Bay of the Living Dead: Metallica’s Kirk Hammett Shares His Love of Horror
Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a regular column about the horror genre.
Kirk Hammett is world famous for his incomparable work as guitarist for the heavy metal band Metallica. Heavy metal fans might notice, when attending Metallica concerts, the unusual artwork which graces Hammet’s instruments. One of his guitars features an image of horror icon Boris Karloff in his role as The Mummy (1932). Another of his guitars pays homage to the classic chiller Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Kirk Hammett is a proud “monster kid”, a baby boomer engaged in a life long love affair with classic horror films. He began reading monster magazines and collecting memorabilia as a kid right here in San Francisco. After acquiring the wealth which comes with being a rock star, Hammett was able to take his collection to a whole new level.
Hammet’s home is a museum to his youthful obsessions. He owns hundreds of pieces of memorabilia, including scores of original one sheet movie posters, some dating back to the 1920s and 30s. Not long ago he loaned many of his posters to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts, the perfect city in which to display his incomparable collection. Salem is a city steeped in horror history–in the 17th century Salem was where the infamous Salem Witch Trials took place.
That exhibition will live on forever in the new book It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection. This handsome hardcover tome features images most, if not all, of the posters seen in the exhibition.
Many of these posters are valuable collector’s items, pricey and out-of-reach to us mere mortals. As a story in The Guardian UK noted in 2012, many of the most expensive movie posters are classic chillers from the 1930s. A poster from the original Frankenstein (1931) sold for $198,000 in 1993. The original King Kong (1933) poster sold for $244,500 a few years later. And someone with a lot more money than you or I will ever see shelled out $310,700 for the poster to the original Dracula (1931) in 2009.
Obviously us broke-ass monster kids aren’t going to be buying up those posters any time soon. But thanks to Hammett’s ongoing generosity, we can delight in the artistic beauty of these and dozens of his other breathtaking movie posters, which film historian Daniel Finamore, in an essay written for the book, calls works of art.
And the images in these posters are indeed museum worthy. Finamore explains how they were designed to grab the attention movie goers and pull them into the theater–he pays homage to a number of the previously uncredited artists who played to people’s primal fears and created a mood of dread.
In a chapter titled Fearing: Why We Enjoy Horror Movies, writer Joseph Ledoux recalls learning about fear during his childhood in Louisiana. Ledoux explains the escapist appeal of cinematic horrors. And in My Mojo Has Thirteen Eyes: On the Horrific Beauty of the Unconscious Unchained writer Steve Almond explains how Kirk Hammett’s love for classic horror inspires his work with Metallica and vice versa.
Through it all there are hundreds of hypnotic images from Hammet’s personal collection. Posters from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, covers of monster magazines, vintage photos of long shuttered movie theaters with names like Dracula and King Kong adorning their marquees. There’s such a wealth of material its almost too much to take in all at once.
For monster kids, It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection is nothing less than mesmerizing. The book is now available at Amazon.
Also worth checking out: Michael Mallory’s Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror. Another handsome coffee table book, Universal recalls the history of the classic monster flicks produced by Hollywood’s oldest continuously operating movie studio. Beginning with the 1931 Dracula all the way to Creature From the Black Lagoon some twenty-five years later, Universal was the premiere studio for the finest and most influential tales of terror. Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, they were all brought to life on the Universal backlot.
Mallory’s research is quite meticulous. The opening chapter chronicles the journey which led Carl Laemlle, an Eastern European Jew, to found the studio in 1913. Subsequent chapters break the studio’s history down monster-by-monster, era-by-era. Key players from the studios roster of horror stars such as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are highlighted in shorter chapters under the heading Spotlight.
Most importantly, Mallory also accords the Spotlight treatment to lesser known personnel such as Una O’Connor, the gifted character actress who brought her darkly comic gifts to two Universal chillers, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Invisible Man (1933). Also spotlighted is John P. Fulton, the oft-forgotten technical genius who created the unforgettable special effects for The Invisible Man, among many other films.
Written with a clear love for the subject, Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror is an invaluable resource for monster kids everywhere. The book is now available at Amazon.
New on Blu Ray from Scream Factory:
Island of Terror (1966)
The great horror star Peter Cushing and auteur Terence Fisher were slumming when they made this low budget sci-fi opus. The pair were best known for their many collaborations at Hammer Films, including classics like Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula. Though lacking the suave elegance of their Hammer chillers, Island of Terror isn’t half bad.
Set on a foggy, desolate island, the film is about a cancer research experiment gone horribly wrong. In their quest to cure the dreaded disease, a group of bumbling scientists accidentally create giant amoebas, called silicates, who promptly begin feeding on the local populace. Even worse: the silicates split apart and double every few hours–there will be a million of them on the island within a week if they’re not stopped. Can Cushing and company stop them?
The silicates are laughable creatures, obviously made of plastic and moving about on wheels. And yet–Island of Terror manages to drum up a good amount of suspense. The island setting is chock full of atmosphere, the townspeople effectively convey that sense of terror called for by the film’s title, and Cushing is, well, Cushing. One of the finest actors in the annals of British horror cinema, he always gave every project his all–he never “phoned it in”. The star treats Island of Terror as though it were Masterpiece Theater, thereby giving a second tier film a genuine touch of class.