Continuing Blood and Porridge’s celebration of Halloween – yesterday I listed my favourite collections of short horror stories – this post is about ten of the creepiest pictures I’ve come across in the past year. (I constantly scour the Internet for interesting paintings and illustrations and have a folder on my computer with nearly 2000 images in it, starting with work by Abanindranath Tagore, Adolf Hoffmeister and Afewerk Tekle and ending with work by Yayoi Kusama, Yoshihisa Sadamatsu and Yoshu Chikanobu.)
First, a tribute. September 2017 saw the death of Greek-Egyptian, later American artist Basil Gogos, who was best known for providing covers for the juvenile horror-movie magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He invariably depicted classic movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon and / or classic horror-movie actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price in impressively lurid and vivid colours. Gratifyingly, years later, the elderly Gogos got more work painting album covers for disreputable rock stars like Rob Zombie and the Misfits, who’d read Famous Monsters and loved his work when they were kids. Here’s a Gogos portrait of the silent film star Lon Chaney – ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ – playing a vampire in the lost 1927 horror film London After Midnight. (Knowing Chaney’s penchant for contorting, warping and punishing his body in order to play extreme roles, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d filed his own teeth to points to create those piranha-like fangs.)
© Famous Monsters of Filmland / Warren Publishing
Another talent we said goodbye to this year was comic-book artist and illustrator Bernie Wrightson, who passed away in March. Although Wrightson provided breath-taking illustrations for editions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and stories by Edgar Allan Poe, I thought I’d represent him with this item, which is definitely more in keeping with the horror comic-strips (like Swamp Thing) with which he originally made his name. It also embodies a certain type of hospitality that’s commonly extended to visitors in the American south – and particularly in Texas. In horror films, anyway.
Talking of Edgar Allan Poe, I often include in these Halloween posts something by Poe’s most famous illustrator, the Irishman Harry Clarke. However, this year, I thought I’d provide a Poe illustration by the German-American illustrator and wood-engraver Fritz Eichenberg instead. This shows the monstrous ape from Murders in the Rue Morgue. Its use of lines, whilst softer and more flowing, and less stark and angular than in Clarke’s work, is equally memorable.
© Random House
And here’s another fearsome beastie, courtesy of Oregon painter Adam Burke. The image of a wolf – or is it a werewolf? – stalking towards a human victim is an archetypal one in horror stories and, indeed, in fairy tales. But what I like about this picture is the macabre touch that Burke adds to the would-be victim’s features, suggesting that the wolf is in for a shock.
© Adam Burke
A lupine theme features prominently in the work of Polish artist Jakub Rozalski, many of whose paintings take place in an extraordinary parallel universe where Eastern European peasants trudge about their fields, forests and hillsides while a truly strange occupying regime watches over them: a regime consisting of legions of Prussian-like soldiers, and huge clanking steampunk robot-tanks and robot-tractors, and… packs of werewolves. This is the most werewolfish picture I could find in Rozalski’s portfolio and it even has a hint – a saucy hint, it must be said – of Little Red Riding Hood.
© Jakub Rozalski
From the werewolf to another archetypal figure of Halloween, the witch. In the past year I’ve discovered the enchanting work of the Ukrainian, now Israel-based children’s illustrator Sveta Dorosheva. This decorative picture of a witch is at the macabre end of her range. It has a sly, humorous sense of the grotesque that Roald Dahl, author of the best children’s witch story ever, would have approved of.
© Sveta Dorosheva
Another female artist I’ve come across lately is Laurie Lipton. Though she’s a New Yorker, her haunting black-and-white pictures featuring skulls and skeletons seem to evoke Mexico and the great Latin rival to Halloween, Day of the Dead. Here’s an example of her work depicting a ladies’ tea party that’s mannered but mouldering, refined but rotting, decorous but decomposed.
© Laurie Lipton
A skeleton plays a big part in 1972’s The Creeping Flesh, one of the last great gothic movies produced during Britain’s horror-movie boom of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It begins with the inmate of an asylum painting a disturbing picture in his cell. The man, played by Peter Cushing, was once a palaeontologist who dug up a monstrous humanoid skeleton during an expedition. Back in his laboratory, and after one of its finger-bones got wet, the skeleton showed the alarming characteristic of being able to regrow its flesh when exposed to water. And predictably, Cushing’s unscrupulous scientific rival, played by Christopher Lee – who else? – soon broke into his lab, stole the whole skeleton and whisked it out into the night while a thunderstorm was drenching the countryside in rain. Cushing’s painting depicts the hideous, reconstituted creature that later that same night came clumping back to his house and drove him insane. I’ve no idea who was really responsible for the painting we see in The Creeping Flesh, but I was pleased to discover this still of it a few weeks ago.
© Tigon Films
From film-art to book-art now. This cover for the recent Penguin Classics edition of the Ray Russell novel The Case Against Satan is just wonderful. It was created by collage artist Lola Dupre, who takes different-sized versions of the same image and painstakingly assembles pieces of them to create a hallucinogenically fragmented and mutant master-image. In fact, from what I’ve seen of her work, I think the Russell cover is her finest effort to date.
And lastly, it’s about time I included in these Halloween posts something by the late, great Edward Gorey – who in terms of morbid Gothic humour was second only to Charles Addams in the world of American drawing and illustrating. Looking at this sublime Gorey picture called Donald Imagined Things, I find myself imagining things too. I find myself imagining that little Donald in the picture was actually little Donald Trump, and the big scary snake-thing had swallowed him whole. That would have spared us all a lot of stress six decades later.