Why we love to be scared: EMP’s “Can’t Look Away” horror exhibit

"Creature from the Black Lagoon" mask. Credit: Angela Graves

“Creature from the Black Lagoon” mask. Credit: Angela Graves

"Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film" at the EMP Museum.

“Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film” at the EMP Museum.

Now at EMP Museum in Seattle, WA, “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film” exhibit explores the role that horror plays in the human experience and how it’s been represented in 100 years of film and contemporary culture.

Three of the world’s most prolific horror film directors — John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”), Roger Corman (“Little Shop of Horrors”) and Eli Roth (“Hostel”) — were invited by the museum to handpick a selection of favorite films which exemplify the influence and scope of cinematic horror. Their choices formed the basis for the ongoing exhibit.

“If you don’t want to be scared in a horror film, don’t close your eyes. Close your ears.” — Eli Roth

Visitors to the Seattle exhibit can watch video clips of interviews with these directors, take a trip to the “Hell Hole,” a video screen embedded in the floor that plays a 10-minute montage of famous horror films from several generations, and explore a multitude of interactive exhibits including a section on how music and sound are used to create or lessen tension in a horror film.

Axe from "The Shining," 1980, from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection.

Jack’s axe from “The Shining,” from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Credit: EMP Museum

For avid horror fans, one of the most exciting features of the exhibit is undoubtedly the display of iconic movie artifacts and memorabilia, like a shooting script from 1963’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the Gill Man Mask worn by the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” in 1958, a Facehugger and a life-size Xenomorph figure from the James Cameron “Alien” franchise, the Hi-8 camcorder used in 1998’s “Blair Witch Project,” and Jack Torrance’s axe from 1980’s “The Shining,” amongst many other fascinating items.

“[Horror movies] are not really roller coasters like the thrill ride, they are roller coasters of the soul.” — Guillermo del Toro

Full-size Xenomorph from "Alien." Credit: Angela Graves

Full-size Xenomorph figure from “Alien.” Credit: Angela Graves

Of all of the props on display, recent museum visitor Angela Graves said, “We all liked the full-size ‘Alien’ the best! I thought the “Frankenstein” wall section was nice to see,” she added, “since most of the other props were more recent. Also pretty interesting to see were the “Constantine” demons, [from] when he went to Hell.”

A zombie costume from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is displayed in its corner. Mick Garris (“Masters of Horror”), who also served as a consultant for the EMP “Can’t Look Away” exhibit, wore this tattered outfit in the 1983 music video. Other artifacts on view include a Jason Voorhees mask and machete from “Friday the 13th,” Freddy Krueger’s razor glove from “Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5,” and a spellbook and stakes used in the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” television show. Interactive screens next to certain props show how these items appeared during production.

Horror movie posters displat at the EMP Museum. Credit: Angala Graves

Horror movie posters display at the EMP Museum. Credit: Angela Graves

A “100 Horror Films to see before you die” wall showcases both famous and more obscure horror movies from 1920 to 2008, with an accompanying timeline that lists significant cultural influences and historic events occurring while these films were being made.

Although the exhibit is rated PG-13 due to the scary subject matter, one thing kids of all ages are certain to enjoy is the interactive “Shadow Monster” installation. Angela Graves was enthusiastic about her family’s experience, “The shadow wall was cool! You’d walk into the ‘area’ and your shadow would get antennae, wild hair, or even long, strange fingers!”

Werewolf mask from "An American Werewolf in London." Credit" EMP Museum

Werewolf mask from “An American Werewolf in London.” Credit: EMP Museum

Since no exploration of horror would be complete without a scream or two, the inclusion of a “Scream Booth,” where visitors can step inside a soundproof enclosure and release their best bloodcurdling shrieks on cue to horror footage, proves a popular addition. Inside, quick snapshots of the screams are taken and displayed on screens outside the booth, where they can be uploaded to share with friends later.

See the EMP’s “Scream Booth” Flickr photostream

A “Monster Timeline” infographic identifies the many different types of horror movie monsters both by appearance and habits, and delves into why these imaginary creatures have amazed and terrified us throughout the years.

“In science-fiction films the monster should always be bigger than the leading lady.” — Roger Corman

Jason's mask from “Friday the 13th/" Credit: EMP Museum

Jason’s mask from “Friday the 13th.” Credit: EMP Museum

So, why do we need monsters? “From cave paintings to contemporary digital technologies, we’re still making monsters,” director Landis says, “What you hear a lot is that horror films are a way of confronting death without having to die, [in this way] you can confront your worst fears, but not get eaten!”

“Since monsters are so basic to human nature, I think there will always be monster films,” suggests Landis, “and it will always be fascinating to figure out ‘what the hell was that about?’”

For more information about the exhibit, visit www.empmuseum.org.

Hitchcock for Halloween

Hitchcock enjoyed creating amusing publicity stills and trailers for many of his films, including “The Birds.”

“A lot of people think I’m a monster, they really do,” Alfred Hitchcock once remarked, “It’s a complete misconception due to the fact that I deal in crime and that kind of thing. Whereas it’s just the opposite, I’m more scared than they are of things in real life.”

Having such a sinister reputation seemed to amuse the celebrated director of so many classic suspense and psychological thrillers, undoubtedly because Hitchcock thought of himself as a perfectly normal filmmaker whose mission in life was “to simply scare the hell out of people.”

With 53 feature films to his credit in a career spanning six decades, there’s no doubt that Hitchcock was the acknowledged master of the suspense genre, and his catalog of thrillers retains the power to both terrify and tantalize audiences to this day.

The “Dolly Zoom” camera technique was pioneered by Hitchcock in his 1958 film “Vertigo.”

“The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them,” said Hitchcock, and film fans are intimately familiar with the horribly delicious sensations of fear and anxiety that his movies inspire.

Hitchcock well understood just how much his audiences loved to be scared, and was a genius at using every cinematic tool at his disposal — even pioneering several techniques of camera movement and film editing — to “always make the audience suffer as much as possible.”

For those fond of “putting their toe in the cold water of fear,” I suggest the following five classic films by the master; each guaranteed to deliver frightfully good entertainment, and more than a few thrills.

Rear Window (1955) – A wheelchair-bound photographer escapes the boredom of his convalescence by spying on his neighbors from his apartment window. When he witnesses mysterious activity in the apartment building across the way he becomes convinced that one of the tenants has committed a murder.

But how can he prove there actually was a crime if he did not see it happen? And what can he do when the suspect suddenly realizes that someone is watching him? And just what exactly is buried under the zinnias in the garden?

Everything from the photographer’s incapacitating broken leg to the restrictive design of the apartment courtyard set contributes to the viewers’ feelings of confinement and helplessness. Viewers identify with the hero, whom they are in essence spying on through their own “window” of the television screen.

“Sure he was a Peeping Tom,” said Hitchcock, “Aren’t we all?”

Vertigo (1958) – Three of Hitchcock’s favorite themes, deception, guilt and obsession, are beautifully melded in this dream-like psychological murder mystery.

An acrophobic private detective is tormented by the suicide of the woman he was being paid to follow, and with whom he had fallen hopelessly in love. When by chance the detective later sees another woman who resembles this lost love, he acts on his twisted desire to recreate his ideal woman, with tragic results.

Never does Hitchcock displayed more cunning and control than in Vertigo, where he uses disturbing images, vivid color cues, camera techniques and lighting to help convey deep human emotions and unbalance reality for his audience.

Psycho (1960) – More than 50 years after its release, “Psycho” is still as horrifying and mesmerizing as it was to audiences in 1960. Even repeated viewings cannot dull the terror of the infamous shower scene or the dark humor of the twist ending. A shrieking musical score by Bernard Hermann adds immeasurably to the many tense sequences.

Anthony Perkins is nothing less than brilliant as the boy whose best friend is his mother. In fact, the screen version of the character was written with Perkins in mind, and to a large extent the actor was forever afterward identified with Norman Bates.

Perkins eventually made peace with his most famous role, and in 1985 said, “Actually, it’s an honor to be associated with a movie that has lasted and gone on through a generation, and is still able to quicken the pulse. I think it’s great.”

Hitchcock,” a 2012 film by Sacha Gervasi based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book, centers on the relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville during the making of “Psycho.”

The Birds (1963) – On a whim, a spoiled socialite follows the handsome lawyer she meets in San Francisco to his bayside family home. There she is inexplicably attacked and injured by a seagull, an incident which turns out to be the precursor to a series of widespread and deadly bird attacks over the course of several days.

Crafting horror out of seemingly ordinary situations was Hitchcock’s specialty. “I have a phrase to myself,” said Hitchcock, “I always say that logic is dull.”

As there’s never any explanation as to why thousands of ordinary birds should suddenly run amok and start attacking and killing, it’s precisely that illogic and fear of the unknown that Hitchcock uses to fuel the terror in “The Birds.”

With almost an hour of character development before the first attack, viewers have plenty of time to get to know each character, making it easy to empathize with them as their sense of security (and ours) gets slowly eroded away by the mounting and incomprehensible threat.

Frenzy (1972) – Unless you are a diehard Hitchcock fan you may never even have heard of “Frenzy.” Back in 1972, the film’s gruesome subject was considered quite shocking, and even today the violent rape/strangulation sequence in the beginning is still genuinely disturbing.

Almost from the beginning we know who is behind a series of necktie strangulation killings in this grim “wrong man” thriller. “Will he get away with it?” is the question that keeps viewers glued to their seats.

Hitchcock’s next-to-last film serves up a very dark side of humanity with dollops of incredibly black humor, as showcased in the film’s nail-bitingly suspenseful scene of the killer frantically searching for an incriminating piece of evidence in the back of a potato truck.

“In ‘Frenzy’ you’ve got a cheerful, lively man who is a psychotic,” said Hitchcock. “Unless they’re pleasant and acceptable their victims would never go near them. Most people misunderstand what a villain is – he’s a charming man who kills women. If he didn’t have the charm, they’d run a mile from him.”

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