I have read that most of the walls and tables in the home of Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett are covered and cluttered with horror-film ephemera. Posters, lobby cards and Mummy memorabilia. As well, he supposedly has a guitar and amplifier in every room. My first reaction? There’s no way this dude is married.
“Yes I am,” Hammett says, laughing over the phone. “As a collector, you like to surround yourself with the things you collect.”
Wives like to collect things too. Things like storage boxes and 1-800-GOT-JUNK? fridge magnets. “Yeah, I eventually got married, and the house was systematically cleansed of all horror-related stuff,” says the heavy-metal musician. “Now the family doesn’t have to stare at pictures of Igor while they’re eating their oatmeal.”
It should come as no great surprise that someone whose band’s catalogue includes such titles as Enter Sandman, Creeping Death and Harvester of Sorrow would be a scary-movie fiend. And if Hammett’s fascination no longer dominates his Hawaii home, there’s a place for his props, costumes and posters at the Royal Ontario Museum, where an exhibition (It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection) will be on display from July 13 to Jan. 5, 2020.
The exhibition is a peek into the obsession of a guitar god – or at least a minor deity – who can afford an assemblage of man-cave accoutrements that mere mortals can only dream of. When it comes to people who, like Hammett, combine a love for both Metallica music and horror films, his collection will definitely Bela their Lugosi.
“I never get tired of it,” says the 56-year-old musician, ranked 11th on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the greatest guitarists of all time. He began collecting in the late 1980s, but the hobby became hardcore when he acquired an original Bride of Frankenstein half-sheet.
In Guillermo del Toro’s masterful 2017 fantasy The Shape of Water, about a humanoid amphibian’s splashy affair with a mute cleaning lady, the splendid character actor Richard Jenkins plays an advertising illustrator struggling to find work. It’s 1962. Photos were replacing graphic art. Movie posters were affected by the same change of taste.
“It’s a process not used as much now,” says Hammett, whose preference for hand-illustrated graphics is not based on nostalgia. “It’s art within the art – an interpretation of a film or a specific scene. If I see two posters, and one is illustrated and the other is a photograph, I will go for the illustration 10 times out of 10."
That’s not hyperbole. When Hammett was asked by Rolling Stone magazine in 2017 to talk about 10 posters on the occasion of the It’s Alive! exhibition premiering at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., all were graphic illustrations: Hamlet, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Dracula, The Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon and two of 1931′s Frankenstein and 1932′s The Mummy. (The Dracula artwork has pride of place, as Hammett had it painted onto one of his guitars.)
When his collection made its debut at the Peabody, it was accompanied by an instrumental piece of electric-guitar music, The Maiden and the Monster, representative of the beauty-and-the-beast film trope of such classics as King Kong, Edward Scissorhands and Casablanca. Hammett has written and recorded a new piece for the exhibition’s Toronto visit.
Monster movies with loud, fast music would seem to be a natural fit, but the two genres have never really been incorporated into a single vehicle successfully. “I’ve enjoyed the efforts,” says Hammett, who uses the adjective “cheesy” when critiquing the 1978 made-for-television comedy Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. “But I still think there needs to be a definitive collaboration of heavy metal and horror.”
Mind you, in addition to movie memorabilia, the It’s Alive! exhibition includes a selection of Hammett’s guitars. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the museum, Enter Sandman: “Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight … we’re off to never-never land.”
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