Love is overrated. If you’re looking for a feeling that really gets the juices flowing, truly proves to yourself that you’re a human and not some binary blip in the matrix, the feeling you’re looking for is fear.
Fear is what drives us all; fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of clowns — it makes you feel alive. It’s why scary movies are so important. No offense to Michael Bay but some offense to Michael Bay, action is easy. Anybody with some accelerant and a few props to blow up can make an action movie but making the quintessential horror flick is one of the hardest jobs in entertainment, and it’s why Universal Studios is as massive today as they are.
As the silent film era was winding down and the industry was evolving, Universal dominated with their iconic monster movies. Beginning in 1931 with Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal set the tone in Hollywood with blockbuster after blockbuster, reintroducing moviegoers in America and beyond to characters they had only read about before. Not only did these films usher in a new era of fear but they created a business model that is still prevalent today: sequel, sequel, sequel, reboot. Throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Universal kept adding layers and layers to the Dracula and Frankenstein stories as they also introduced instant classics like The Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
These films have stood the test of time, still counted among the frightful favorites of many. While the horror genre evolved past the monster movie and developed subgenres like psychological thrillers and slasher films, there will always be a special place in our hearts for monsters that we can’t decide whether to root for or against.
Now, as we creep up on a century of screams, Universal is celebrating these monumental monsters and even bringing some of them back for — you guessed it — reboots. And we can’t wait. New editions of Wolfman and Dracula and Creature are on the way, but not before Universal honored the creepy classics.
If you’ve taken the Backlot Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood recently, you’ve seen the massive art installation that was introduced to commemorate five of the most legendary monsters. The incredible mural was created by none other than world renowned artist Tristan Eaton, known for his street art, designer toys, and striking creative work in the advertising world. Much of Eaton’s work over the course of his career has focused on monsters in one form or another, so there was nobody better to bring these characters back to life after half a century in the archives.
When Tristan and The Hundreds team went to Universal Studios for a preview of the mural and their annual Halloween Horror Nights extravaganza, it was amazing to see his eyes light up like a little kid getting ready to trick-or-treat. It really reinforced how special the feeling of fear is, and how it can unite us.
We caught up with Tristan again while he was in the Big Apple for his Strange Future exhibition to find out what went into creating the Monsters Mural and what these characters mean to him, then and now.
DUKE LONDON: How’s New York?
TRISTAN EATON: Well, we just opened my exhibition on Allen St. which is called Strange Future. It’s open from October 3rd to the 9th. It was an exhibition of all new paintings, prints, 3D art installations, and some sculptures. It was awesome! It was my first show in New York in almost ten years.
You lived there for a long time, right?
I lived here from when I was 20-years-old to 35.
What attracted you to working with Universal on this Monsters project?
First of all, getting an email from someone who’s the director of the Dark Universe kind of catches your attention. [Laughs] Outside of that, I grew up as a fan of horror movies. I used to read Fangoria Magazine and comic books, I was huge into sci-fi. I already have a deep love for monsters and horror and being able to apply my style to these already famous characters was an opportunity that I could not pass up. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
How does it feel to bring these characters back to life with your art?
It’s an easy transition. I loved painting them so much and it feels like the characters are always relevant. It made sense for the movie studio to have a younger artist take a new approach at them to bring them to a new audience in a new way. All of that made a lot of sense but to me, it was a really fun challenge and a sacred opportunity to get to explore the Universal archives and go through all of their artwork, posters, and photography from all of the films in order to create my collage design. It was really an amazing experience.
Did you watch any of the Universal Monsters movies growing up?
Of course! I remember as a kid in Los Angeles, Elvira would host horror movie nights on TV and 7-Eleven would do special promotions where you would get the 3D glasses, then go home and watch horror movies. It was so cool. My mother was an actress so I grew up backstage or in a green room when my mom was in movies, TV shows, or in plays. Movie magic was never very serious to me, it was something that was embraced by my family and my parents love how it sparked my imagination. Since I was five-years-old, I’ve never stopped drawing. Anything that got me creative and excited, my parents were super supportive of it no matter how gory or horrific it might be.
Why do people love to be scared?
I think that getting scared gives an endorphin rush. And with these Monsters, there’s something a little deeper happening than just the scare. A lot of these Monsters have things in common with the people watching the movie. Most of the time, the Monsters are misunderstood and want to be loved and they try to find acceptance even though they’re outcasts. They’re vilified in society and a lot of people can relate, especially teenagers growing up. It’s hard not to identify with the Monsters.
Do you have an all-time favorite scary movie or monster?
[Laughs] Well, The Evil Dead films are my favorite ever. I love The Evil Dead but I think Creature from The Black Lagoon is my favorite Monster of all time.
With a mural as big as the Monsters one, where do you even begin on a project like that? How did you start?
With a property like these Monsters, there are some legal hurdles to jump through. You can’t just put whatever imagery into the collage you want. The first goal was to identify what imagery was off-limits and what was fair game. We got really rare access to go through the film archives and go through the original posters, photography, type design. It helped to establish my puzzle pieces and make sure they’re all cleared through legal. Once I had a green light, it was just a matter of putting them together in a way that’s harmonious and true to my style but also does justice to the original source material.
How many cans of spray paint did this mural take to complete?
I think that wall took about 1,000 cans.
How long from start to finish?
Well, it was supposed to only take two weeks but we got rained out and halfway through the job, I found out that they were going to make it a permanent part of the Backlot Tour. That wasn’t in the original plan so that was a tremendous honor. Once they told me that, I was like, “okay I better really step it up and add even more detail and make these the best murals I’ve ever done in my life.” Overall, it took about five weeks.
As someone who grew up in LA with family in the Hollywood film industry, what does it mean to have your art featured prominently on the Universal Backlot Tour?
It gives a greater meaning to me I think. I was born on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood and grew up in Los Feliz and there’s something about having a mural that’s permanently protected. In general, that’s really nice but to have it be permanently placed on the backlot of Universal Studios is a really rare thing for any artist. I realize how lucky I am to have that. You kind of have to make sure that you rise to the occasion so that I’m giving them something that’s worthy of the generosity they’re giving me. It made me work harder and put everything I had into it.
What are you working on next?
Hard to say. I’ve been busting my butt to finish off this New York exhibition. After that closes, I’m probably going to work on relaxing for a couple of weeks.
What was the experience like that first time going through the mazes at Halloween Horror Nights and seeing the mural with other park attendees?
Oh my God, that night was great. The murals are amazing because you get to see them in the back lot but there’s such a demand for that imagery in people’s lives in one way or another. I had to talk to Bobby and I had to find a way to make the artwork accessible to the fans. That’s exactly what The Hundreds did. It was amazing to put the murals on t-shirts, skateboards, and everything else. The response was so overwhelming with the murals. That night we went to Halloween Horror Nights was really fun. Bobby and I got to hang out, be silly on the red carpet, go through mazes and get scared. It was really ridiculous and over the top and I don’t think either of us has done anything like that when it comes to making t-shirts. It was a wild circus of events around one collaboration.
That fact that you guys walked the red carpet right before Rob Zombie was pretty incredible.
That was pretty cool! And they asked me what monster I would be and I told them I’m Frankenstein in the streets, Dracula in the sheets. [Laughs]