Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on October 4, 2012
Throughout Hammer studio’s long reign as Britain’s most infamous purveyor of horror films, Tom Chantrell became their unrecognized ambassador of goodwill. Chantrell was a talented artist who created some of world’s most memorable movie posters but his main body of work was done in association with the “studio that dripped blood.” Chantrell’s use of bright colors and bold type along with his use of dramatic framing and action oriented poses helped define the look of Hammer films. His true gift was his ability to breathe life into a movie before audiences had a chance to see it on screen. Frightening monsters and busty beauties became his forté and during the 1960s and 1970s Chantrell’s name was synonymous with nightmares.
Tom Chantrell was born in Manchester England on December 20, 1916. He was the ninth child, and the only son, of Emily and James Chantrell. His father was a music hall performer and his family undoubtedly encouraged his artistic ambitions. In school Chantrell found his teachers extremely supportive and he displayed a particular knack for designing publicity posters early on. At age 13 he surprised everyone after winning a national competition to design a poster for the League of Nations. By age 15 he was already enrolled in Manchester Art College but Chantrell quickly discovered that college life didn’t agree with him and at age 16 he decided to leave school and try to find employment. He was immediately hired by a local advertising agency and for the next 8 years he held a variety of jobs working in advertising, screen-printing and illustration. A highpoint in Chantrell’s career came in 1938 after he was hired by a company called Bateman Artists. Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox had recently asked Bateman Artists to create film posters for the British market and under their guidance Chantrell designed his first film poster for Anatole Litvak’s THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE (1938) starring Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart.
Chantrell’s career was briefly derailed by WW2 in 1940 and he spent the next few years as a member of the Royal Engineers until an officer noticed Chantrell’s artistic talents and asked him to start designing propaganda posters for the British war effort. After the war ended Chantrell returned to work at Bateman Artists where he was asked to design poster art for various films such as the brilliant British crime thriller BRIGHTON ROCK (1947). In 1950 Bateman Artists was bought by the Allardyce Palmer agency but the company continued to produce many movie posters for Warner Brothers and Associated British-Pathe until the workload became so great that they decided to form a separate “Entertainments Publicity Division” where Tom Chantrell was given the position of Art Director. Some of Chantrell’s most recognized posters from this period include his original designs for Robert D. Webb’s LOVE ME TENDER (1956) starring Elvis Presley and his design for Joshua Logan’s BUS STOP (1957) featuring a wide-eyed Marilyn Monroe wearing bright red lipstick and a matching red dress.
In 1965 Tom Chantrell’s creative life changed dramatically when Hammer decided to move all their advertising to Allardyce Palmer. For the next five-eight years Chantrell was in charge of creating almost all of Hammer’s film posters and pre-production artwork, effectively becoming their “House Artist.” During this dynamic period in the studio’s brief history Hammer used advertising to finance and influence a film before it went into production so Chantrell rarely if ever had the opportunity to see a film before he created a poster for it. As author Marcus Hearn explained in his essential book, The Art of Hammer, producers such as James Carreras and Brian Clemens, would meet with American distributors and strike lucrative distribution deals without a script but they always went into negotiations with a film title and some eye-catching poster artwork. Once the deal was made and financial backing secured, the film producers would hand scriptwriters the poster and insist they come up with a plot based around a title and some artwork. It sounds like a crazy way to make a movie and it was, but Hammer was able to produce a number of great low-budget horror films thanks to their creative ingenuity, a stable of talented actors and skilled artists like Tom Chantrell.
During Tom Chantrell’s time with Hammer he used multiple techniques to produce stunning poster art including illustration, painting and screen-printing combined with his bold use of typography. Although he occasionally had to rely on himself as well as family members to model for his designs, he was able to create many striking posters for Hammer and often made several designs for just one film. Some of his most recognizable work are his movie posters for SHE (1965), THE NANNY (1965), RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1966), THE REPTILE (1966), THE WITCHES (1966), DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966), QUATERMASS AND THE PITT (1967), DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), THE LOST CONTINENT (1968), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968), THE ANNIVERSARY (1968), MOON ZERO TWO (1969), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969), TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) and DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972). His most popular poster for Hammer is probably ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) featuring a fur bikini clad Raquel Welch. Hammer wanted Chantrell to make a poster highlighting the movie’s prehistoric monsters but Chantrell thought that the curvaceous actress would probably sell more tickets so he insisted on making her the focus of his design. With Chantrell’s help the movie ended up being one of the studio’s biggest hits and it propelled Raquel Welch into super stardom. In an interview with Tom Chantrell he claimed that the actress was so impressed with his artistic abilities that she wanted to hire him to design posters for all of her future films.
In 1972 Chantrell left the Allardyce Palmer agency and started working as an independent freelance artist. He continued to design many impressive posters including memorable designs for horror films such as CRUCIBLE OF TERROR (1971), HORROR EXPRESS (1972) and POSSESSION (1982) as well as THE DEVILS (1971) and STAR WARS (1977) until his forced retirement in the late‘80s. After creating some 7,000 movie posters (this is Chantrell’s own estimation but researchers think his actual output was probably closer to 800 original designs) Tom Chantrell had become something of a relic in the film business. Studios were no longer interested in hiring traditional artists to create painted posters and they began to look for cheaper options that suited their needs. Computer based graphic artists provided the film industry with a much quicker and inexpensive way to produce movie posters but in the years that have followed we’ve seen lots of cookie cutter designs that lack creativity and are easily forgettable. Today movie posters are considered somewhat of a lost art but there are plenty of signs that suggest there is still a large audience of film fans who appreciate a well-designed poster and would like to see more of them.
Both of these designs for MOON ZERO TWO were created by Tom Chantrell.
Top: Tom Chantrell’s poster design for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
Tom Chantrell died in 2001 at age 85. He was survived by his wife Shirley and their two daughters, Louise and Jacqueline. Today Chantrell is best remembered for the poster designs he created for Hammer that captured the imaginations of film audiences around the world. He was one of the studio’s most prolific commercial artists and his work is considered highly collectable.
TCM viewers can look forward to a batch of Hammer films being shown on October 17th as part of this month’s classic horror Wednesdays. Two of the films Tom Chantrell designed posters for, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, are scheduled to air and they make for some great Halloween inspired viewing.
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