Coming into the Royal Ontario Museum’s It’s Alive exhibit, a showcase of classic horror and sci-fi art from the Kirk Hammett collection, one might expect to see a gamut of horror posters and props, but attendees are treated to so much more. For fans of all things strange, spooky, and odd, or those interested in the evolution of marketing in film, the exhibit displays posters from the 20th century that chronicle the history of the horror and sci-fi genres.
The posters mostly come from a time when the only way to advertise a film was print, so studios had to do everything they could to wow an audience with them. But this exhibit is about so much more than the eye-catching posters meant to put backsides into theater seats; it’s about the history of horror, the evolution and creation of some of the most famous monsters, of representation of women in horror, and the horror subgenres that inspired film as we see it now.
Per Arlene Gehmacher, who penned the intro displayed at the entrance wall:
This exhibition focuses on horror and sci-fi posters from Hollywood in the 1920’s to the 1970’s—the heyday of film poster production. Whether encountered along streets, in shops or within theater lobbies, these advertisements had to hook potential filmgoers at a glance, with the promise of an exhilarating, emotional experience.
Kirk Hammett, most known as Metallica’s lead guitarist, and an avid horror and sci-fi fan, has used his means to create one of the most thorough horror poster collections, and it made perfect sense for him to display it for Toronto, one of the best horror cities on Earth.
For those who want to view the evolution of the most famous monsters, It’s Alive showcases the earliest versions of familiar faces, including clips of Nosferatu, the first vampire movie, playing on a wall beside a series of Dracula posters. Upon entering the exhibit, you’ll be face to face with Frankenstein (or his monster), just a few feet back from a grounded red light that lets you take photos of yourself to match the bolt-necked face on the original poster. You can then browse from wall to wall, seeing nods to mad scientists and monsters, with sections on Dracula, zombies, Martians, and Godzilla and his famous friend, Mothra, along with some of their lesser-known cohorts.
Among the educational elements of this exhibit is a section labeled “She,” showcasing the representation of women in horror with posters from Wax Museum, Psycho, Repulsion, The Exorcist, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? In this section, you can review a quick lesson on female representation in male-dominated Hollywood, and be sure to check out Toronto’s own Andrea Subissati’s (executive editor of Rue Morgue magazine) piece on Barbarella and how its twist on hypersexualized female representation aided in expressing gendered power dynamics.
From Shaun of the Dead to What We Do in the Shadows, this exhibit pays mind to those who laid the groundwork for laughs paired with scares. In an area inviting you to “Laugh One Moment, Scream the Next,” fans can check out clips of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (or, his monster, if you insist) in a staged ’70s-style living room beneath a poster of this . Beside it, you can check out a collection of horror toys that pre-date our obsessions with Funko Pop! vinyls, Kidrobot collectibles, and prop replicas.
Of the interactive elements, the crowd certainly flocks to the area where one can stack transparent image cards to create their own posters. You can choose from a selection of backgrounds, bloody foreground pieces, lettering, and monsters to try your hand at making a poster and to better appreciate the work these artists did.
But don’t forget, this is the collection of Kirk Hammett, a guitarist and a genre fan. On display are some of his guitars, custom painted with inspirations from these posters that will make you wish you could grab one, fire out some “Stairway,” and flash some devil horns.
The It’s Alive exhibit at the ROM is a display of some of the most beautiful and iconic posters in horror and science fiction history. The exhibit does an excellent job of contextualizing these images to showcase the history of horror, poster design, and marketing through multiple lenses.
Like many of us horror fans, Hammett credits his creativity to what it can drag from within. “The fevered emotions that horror inspires—anxiety, fear, empathy—are a catalyst for his creative process.”
The It’s Alive exhibit runs in Toronto until January 5th, 2020. To learn more, visit:
Photos courtesy of Lindsay Traves: