Connected \\ August 16, 2017
Steve Almond dissects horror
A curator, a neuroscientist and a radio host emerge from an old brick building… and something follows them. It sounds like the start of a B movie, but in all reality, it was just another day at the museum. From that convening of monstrous minds came ideas for the It's Alive! exhibition catalog, a thrilling PEM publication packed with film posters, movie stills and three fright-filled essays examining fear. One of these horrifyingly fascinating essays is from the hand of Steve Almond.
When he is not mercilessly dissecting the 1980s mega-hit “Africa” by Toto, Steve Almond is a New York Times bestselling author, a radio host with WBUR, a teacher, a podcaster, a short-story creator, a candy fanatic and a writer for the likes of The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal (to name a few).
Rock On, 2017. R. Kikuo Johnson. www.rkikuojohnson.com
In the catalog for the exhibition It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection, which opened August 12, Almond takes readers into the murky depths of the “unconscious unchained." Since we have existed as a species, our creativity has thrived off of fear. Whether to outsmart Paleolithic predators or gain inspiration for roaring guitar solos, as Almond notes, the fizzy cocktail of “anxiety spiked with fear” brings out the best of our imaginations.
I had the opportunity to talk with Almond about this enticing concoction, writing for the catalog, and his history with monsters, movies and metal.
It comes to life... The “It's Alive!” exhibition catalog creeping open. Image by Paige Besse.
Q: First thing’s first: It has been four decades since you were irked by that poster of a claw creeping out of a bassinet, have you finally seen the movie It’s Alive?
A: I watched some clips on YouTube, and got so freaked out I couldn’t watch the whole thing.
Q: You mention in your essay that your young daughter is not a fan of horror films. Is there anything in particular that scares her? Do you see a generational difference in fear?
A: Actually, she HATES to see scenes where kids are in danger of being harmed. That really freaks her out. I’m sure she would hate It’s Alive. In general, I think kids are much more closely monitored. When we were kids, we could basically watch all kinds of effed-up horror movies with no supervision. Parents these days don’t let kids do that. And all the Pixar films are carefully constructed to avoid the kind of grotesque stuff you see in horror.
(Detail) Frankenstein, 1931, produced by Universal Pictures, United States, printed by Morgan Lithograph Company, lithograph. Courtesy of the Kirk Hammett Horror and Sci-Fi Memorabilia Collection and Universal Pictures Licensing, LLC. Photo by Heritage Auctions, HA.com.
(Detail) Attributed to Karoly Grosz, The Mummy, 1932, produced by Universal Pictures, printed by Morgan Lithograph Company, lithograph. Courtesy of the Kirk Hammett Horror and Sci-Fi Memorabilia Collection and Universal Pictures Licensing, LLC.
Q: I loved the part in the essay where you talk about making your own horror films as a kid… My brother and I used barbecue sauce with red food coloring for our fake blood (ketchup looked a little too orange in natural sunlight). So, if you had to design a poster for the ultimate 1981 horror classic Crispy Critters, what would it look like? And what is the iconic scene?
A: You can actually find Crispy Critters on YouTube, so you can tell me. I’d say the hot tub full of bubbling oil has to be in the poster, which maybe a deep-fried human hand?
(Detail) Reynold Brown, Creature from the Black Lagoon, 1954, produced by Universal Pictures, offset lithograph. Courtesy of the Kirk Hammett Horror and Sci-Fi Memorabilia Collection and Universal Studios Licensing, LLC.
Q: How was your experience working with PEM and writing this essay? Was it as “stuffy” of an experience as most would imagine? Do you think writing for a museum suits you?
A: No, totally cool. I had a blast. There was no effort to get me to write “academic” or “art criticism” stuff. They let me talk to a super cool rock star about horror movies. What’s not to dig?
Q: Now that you have written your first scholarly essay for a museum exhibition catalog, what’s next? Any upcoming projects?
A: I’m working on a book about the 2016 election, so that’s kind of a horror movie. And I’m trying to keep up with my three kids (10, 8 and 4).
Q: Finally, I’d like to end this interview with an opportunity to capitalize on your top-notch advice skills, in the spirit of Dear Sugar and Heavy Meddle, to help two of our troubled monsters through their more pressing problems...
(Detail) The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, produced by Universal Pictures, lithograph. Courtesy of the Kirk Hammett Horror and Sci-Fi Memorabilia Collection and Universal Studios Licensing, LLC.