A New Horror-Themed Tarot Deck Draws on a Century’s Worth of Scary Movies, Comics & Magazines

Hal­loween looms.

Have we got a tarot deck for you!

Todd Alcott, the mad sci­en­tist respon­si­ble for Open Culture’s favorite mid­cen­tu­ry graph­ic mashups, infus­es his Hor­ror Tarot with a century’s worth of hair-rais­ing, spine-tin­gling imagery.

The artist admires the genre’s capac­i­ty for con­vey­ing sub­ver­sive mes­sages, explain­ing that “hor­ror is where we think about the unthink­able and rev­el in the things that are bad for us:”

Dra­ma can exalt the finest in human­i­ty, but hor­ror shows us who we real­ly are. From The Golem to Franken­stein to The Shin­ing to The Silence of the Lambs, hor­ror uses metaphor to explore the dark­est and most unfor­giv­able aspects of human nature.

As he did with his Pulp Tarot deck, Alcott put in hun­dreds of research hours, study­ing movie posters, pulp mag­a­zines, fan mags, paper­back books, and clas­sic comics to get a feel for peri­od design trends and exe­cu­tion:

I love see­ing the dif­fer­ent devel­op­ments in print­ing, from etch­ing to lith­o­g­ra­phy to silkscreens to off­set print­ing. All those dif­fer­ent meth­ods of cre­at­ing images, all ridicu­lous­ly com­pli­cat­ed back then, are now tak­en care of eas­i­ly with a few mouse clicks. In my own per­verse way, I want to bring those days back. I want to see the flaws in the process, I want to see the lim­i­ta­tions of repro­duc­tion, and, most of all, I want to be able to feel the paper the images are print­ed on.

The cards of the Major Arcana are inspired by film posters span­ning the silent era to the present day. Each card has close ties to Hor­ror Tarot Stu­dios, a fic­tion­al pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny that pur­ports to have been in busi­ness since the dawn of the motion pic­ture.

The Jus­tice card ref­er­ences mar­ket­ing tac­tics for grit­ty 70s dri­ve-in sta­ples like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. The deck’s instruc­tion book­let con­tains a few anec­dotes about the pro­duc­tion of these movies, a help­ful bit of con­text for those who might have missed (or skipped) that fer­tile era of women’s revenge pic­tures:

I want­ed the Hor­ror Tarot Jus­tice to be some­one the read­er can root for, even if they’re hor­ri­fied by what Jus­tice promis­es: not death, but “what you deserve.”

Famous Mon­sters of Film­land, a prime pre-inter­net resource for hor­ror fans, was Alcott’s jump­ing off place for the Minor Arcana’s Suit of Wands.

You may have no knowl­edge of that sem­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion, but you’d prob­a­bly rec­og­nize some of the cov­er art­work by painter Basil Gogos, fea­tur­ing such MVPs as Frankenstein’s mon­ster, the Crea­ture from the Black Lagoon, the Phan­tom of the Opera and Drac­u­laAlcott says that many of Gogos’ icon­ic mon­ster por­traits are more deeply ingrained in the pub­lic mem­o­ry than the art the stu­dios chose to pro­mote their movies:

…for the Suit of Wands I want­ed to cre­ate a series of por­traits done in his style, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters he nev­er got around to paint­ing. The Four of Wands is a card about home­com­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and I had the idea to paint Fred­er­ick March’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as two sep­a­rate men, meet­ing for the first time in a back alley in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don. 

A home­com­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly require a phys­i­cal return to a phys­i­cal home — it can be com­plete­ly inter­nal. I want­ed to show Dr. Jekyll com­ing to terms with his inner strug­gle.

The Suit of Swords recre­ates the look of anoth­er indeli­ble hor­ror trope — the EC comics of the 1950s:

These comics were so lurid and per­verse that they actu­al­ly sparked a con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion, which end­ed up putting them out of busi­ness. Again, before the inter­net, this is what hor­ror fans had avail­able to them, and comics pub­lish­ers had to keep push­ing the lim­its of what was accept­able in order to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. 

For the Five of Swords, I par­o­died and gen­der-swapped the infa­mous cov­er of Crime Sus­pen­Sto­ries #22. The Five of Swords is a card about being a bad win­ner, about gloat­ing at your oppo­nen­t’s defeat, about overkill. I fig­ured that a house­wife mur­der­ing her hus­band and then behead­ing him with a sword count­ed as overkill.

Todd Alcott’s Hor­ror Tarot is avail­able here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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