Cinepix’s Unseen Poster Collection Going On Display

Dave Alexander’s “If They Came From Within” art show isn’t the only movie poster exhibit happening right now at Fantasia–when you finish checking out fictional Canadian horror films at Cinematheque Quebecoise, head over to BBAM! Gallery for a glimpse at the real deal, on display now through August 20. BBAM! curator Ralph Alfonso, in partnership with Greg Dunning, Cinepix founder John Dunning’s son, have put together a unique look at some of the movie memorabilia treasures in Dunning’s vast archives. Featuring rare posters including B-movie gems from around the globe, Cinepix’s own cult classics and even commissioned artwork  for films that Dunning never managed to make, it’s a wonderful chance to take a look at some of our genre film roots and support a great cause. 

In anticipation of the exhibition’s opening party at 4pm on July 27 at BBAM!, We talked to Ralph Alfonso and Greg Dunning about what to expect.

How did this exhibit come together?

RA: The exhibit came about because we have the late John Dunning’s vinyl LP collection for sale on consignment on behalf of his estate. Greg and I were going over those details and started talking, and I asked about posters and memorabilia. Greg said that although a lot of material had gone to the Cinematheque Quebecoise and other archives, there was still a lot of personal stuff from his dad’s collection. John kept copies of everything so it’s astounding just how much material there is and how extensive Cinepix was in its distribution.

We agreed having a cool exhibition would be a great fit for us since we’re a rock ‘n’ roll pop culture gallery. When I contacted Kier-la Janisse to talk about getting her involved, I mentioned that there were also some posters available for movies that Cinepix never made. She then turned me on to the Fantasia Festival and “If They Came From Within.” After some back and forth and meeting Dave Alexander in Toronto at NXNE  it all came together. It’s amazing how it all worked out. I owe it all to Kier-la for connecting us — it was really fortuitous timing!


Do you have any insight as to why John Dunning kept this wealth of movie memorabilia over the years?

GD: My dad was a packrat, but there’s another, more interesting reason. John’s father (Samuel John, but known as “Micky” in the biz) was owner/operator of the Park, 5th Avenue, and Century theatres in Verdun. S.J. died unexpectedly in 1944 and my dad, at 17, had to take over the running of the three theatres–this was his “official” baptism by fire in the business, starting in exhibition. In the early ’50s when TV came, grosses at the theatres dropped cataclysmically, and ultimately my dad repurposed the buildings or sold them.

S.J. kept all the original posters that came from MGM (directly from Louis B. Mayer himself, since he had Norma Shearer on contract and the actress lived across the street from S.J. on Roslyn, in Westmount) and the other studios that would provide him with product. These were not cheap reproductions since the technology didn’t at the time for mass printing. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of silent film posters (Chaplin, DW Griffiths, Fritz Lang, etc.), posters from the first talkies, and more. Well, when the theatres were being closed and the basements had to be cleaned out, John’s mother just threw everything out and had everything burned. Today, what was in that basement would be worth millions today. My dad never forgot that incident and he still could barely talk about even last year without getting emotional. So from that day on, he kept everything–and I mean everything. My new job is inventorying, cataloging, and finding a new home for his archive.

What’s the your favourite poster for a Canadian film that you’ll be displaying?

RA: Absolutely EAST END HUSTLE — it’s the quintessential 1970s exploitation poster. It’s pretty much perfect in every way: tag line, fonts, design, photo (yay! Montreal streets and skyline). It was in a special container that John Dunning had marked as “historical”.

What did you give to the “If They Came From Within” show?

RA: Again, this was hooked up and facilitated via Kier-la. We contributed seven posters to the show, the centrepiece of which is an amazing original painting by the same artist who did all the ILSA posters (Alain Thomas, although at the time I submitted the poster, I thought it was either Basil Gogos or John Duilio). The painting was originally commissioned for a movie called THE JECKYLL LIGHT (never made) and showed a ship run aground and a bikini clad woman and ship’s crew being attacked by baboon men! The painting was then revised to change the baboons into zombies for a new project called FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (also never made). That painting was framed and hung in John Dunning’s office alongside all the ILSA paintings.

The other posters for unmade Cinepix films we found in a promo book that was sent to studios and investors in hopes of raising money and partnerships to finance a series of horror/SF features: VORTEX, ALIEN ASSAULT, ERUPTION, and my personal favourite… VAMPIRE BIKERS.

These were mini glossy posters with a plot outline and “film stills” on the other side. The original files can’t be found so we scanned these professionally and blew them up to mini-poster size. Final scripts exist for all of these porjects and I believe Greg is still pursuing trying to get these made or maybe create graphic novels. We will have mini-posters for sale at BBAM! Gallery of all of these unmade films.

I understand the posters on display are going to be available for sale, correct?

RA: Every single poster is for sale and in many instances we have multiple copies. There are some really amazing things: Russ Meyer’s MOTORPSYCHO, DEEP THROAT II, WRESTLING QUEEN, CANNIBAL GIRLS, EUGENIE DE SADE. A lot are European (German, Italian, French) and gigantic (63″ x 47″). This show is obviously geared for the Fantasia crowd but the archives are vast and there is lots we aren’t showing including a trove of press books (both domestic and foreign), and a ton of  humorous  ’70s  porno posters. Maybe in the spring or later in the fall we can do another show.

I understand that the money raised in the show will be used to establish a trust for filmmakers. Can you tell me a little more about that?

GD: When you talk to anyone that worked with my father they will tell you that he was nice, honest, generous, and inspirational. He was twice that as a father. He believed that if you are not forgotten then your life was not wasted. I met recently with Fantasia president Pierre Corbeil and mentioned this objective. We both agreed that the best way to create a legacy for John would be to sponsor a meaningful annual cash award at Fantasia. I think that if Fantasia had existed during the Cinepix production years that it would have been the natural venue for Cinepix premieres. Secondly, Cinepix was a Montreal institution, like Fantasia has become, so it is the right place for his legacy to reside.



  1. Robert says:

    Fantastic – though now I’m totally bummed that THE JECKYLL LIGHT and VAMPIRE BIKERS never came to be. The poster design for THE JECKYLL LIGHT is so gorgeously garish that it would be perfectly at home adorning a pulp magazine cover or trash novel. Even if the movie could not live up to the expectations of what was illustrated – people would remember that poster.

    • Canuxploitation! says:

      THE JECKYLL LIGHT poster is fantastic, I agree–I also saw the FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD painting which is great too. Hopefully I can post some more of these after I get back from Fantasia.

  2. Those Baboon Men are awesome!! The painting itself (at the If They Came From within show) is spectacular.