As we said yesterday, we open our exclusive interview section with a very special guest: Graham Humphreys, illustrator of the first five nightmares UK posters.
Graham Humphreys is an established in London graphic designer and commercial artist creating film posters, magazine illustrations, packaging, DVD inlay and book design. We've been treated with all kindness, and he has agreed to a chat with us about his wonderful work. There we go!
First of all, Graham, we would like to really thank you for this interview. It’s not easy to start a blog, and it’s common to find a lot of close doors. Because of that, it’s truly heart-touching to find someone who helps unselfishly.
To begin with, we would like to know a bit about your first steps in the designing and illustrating world. We have read on your website that you started a course in the Salisbury College of Art in 1976. This kind of courses is not very common in Spain. How were the teaching methods there? Did it have so much influence on your style as an illustrator?
The course was specifically ‘Graphic Design’ with a diploma attached. A first year in colour theory, perspective drawing and life drawing, all the basic grounding elements that create a visual awareness. Plus lectures on art history and design. All very interesting and a perfect platform for the two year Graphic Design module. This second part specifically looked at typography, layout and the relationship between the presentation of information and creative thinking. At this point I was already beginning to illustrate and realised this was my strength, my solutions always involved images that I would paint. We were lucky to have a good mix of tutors, with representation from the commercial imperatives to the fine art creatives.I must confess I struggled (and still do) with ‘conceptual’ thinking. Today I tend to use thought processes that approximate this rare skill. My greatest influence came from the regular visiting staff from London, who were completely immersed in the forefront of illustration and ‘new wave’ of illustrators (partly influenced by the blossoming punk scene). My final year allowed speciality area, mine being illustration.
One of Graham's earlier works (1983)
In 1980, you moved to London. How was your beginning there? It was easy to get a job on your field? Could you tell us how your first job there was?
My first freelance job came from a college friend who had started working at his brother’s design studio. I illustrated a book aimed at students, of different age groups, the handling of language. The illustrations were cartoons that gave potentially dull subject matter a humerous sparkle. I then lugged my rather thin portfolio of college work from magazine, to studio to agency - to whomever would see me. It was a very difficult period, the little money I earned paid for my basic survival. I got a second job, a book cover, from the same publisher of the language project. I remember it being a ‘horse racing mystery’ in a snow setting. I avoided painting a horse! Though I recall spilling a pot of water over the completed artwork, panicking, letting it dry (thankfully not too much damage) and retouching the obvious watermarks. Even when it was published I could see the watermarks on the printed image!
In the eighties, you started your work with Palace Pictures, and we’re now entering the main subject of this interview: you work related to horror movies. We’ve read that you first approach to the subject was the quad poster for The Evil Dead, rated by lots of fans as the best poster of the series, and one of the best of the eighties. How was the development of this one? We love the fifties flavor that it has…
You are right to identify the ‘fifties’ element. The classic B- Movie posters of that era were my main influence (and partly influenced by the matured punk scene that had developed a rockabilly element, bands like The Cramps, The Gun Club and The Meteors, referenced horror imagery in their music). My poster for 'The Evil Dead' was fuelled by the music and the colours that came out of listening to The Cramps ‘Psychedelic Jungle’ album.
The superb 'Evil Dead' UK quad
'Psychedelic Jungle' (The Cramps), a decisive influence
Well, let’s talk about ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. If you agree, we could talk about each one of your works for the saga. The first one was the beautiful illustration with Nancy’s face en the middle, the dark and menacing silhouette of Freddy at the back, and the strong presence of the glove. What can you tell us about the design of this poster? Did you have any directives from the studio, or was it your decision to keep Freddy in the shade? It seems really appropriate, considering the tone of the movie…
The first Nightmare’ film was a fresh edition to the horror pantheon and I don’t think it was assumed that ‘Freddy’ would become the horror icon that he did. His image was sublimated to merely a dream element. My first viewing of the film was at a special screening at The Scala Cinema (where I also had my first screening of 'The Evil Dead', alone in the dark! - it was also the original office location of Palace Pictures) and I just remember the dreaming aspect. Whereas 'The Evil Dead' was an overtly ‘monster’ themed, 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' had a studio gloss that suggested a subtler treatment. There were a number of artistic influences in there - for some reason I felt it should feel quite ‘French’ - I had the work of Jules Cheret in mind - not that it is in any way obvious! My paintwork is always quite heavily textured and in order to heighten the dreamlike quality, I photographed the artwork onto a small 35mm transparency so that when it was enlarged to full poster size all the brushwork would soften).
'A Nightmare on Elm Street' UK quad...
We’ve seen a second version, with verticle disposition, where we can see the left hand of Freddy. Why there were two versions? Which one do you prefer?
Though the uk quad format was the usual poster shape, the American 1 sheet and double quad site formats were beginning to gain popular use (as this was how American campaigns were supplied and rather than reformatting the posters it was more expedient to retain the supplied art). The verticle format for Nightmare was a secondry consideration, without the benefit of computer technology, at the time, the only way to reformat was to repaint the entire image. For this reason, the original quad version remains my preferred version - it was designed as a quad. Of course, the verticle version fitted the video format, so gained wider exposure. We didn’treally make these considerations at the time!
... and the verticle version
What do you think about Matthew Peak’s posters for the series? Did them have an influence on your posters, or did you prefer to have a completely new and different vision?
I didn’t really see the American posters until we got to 'Nightmare 3'. There was absolutely no influence. They are beautiful illustrations but strangely seem a little ‘science fiction’ looking.
Humphreys & Peak, two masterly visions
Now, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’, for which you did two illustrations. Let’s start with the verticle one, which we LOVE. In fact, this was the ‘official cover’ of the video version of the movie here, in Spain. So that, many of us found this one fascinating, when we saw it on the video club shelf. Freddy looks very ancient and his face is pure evil… And we also have this bus, and the cactus. Truly, we love that poster. How was the designing process of this one?
This one is my favourite as well. The idea came directly as a result of watching a screening of the film. I never doubted that this would be the right image -fortunately neither did Palace. The only aspect I’m unsure about is the blades emitting from the fingers rather than the iconic glove, however, this was a decision I made because it was relevant to the film. I’m glad you like the setting - I wanted it to look surreal, Dali was very much in my mind! I had a colleague pose for the body and hands, I taped knives and forks to his fingers to give them some weight for the most convincing movement. The daylight setting was a bold move to remove Freddy from his traditional night environment - again a surreal effect.
The brilliant poster for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2'
There’s also a quad poster of ‘Nightmare 2’. Which one you did first? And which do you prefer?
The quad, once again, was a secondry necessity. I insisted this was going to be a verticle poster, because I had already understood the importance of the video format and felt that this should be the primary concern. I’m unhappy with the quad and feel I didn’t do a good job. It shouldn’t have existed!
The 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2' UK quad
Let’s continue with ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3’. Another style here, with a photograph image. Considering the excellent job you did with the first two movies, why the studio decided not to have an illustration? What was exactly your work with this poster? Did you design the ‘Nightmare’ font?
I’m not sure why we decided to use a photograph - I’m guessing it was down to timing and budget and perhaps it was thought that it would be more appropriate with a shift in the film’s emphasis. The photograph worked quite well and perhaps there seemed to be no reason to create anything further. I had no problem with the choice really, I thought the best I could do was create some appropriate typography and an emblemic number ‘3’.
The stylish quad for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 3'
Now, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4’, with an illustration back this time, showing Freddy’s silhouette with the Crave Inn, and the rose window at the back, a really beautiful composition, but very different from your past works for the series. Why did the studio decide to use an illustration again? Did you have any directives from the studio to use these elements in particular from the movie?
Again, I’m not sure why this decision was made, but I recall a postcard with the greeting ‘Greetings from Hell’ or something similar in the film. I like the funny use of ‘Crave Inn’ as a play on ‘Craven’ and thought the diner would be an amusing reference to ‘American Graffiti’ - instead of celebrating American teen years, the shadow of death would mark their passing. So it was a mixture of a greetings postard (50’s style ‘Welcome to Hell’) and the death of 50’s teenage Americana. The stained glass church window gave it a hint of the Hammer Film’s Dracula series.
The beautiful composition with the 'Crave Inn'
You did also the James Bond-type poster, a really fresh and original approaching. It seems very appropriate for us, because Freddy was a mass-media star in the fourth movie. It was your idea to use this style?
Yes, it was my idea. A new James Bond film was in production and I thought it would be funny to do a ‘Bond is back’ poster. This was a ‘teaser’ before the main campaign went up. I remember presenting the idea to Palace by telling them I had the perfect idea, inserted a VHS into the office player, pressed ‘play’ and Bond appeared in the classic gun-barrel opener, where I had queued the tape. They loved it. United Artists did not! they threatened to sue unless all posters were removed from public view instantly. That was fine, they’d been up a week and had done the job!
The name's Krueger...
Finally, let’s talk about ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5’. Let’s start with the verticle poster, with the pregnant Freddy. Where was this poster used?
The pregnant Freddy was really a ‘teaser’ campaign. It was going to appear on the London Underground, but London Transport took offense so I think it only appeared in magazine ads. Rather than the ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ approach of the US campaign, we thought we’d get straight to the point. The combination of knives and unborn child was obviously going to be contentious, particularly when presented with a nursery rhyme. I wanted to make it look slightly Victorian.
The teaser poster for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 5'
And we also have an impressive quad, with Freddy knives tearing the surface, just like a sequence of the first movie. It also reminds us a bit of ‘The Howling’ poster. Why did you decide not to use in these quad specific elements of the fifth movie?
By the time 'Nightmare 5' was released, I think we felt that there was no point in trying to suggest there was anything more to say. By going back to the original idea of ‘creepy man with knives for fingers’ we thought it was sufficient to say ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ knowing that fans would see it anyway. It was an attempt at creating a brand icon rather than making a film poster. Think of it as a tin label!
The quad for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 5'
Sadly, in the sixth movie there wasn’t any illustration poster, what a pity. Did you receive at any point the offer of doing one for this movie?
By the time 'Nightmare 6' arrived, Palace had gone into receivership and no longer existed. I can’t remember who distributed the film here, possibly ‘Entertainment’, but evidently there wasn’t much interest in creating a dedicated UK campaign.
We don’t know if you are a fan of the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ series, but we have decided to ask this question to any person that we interview. You, the interviewee, will decide whether to answer or not the question: what would be your favorite order of the movies of the Elm Street saga, from the best to the worst? I’ll tell you mine, in confidence: 1 , 4 , 3 , 2 , 7 , Vs. , 5 , 6 , Remake.
1, 2, 4, 3, 5, 6, vs. (I didn’t see the remake, but by default it has to come last).
Finally, Graham, could you tell us in what are you working now?
A new artwork for the Arrow Video release of ‘Frankenhooker’ (though, after their stock was destroyed by fire during the recent London riot/looting spree, it may get delayed), finishing the Nucleus Films’ third ‘Grindhouse Trailers’ compilation DVD, a specially commissioned artwork for a collectors edition box, featuring a story by Christopher Fowler (in addition to covers for the forthcoming book publications of Christopher’s ‘Hell Train’ and ‘Red Gloves’), a book cover for a forthcoming Paul Davis book about 666 Horror Movies To Die For (to be published by FAB press next year) and right now I’m organising an exhibition of my work at a far-flung gallery on the Welsh border, though intending to bring it to London.
That’s all. Thank you very much for being the first to make an interview in our blog, we will be always in debt with you. We hope that your exhibition reach London, to see you there if possible, and, with luck, to get printings of some of your poster, really hard to find nowadays. Greeting from Spain, Graham!
A pleasure to do!
Thanks to Eddie from FilmOnPaper for his great interview and pics, used as a basis for ours.
Here is his interview: FilmOnPaper Interview with Graham