At this point, my fascination with the Universal Monsters has gone on longer than the actual active period of the Monsters* so I’ve read and absorbed just about all the available information about them. So walking into It’s Alive!, an exhibit of “classic horror and sci-fi movie posters from the Kirk Hammett collection” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, I fully expected this to be a simple repacking of the same information I’ve already seen a thousand times.
However, though I know all of these stories and I’ve seen most of these images (though there was a foreign Frankenstein poster I’d never seen), seeing them in a physical space at their original size was something I wasn’t prepared for. I’d seen these images on paper or in pixels; seeing them like this was like taking a walk through my mind and getting to see how all the dots connect.
The exhibit is arranged by theme, with attention paid to chronology, but it jumps the timeline where it will strengthen the connection. I wouldn’t have been able to draw a line between the 1921 Hamlet and 1931 Dracula myself, but by linking the design of the posters, this exhibit has made it so I’ll always think of one when I think of the other.
There are a couple of props—the outfit Boris Karloff wore in the Black Cat, Lugosi’s White Zombie suit, a Wolf Man test mask—but if there is one thing I think everyone should see, it would be the Basil Gogos originals on display. Those covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland are about as famous as pictures of the actual actors, so much so that it’s easy to forget they’re actual paintings, not some clever Photoshop filter. I found myself planted inches away from a Basil Gogos painting of Boris Karloff as Im-Ho-Tep, staring at the brush strokes and chunky swaths of paint for way longer than I’d like to admit. And once you get bored of that, there’s a couple Frank Frazetta originals to stare at too.
Kirk Hammett himself is represented by a display of his Monster themed guitars, along with a nice video package about what all this Monster memorabilia means to him. I wish the guitars were available to play, but I can understand why the museum doesn’t let random jackasses butcher the “Fade to Black” solo while other patrons are trying to study a Strickfaden machine in peace.
Even without the ability to shred I was having so much fun I didn’t even stop to “well, actually…” the guy who said he saw London After Midnight. Being so enthralled that I don’t start spouting off about classic horror is the highest recommendation I can give.
*For the record, I consider Dracula through Abbott and Costello Meet Frankensein (1931-1948) to be the active period, though that doesn’t mean outliers like Lon Chaney’s Phantom or the Creature from the Black Lagoon don’t count as Universal Monsters.