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).


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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.

It comes to life... The “It's Alive!” exhibition catalog creeping open.

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

(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.

Q: In the catalog, you discuss horror’s extraordinary influence on Kirk Hammett, his music, his collection and his process. Let’s talk a little bit about the emotional state of rock concerts. What are the connections between going to a rock concert and watching a horror film? Do you think it is a different kind of release or similar? What drew you to both?

A: Yeah, my first book, My Life in Heavy Metal has a story based on my years as a rock critic. The experiences are so similar, especially with heavy metal shows. It’s this dark space where the music is always building toward these loud, dark cathartic moments, providing these moments of release. Lots of build-up, then shouting. It’s like a ritual where we gather together to cast the darkness out of ourselves.

Q: In your interviews with Kirk, he has given some wonderful insights into how this genre can inspire art and awaken creativity. His passion is palpable. What inspires you?

A: Whatever I’m obsessed with is what I end writing about — sex, candy, football, our political dysfunction. I write about whatever I can’t get out by other means.

(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?


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(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 image? 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...

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(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.

Q: Let’s start with Bride of Frankenstein: What advice would you give Frankenstein’s monster? His mate has rejected him and it makes him feel as though he needs to destroy himself as well as her.

A: He needs some sexual healing. I’d recommend he spend a little time with a female vampire, or a Gorgon or Wasp Woman?


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(Detail) Nosferatu, about 1931, Germany, printed in Spain, lithograph. Courtesy of the Kirk Hammett Horror and Sci-Fi Memorabilia Collection.


Q: And last but not least, Nosferatu: What advice do you have for Count Orlok, a pasty, plagued fellow looking for new real estate, that has a sort of blood-lust for his agent’s wife?

A: Yeah, the main thing would be to cut his fingernails and try not to drool when checking out women. That’s always a bad look.

The monsters come to life in this 120-page publication, presenting premier pieces from Kirk Hammett’s personal collection of horror and sci-fi film posters. Get a darker look into the history of 20th-century cinema and explore intriguing insights on fear with essays from professor and neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, radio host and author Steve Almond and exhibition curator Daniel Finamore. Pick up your copy of It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection online and at the PEM shop!

Join us if you dare! It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection is on view August 12 through November 26, 2017.


IMAGE TOP: “It’s Alive!” essay contributors Joseph LeDoux, Steve Almond, and curator Daniel Finamore. Photo credit Bob Packert/PEM.

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