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Definitive Book of Horror Movie Posters from 1920s to 1950s: “What Music They Make”

Horror movie poster collector James A. Gresham followed the classic road to success. He found a need and filled it — twice. A decade apart, he authored two anthologies of iconic horror movie posters from the 1920s to 1950s that appeal both to movie enthusiasts and poster collectors.

Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Werewolf and Wolf Man — all the famous icons of horror are pictured at their scariest moments in Gresham’s books: Children of the Night, A Comprehensive Guide to Horror Posters, self-published in 2007, and now, What Music They Make, A Comprehensive Guide to Horror Posters, Volume II, self-published in 2018.

“As a poster collector, I noticed there was no single source to view the various horror movie posters and lobby cards that were printed from the 1920s to 1950s,” said Gresham. “With this realization, I saw a need. There needed to be one book to show all of the horror posters in a complete and organized manner.”


So Gresham, a Michigan native, reached out to other poster collectors in the hobby and gathered enough images to fill not one but two hardcover books with the most recognizable monsters in cinema history.

“Between the two books, we now have virtually every known, great horror movie poster image — the most comprehensive collection of these images ever assembled,” said Gresham. “What Music They Make completes the process. It expanded the range of the first book and filled in missing images.”


What Music They Make

What Music They Make has 320 pages of classic horror movie posters and complete lobby card sets from the golden age of Universal Pictures horror movies. It takes its name from the 1931 Universal Pictures movie Dracula.

“Listen to them. The children of the night. What music they make!” says Count Dracula in the movie, referring to the howling of wolves.

What Music They Make is more than a picture book. Gresham gives historical and production background, a summary, and his evaluation of the movies and posters in the book. Its 14 chapters are organized by monsters and by the actors who made them famous: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Abbott and Costello, and Bob Hope.

Prior to television, theaters promoted movies by posting movie posters and lobby cards in their windows and around town. The lobby cards were smaller sets of eight — a title card and seven scenes from the movie.

Collecting these original and rare movie images is a hobby that sometimes generates auction bidding wars. In 2017, a rare poster — one of only two known to exist — from the 1931 movie Dracula, sold at auction to a West Coast buyer for $525,800, which is believed to be the highest amount ever paid for any single movie poster. This year, a 1939 Son of Frankenstein poster sold privately for $75,000.



Because of expense, Gresham did a limited printing of his first book, Children of the Night, thinking its appeal would be limited to poster collectors. However, it had a broader reach, appealing to horror movie enthusiasts as well as creating a stir in the hobby. So he did larger second and third printings, which also sold out.

“From the time the first book was printed, people around the world sent me images that were unknown to many collectors. During the 2007-2017 time period, many additional posters surfaced. So I realized the need for a supplement to the original book,” said Gresham, who watched Shock Theater on TV on Fridays as a kid in the 60s and built plastic monsters from kits.

Producing both anthologies was a labor-intensive, family effort taking untold hours. Gresham’s daughter Joelle Joy Gresham, a graphic design artist and fine art photographer, meticulously restored and prepared the images, did the layout of the books and designed the covers. His sister, Diane Andrews, edited the books and wrote this story for Silicon Valley Voice.

What Music They Make, A Comprehensive Guide to Horror Posters, Volume II, archiving 1,500 poster images, is a definitive book for horror movie enthusiasts and poster collectors. It is a labor of love for Gresham, who has been collecting horror posters for 35 years.

“I wrote these books to preserve our hobby images,” said Gresham. “They are my tribute and legacy to the horror movie poster collectors of the world.”

“[What Music They Make] is wonderful….It’s the only way I’ll ever be able to see the posters and lobby cards from my favourite films as the originals are way beyond my means…. The walls in your house are like a tour of the Louvre for genre fans,” wrote Richard Collinge from the United Kingdom in an email to Gresham, after ordering the book. “It’s a great way to have [the posters] all together. The book is amazing.”

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