Our next stop on Maniacs and Monsters’ tour of horror hot spots in the Great White North takes us to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto. With its exhibits of Rembrandt paintings and historical artifacts, the ROM is not normally known as a hangout for horror fans but it has become the temporary home for an exhibition of artwork and props celebrating classic horror and sci-fi called It’s Alive!
The impressive collection was assembled by Metallica guitarist and noted horror aficionado, Kirk Hammett. The over 100 pieces in the collection include rare graphic art, props, collectibles, and clothing spanning from the earliest days of movie horror and sci-fi to modern classics.
Hammett, who has been a horror and sci-fi fan since childhood, has been a collector for most of his adult life. According to the exhibition’s profile, he credits his fascination with horror as an inspiration for his musical creativity and the emotions that horror inspires such as anxiety, fear, and empathy as a catalyst for the creative process.
When you first enter the exhibition, it’s hard to get a sense of how large it is. A maze of grey walls are adorned with some of the most colourful, vibrant graphic artwork in the history of the genre ranging from early Nosferatu and Dracula posters to a complete set of stunning lobby cards promoting Karloff’s The Mummy.
Many of the pieces in Hammett’s collection are extremely rare. One of the most striking items is an original, large size poster from 1931 promoting Frankenstein. The exhibit noted that this is the only known remaining poster with this design and it was discovered in the boarded over projection booth of a movie theatre that was being remodelled. It’s rare finds like this that make It’s Alive! such an interesting attraction for horror buffs.
In addition to horror, there is also much to see for sci-fans. Notable items include an original Invaders from Mars poster and some beautiful artwork from Invasion of the Saucer Men which goes to prove that sometimes promotional artwork can outshine the film it was was designed to promote.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Hammett talked about what appeals to him most about the posters in his collection. “The artwork and the interpretation of the movie,” he explained. “I especially love movie posters when they’re illustrated and they’re not just like photo montages from the film.” This perspective becomes very apparent when experiencing the It’s Alive! exhibition.
Not limited to just posters, the collection includes some very unique props, including a 7 foot tall suit used in Invaders from Mars and a “Zapatron”, that was used to reanimate the dead in Frankenstein.
There are several themed areas in the exhibition including one honouring women’s contributions to the genre including artwork from movies such as Dracula’s Daughter, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and the “classic” Barbarella starring Jane Fonda.
The movies included in It’s Alive! range from classic to campy. Aside from admiring the true art of the exhibits, visitors can also learn about the history and significance of each item, often in humorous style.
One of my favourite pieces was a poster for the not so classic film, The Disembodied. The accompanying description reads, “The female lead in this B-film ranges in character from innocent, to calm seductress, to enraged wildcat. Her hairdo throughout is controlled and shoulder-length. For the poster, she is drawn in a leopard-print sarong, her hair wild like flames, raised arms holding a dagger and voodoo figurine. It is a sensational approach, playing to an audience’s desire for something stereotypically exotic.” This lighthearted commentary points out the artistic chasm that commonly exists between a film’s advertisement and the reality of the film itself.
There are many other gems for fans of horror and sci-fi to enjoy at It’s Alive! Other exhibits worth noting include Hammett’s custom collection of horror themed guitars and a costume worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1932 film White Zombie.
Whether you’re a fan of classic horror or the more modern variety, you’ll find plenty to capture your interest at It’s Alive! with artwork from movies ranging from The Raven and King Kong to The Exorcist and Alien on display. Each time I thought I’d reached the end of the exhibition, I’d turn another dark corner with more horror history to take in. If you find yourself in Toronto, making a stop at the ROM for this limited time exhibition is highly recommend.
It’s Alive! runs at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum until January 5th, 2020. For more information visit: https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/exhibitions/its-alive-classic-horror-and-sci-fi-art-from-the-kirk-hammett-0
Look for the next stop on the Maniacs and Monster’s Horror events tour, Toronto After Dark Film Festival, coming soon!