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Rock legend's private collection on view at PEM

Released June 09, 2017

It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection 


PEM presents an evocative exhibition of graphic art from the darker side of 20th-century cinema

On view August 12 through November 26, 2017

SALEM, MA – The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection, an exhibition of graphic art that has seeped into the public imagination and reflected society’s deepest fears and anxieties for nearly a century. Best known as lead guitarist of the famed rock band Metallica, Kirk Hammett is also an obsessive collector of visually arresting horror and sci-fi film art and has dedicated the last three decades to creating one of the world’s most important collections. Hammett credits his collection as a primary source for his own sonic creativity, reflecting, “the stuff of horror has a mojo that always works on me. I start producing ideas. They just flow like liquid.”

It’s Alive! -- on view at PEM August 12 through November 26 -- explores the interplay of creativity, emotion and popular culture through 135 works from 20th-century cinema, including posters by an international array of graphic designers, rare works by unidentified masters as well as related memorabilia such as electric guitars, lobby cards, film props and costumes. Originally designed as ephemeral works, many of the artworks on view are exceedingly rare or even singular in nature. Celebrating the graphic artistry of these posters, the exhibition also delves into the cultural meaning of horror and sci-fi films and the scientific underpinning of fear.

“Posters that fascinate with weird appeal”
Originally printed in large numbers, 20th-century horror and sci-fi film posters integrated commercial, decorative, graphic and fine art forms into a publicly accessible medium designed to captivate passersby. Bold, stylized lettering and vibrant swathes of color drew the eye from the title headline to the claws of multifarious ghouls, monsters, or men from Mars. These meticulously hand-drawn compositions could be found everywhere from lobbies, to train cars, to the pages of magazines. Inevitably, theaters changed up their offerings and these carefully designed promotional materials were often discarded. “Beyond their visual allure, these film posters are fascinating vernacular objects, relaying the commonly held values, emotions and aspirations of their time,” says Dan Finamore, exhibition curator and PEM’s Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History. 

For a time, Universal Pictures contracted the Morgan Lithograph Company to produce their posters. Ten artists worked exclusively on Universal Pictures’ account in a building adjacent to the studio, allowing Universal’s art director control over how a film was marketed. Poster production was incorporated into an integrated strategy of filmmaking, promotion, distribution and presentation that became known as the studio system. Pressbooks advertised a range of creative marketing products to theaters that were intended to keep the promotion of a film on message. For the 1931 release of Dracula, pressbooks advertised “Posters that Fascinate with Weird Appeal” and “Paper that Lures like the Vampire Himself.” 

The Collector
Before becoming a cult icon who routinely plays sold out stadiums around the world, Hammett was a shy kid “dreamily obsessed,” as his biographer Stefan Chirazi writes, “with monsters, ghouls, toys, movies and guitars.” The original Frankenstein with Boris Karloff was the first monster with whom Hammett connected; then came Godzilla, the Mummy and a whole cast of fantastical outsiders.

“Like the monsters in his posters, Hammett knows what being a cult icon is about. Just as fans of his music follow him, he unabashedly throws himself into cult fandom through his voracious collecting activity. His personal creativity is inextricably linked with these works and he is deeply passionate about sharing them with the world,” says Finamore.

Hammett’s collection plays on our curiosity about the supernatural, the other, the mutant and the beast within us. It toys with our collective anxieties and suspicions during times of social, political, cultural, or economic  tumult, and our need to cope with growing pains and feelings of estrangement.

“My collection takes me to a place where I need to be,” says Hammett. “Among the monsters, where I’m most comfortable and most creative. That’s where the magic has happened for me all these years and it’s something I’ve come to trust. From the moment I first encountered these characters, I could see that these guys had just as much difficulty in coping as I did. It’s a very, very dark universe when we shut our eyes at night.”

The Fear Factor
Terror is one of the strongest emotions we are capable of feeling and many are drawn to horror and sci-fi films for that very reason. Researchers are now learning more about the creative mindset such films can induce. When watching frightening films, the brain and body have an intensified experience while the cognitive mind can know there is no real danger or harm. “For those who can suspend reality for the sake of momentary thrills, empathy may be what allows them to feel the anxiety and fear that the characters are experiencing, and to enjoy the rush in the safe atmosphere of the theater,” explains New York University neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux in the exhibition catalog.

It’s Alive! reflects PEM’s continued experimentation with unconventional approaches to the presentation and interpretation of museum exhibitions as well as an exploration of the intersection of art, culture and creative expression.

Friday, August 18 | 5:30 Pm Cocktail Reception| 6 Pm Remarks & Exhibition Tour
Please join us for a cocktail reception and exhibition preview of It’s Alive! Classical Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection with curator Dan Finamore. RSVP to Paige Besse at or 978-542-1646.

High-resolution publicity images are available for download from the following link:

A 120-page exhibition catalogue with 90 color illustrations, It's Alive! Classic Sci-Fi and Horror Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection, is edited by Daniel Finamore, The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History. This generously illustrated book highlights the finest examples from Hammett’s personal collection—an astonishing trove of horror and sci-fi film posters that span the history of the genre—along with intriguing essays by Daniel Finamore, Joseph LeDoux, and Steve Almond on the rise of horror culture and the rise it gives us. R. Kikuo Johnson illustrated the eye-popping cover. The catalogue is published by the Peabody Essex Museum and Skira Rizzoli. The catalogue is available for pre-order through PEM Shop at the museum and online at

The Peabody Essex Museum organized It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation provided generous support. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum provided additional support.

Media Partners: Boston Spirit, iHeart Radio, and Independent Outdoor

1. Rock On, 2017. R. Kikuo Johnson.
2. Dracula, 1931, produced by Universal Pictures, lithograph, 41 × 27 in. (104.1 × 68.6 cm). Collection of Kirk Hammett. Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing.
3. Kirk Hammett at the Peabody Essex Museum. © 2016. Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Allison White.

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-four noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States, and the Phillips Library, which holds one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. ADMISSION: Adults $20; seniors $18; students $12. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $6 (plus museum admission). Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866?745?1876 or visit


Whitney Van Dyke - Director of Communications - 978-542-1828 -

Amelia Kantrovitz | Exhibition Publicist |