Upon entering the “It’s Alive” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum, visitors were greeted by the sounds of crackling electricity, as if walking into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Surely enough, a poster from the movie Frankenstein adorned the little nook that makes up the entrance to Kirk Hammett’s magnificent collection of science fiction and horror movie posters. They had other movie props as well, including a zapatron – a lightning-generating movie prop to go with the electrical noises – and lighting effects aimed at the floor to create the illusion that it was working. Mental note to self: beware the creature!
The exhibit itself was darkly lit with black walls, creating a sinister setting while at the same time adding a backdrop to the colorful posters, really making them pop. Being an organized person, I loved how the posters and props were separated by subject. Besides the Frankenstein section, they had a vampire section, an alien section, and even a central stage area where Hammett’s guitars, decorated with images of the posters, hung on walls, their coffin-shaped cases lying below them. Inspirational quotes were imprinted on the stage. My favorite read: “It’s a very, very dark universe when we shut our eyes at night. When I play, my goal is to take a listener into that darkness, to a place they’ve never been.”
An interesting, interactive part of the exhibit was getting to design a horror poster. Plastic sheets had the parts for each poster – title, hands, eyes, backgrounds, etc. I was disappointed by the limited options. For example, there was only one title card, so if your movie was going to have a title, it would have to be “Terror at the Glass Case Emporium”. When I started designing my poster, I had an image in my head of what it should look like but the plastic sheets that were provided didn’t have the elements I needed to complete it. Instead, I came up with this:
I was surprised about how much I was able to learn from this exhibit. Besides displaying the poster, there was information about the film industry during the time period during which these movies were produced, including the Motion Picture Production Code, or Hays Code, a set of moral guidelines preventing films from having “inappropriate content”, including such things as references to criminal activity, sex, and violence. It also demonstrated some of the beliefs and fears of society. For example, Dracula was more than a vampire movie, as this poster demonstrates.
The vampire coming in on a boat from another country presented in art form the fear that people had of immigrants. I’m sure if we look at many of these movies more closely, we’ll find some underlying messages that represent the beliefs of the time. Let us know in the comments what classic Sci-fi/ horror movies you’ve seen and what hidden messages they have!