed and the nightlight would glow the brightest on those Halloween evenings. Trick-or-treating was not always a prominent feature of Halloween for me until I was 11. When I did go out trick-or-treating for the first time I was astounded at how much candy you could collect. My small pumpkin pail overflowed with shiny wrappers and candy bars of all sizes. From that Halloween forward, a pillow case was my prime accessory for collecting my spoils.
Homespun and likened to the classic Universal Monsters, vampires, werewolves, witches and ghosts were always common costume choices by fellow trick-or-treaters. The iconic vampire with the widow’s peak hairline and formal count attire proved most popular. Count Dracula’s accent was mimicked from the authentic Hungarian accent of the man who portrayed the vampire himself, but I did not then realise who he was. My mom had two large paper figures of Frankenstein and Dracula that she would hang up every year. I remember looking intently over the turqoise face of Frankenstein, his bolts and stapled joints, and then examining the figure of Dracula who had a presence, a certain enchantment to him. Bela Lugosi was the man behind this iconic image of Dracula that endured, someone I did not get to know better until I was in my mid to late 20s. My proper introduction to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula occurred at a local jumble sale, a flea market of sorts. There, in a box of lonely VHS cassette tapes, was Universal’s Dracula with Bela Lugosi adorning the cover. This was him, the Dracula who shaped the costumes and imaginations of so many. All I knew was that I had to watch it in its completion. Luckily, my family still had a VHS player and as I hurriedly purchased the movie, I looked forward to sitting down to view it with my full attention. The journey of Renfield and the carriage ride to Castle Dracula instantly transfixed me; I was glued to the scenes that must have inspired Joel Schumacher’s motion picture version of The Phantom of the Opera. When Count Dracula appeared, his emotion and acting was transferred through his eyes and in the silences of the shots. And, that was it, Bela Lugosi had entered my life and would remain. An actor who appeared on stage in many Shakespearean theatrical performances in Hungary, Bela was a veteran to the war and also worked in Europe during the silent film era. Bela made his acting transition from silent film, to the stage performing Dracula across the US. He almost missed out on the role of Dracula, however it was one that haunted him and he most surely had to play. Silent no more, motion pictures and sound were able to combine Bela Lugosi’s intense expressions and his pronounced accent. The magic of Bela’s acting is directly transferred to its audience, not excluding the bewitching inspiration viewed in the art of movie poster illustrators. Often, the accompanied illustrated movie posters to Lugosi films captures his magic, a unique and mysterious appeal where his expressions, he alone could claim, would draw its viewers into the seats of cinemas.
The classic 1930s and 1940s movie posters were an era with a true painted style, something that has sadly dwindled through recent decades. The marriage of actor and artist is completed in the presentation of its movie poster. A movie poster campaign is a visual feast or teaser of a feeling associated with the film that is meant to intrigue you or pull you in by the theme of its feature. The mass anonymity of the artists who painted many classic movie posters defeats our ability to celebrate the work of a particular artist, however their art remains in the careful collections of many in both memory and in print.
The most expensive movie poster ever sold, as reported by Digital Spy, is the one sheet for Dracula featuring the image of Bela Lugosi, the yellow and orange warm hot tones stand out against the icy cold and dark blue background. It is the eyes that emit something more, that unique expression belonging to Lugosi himself and represented well by movie poster artists.
Movie poster artists such as William Stout (White Zombie - MONDO screenprint), Drew Struzan (Dracula - sketch) and Paul Shipper (Mark of the Vampire - sketch) continue to be inspired by Lugosi films proving that once introduced, his character continues to haunt you. This is seen clearly in their illustrative work which emits the undead Lugosi aura present in their art.
Modern artistic influences of Bela Lugosi: original movie poster of Dracula (1931), the most expensive movie poster ever sold; Drew Struzan’s 2012 sketch of Dracula and his brides; Lugosi stands as William Stouts central figure for White Zombie (1932) in his 2015 screenprint with MONDO.