During the heyday of exploitation cinema, one individual was a bigger draw for audiences in the UK than anyone else. It wasn’t a star or a director, but an artist. Tom Chantrell’s work appeared on thousands of posters from the late 1940s until the early 1980s, his striking style and knack for capturing the most sensational aspects of low-budget sex and horror films – just within the bounds of decency – ensuring a regular audience for movies that did not have the advertising clout and star power of bigger productions. In back when even big budget films would often have different, localised posters for different territories, Chantrell’s work was used to sell films like Star Wars and other big budget studio releases.
Born in Manchester in 1916, Chantrell would begin his career on more respectable films, but exploitation cinema became his stock in trade – at his peak, he was producing something like three posters a week. He did posters for Carry On comedies and Hammer horrors – for the latter, he would not only produce commercial quad poster art for display outside cinemas, but also concept art used to sell films before they were made – sometimes based simply on a title, the screenplay eventually being written around the poster and the title. He also produced promo art for several Hammer titles that would eventually go unfilled, like Zeppelins vs Pterodactyls. As well as film posters, Chantrell would also design LP covers like the famous Geoff Love film themes collections, and books like Dennis Gifford’s legendary A Pictorial History of Horror Movies.
By the middle of the 1980s, times were changing. The sort of films that routinely used Chantrell artwork were no longer being released theatrically, and bigger budget releases would use the same poster art – usually uninspired photo-based imagery – across the world. While he would find some work in the home video market, times were changing and the demand for painted posters was rapidly diminishing. But before his death in 2001, Chantrell – long retired – would at least see a revival of interest in his work from a new generation who were bored with modern generic, bland and interchangeable film posters. Today, Chantrell’s style can still be seen reflected in the work of poster artists like Graham Humphreys and Tom Hodges, and his posters – once considered worthless – now sell for a pretty penny.
Below is just a small sampling of his work…