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Drawing Blood: Graham Humphreys’ macabre posters find new life

October 29, 2015

ArtsBooksFilm + EntertainmentPainting | by Dominic Preston

 © Graham Humphreys
© Graham Humphreys

Graham Humphreys draws blood. Lots of it. With poster designs for horror classics The Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street, along with countless B-movie gore fests, he’s made his name for himself as an illustrator of viscera.

Surveying the current exhibition of his work at Proud Galleries in Camden, blood-drenched seems to be the descriptor of choice. Splashes of the stuff spin off tape reels in his classic quad poster for The Evil Dead, it drips from Christopher Lee’s fangs in a Hammer Horror compilation poster, and an un-used DVD design for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo is simply coated in the stuff.

It’s curious, then, that his most infamous illustration is entirely bloodless. The UK quad poster for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street eschews gore, even cloaking Freddy Krueger’s burnt face in shadow. Instead, the film’s quiet suburban setting and star Heather Langenkamp’s serene, sleeping face are contrasted with Krueger’s grasping, razored fingers. It’s a striking, iconic design, all the more impactful for its rare restraint.

Proud is currently exhibiting a small selection of Humphreys’ original paintings, but a more comprehensive collection is being released in the aptly titled book Drawing Blood. It’s a lavish, coffee table affair, available in a strictly limited run of 500 copies, each including a signed and numbered exclusive print.

Each of 120 images is presented alongside commentary from the artist, while The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi and critic Kim Newman offer their own thoughts on Humphreys’ striking output.

 © Graham Humphrey
© Graham Humphrey

His style is instantly evocative of the era of ‘80s horror, much in the same way that a single Drew Struzan poster recalls the action-adventure sensibilities of the Indiana Jones films of the same period. This isn’t just a retro project however – Humphreys is still working, sometimes on new designs for re-releases of old titles, but increasingly on fresh projects.

While designs for recent disappointments like Lesbian Vampire Killers are unlikely to instil confidence in a rebounding career, his poster for last year’s vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows is the perfect marriage of vicious gore and the film’s offbeat humour. Jemaine Clements’ illustrated leer alone will haunt you for days.

Drawing Blood is a luxurious celebration of an artform rarely given its dues by the film industry any more, returning some pieces of horror history to their proper status while highlighting the sheer depth of Humphreys’ body of work. Go ahead, get a bit of gore on your coffee table.

Words by Dominic Preston

You can order a copy of Drawing Blood directly from the gallery, or visit the exhibition:

Drawing Blood, Proud Camden, 29th October – 22nd November, www.proud.co.uk