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.

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13 fantastic scary movies you’ve probably never seen

Ask your friends to name their favorite thriller and you’ll probably get answers like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Older fans of your acquaintance might suggest a few of the classics, such as “Psycho,” “The Birds, or even “The Exorcist.”

Those are all good choices for any mainstream movie fan just starting to dip a toe into the horror pool, but what if you’ve already sampled most of the standard scare fare offerings and are hungering for something even more classic or perhaps a little more offbeat?

Well, lucky you, because there are hundreds of lesser-known scary movies out there that can supply delicious chills and thrills, sometimes without even one drop of blood being spilled!

The following is a very personal list of 13 somewhat obscure but terrific horror examples spanning the decades, and includes a few that even devotees may have overlooked. So grab the popcorn, turn off the all lights and settle in for a scary good time with one of these unusual spooky thrillers.

Vampyr (1932) – Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” is usually the first movie people think of when talking old school vampires, but few beyond the most avid fans have seen “Vampyr,” the surreal French-German production made around the same time. Almost devoid of dialogue, this black-and-white talkie looks a lot like the silent film its Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer originally intended it to be. So much the better for highlighting its disorienting visual effects, languid pace and dreamlike storyline about a man trying to free two women from the grip of a vampire. There is a hallucinatory quality to this classic, and its striking visuals depicting bloodlust, ghostly echoes and a live burial linger long after the last reel flickers out.

The Old Dark House (1932) – Travelers seeking shelter from a raging storm take refuge in a gloomy tumbledown mansion whose maniacal owners are just as likely to ignore them as to murder them. This delightful blend of subversive humor and scares was directed by the inimitable James Whale, and released the year after his masterpiece “Frankenstein.” This was for a time thought to be a lost film. After it resurfaced in the 1970s, fans of early cinema were tickled to death by both its snappy 1930s dialogue and rich Gothic atmosphere. Watch this to see just where all those endless parodies of the horror genre got their start. “No beds! No beds!”

Night of the Demon (1957) – (US title: “Curse of the Demon”) Jacques Tourneu’s occult masterpiece with Freudian overtones might have played even better as a purely psychological horror film if only the producers had not insisted on actually showing us the monster (sadly, they even slap it on the posters). That aside, this story of a professional disbeliever being slowly forced to accept that true evil really exists is effectively unnerving. “Night of the Demon” may be a weird mix of 50s B-movie horror and foggy British atmosphere, but it’s still incredibly effective as a thriller. “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”

Peeping Tom (1960) – A cameraman spends his off hours murdering girls so he can film the expression of terror on their dying faces. It’s revealed that his violent obsessions are the result of his father’s intense psychological experiments in fear during childhood. Unfortunately for acclaimed British director Michael Powell, critics were appalled by the sexual violence and uncompromising and even sympathetic portrayal of a three-dimensional serial killer. Public outrage caused the film to be pulled from theaters just five days after its release, thus effectively ending Powell’s career. Although its violence and sexual subject may be tame by today’s standards, the film is still shocking in its exploration of the attraction to violence.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) – A brilliant surgeon works in secret to restore the face that his once-beautiful daughter lost in the terrible accident for which he was responsible. Each successive transplant of facial skin taken from the young female victims his assistant procures for him ends in agonizing failure and death. The horror here lies less in the disturbing facial surgeries (where the gore is minimized and viewers only think they see more than they actually do), than in the idea that this doctor implacably continues murdering in an attempt to erase his own mistake. This French film contains images that will burn into your skull.

Carnival of Souls (1962) – Mary survives the watery car accident that killed her friends and tries to get on with her life, but finds that life might not be quite so willing to have her back. Made for just $33,000 back in 1962, the extremely low production values actually work in this movie’s favor. If you can look past the plodding script and non-existent acting skills, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most unsettling music and nightmarish imagery ever dreamed up.

The Haunting (1963) – One of THE scariest movies ever made. No blood, no gore, no serial killers and no monsters, well, except for the ones we carry around deep inside of our psyches. For pure psychological and emotional terror, this 1963 black-and-white chiller has no parallel. A professor gathers together a disparate group of psychics at an eerie old mansion for research into the existence of ghosts. Madness and death ensue. I get chills just remembering the sound effects! (Amazingly, director Robert Wise is the same person who gave us “The Sound of Music” the following year!)

Theatre of Blood (1973) – Vincent Price is wickedly hilarious as a failed Shakespearean actor who wreaks poetic justice on his critics by offing them in the most ingenious and often goriest ways possible, with each death based on a scene from one of the Bard’s plays. Diana Rigg joins Price as his equally demented daughter in this very devilish and very black comedy. Full of 1970s camp and buckets of blood, also supposed to be Price’s favorite film.

The Changeling (1980) – After the tragic accidental deaths of his wife and young daughter, a composer rents a historic house in which to work and discovers something otherworldly living there, something that craves justice and wants his help in finding it. The slow-building suspense in this incredibly atmospheric haunted house film is unrelenting. Absolutely no blood or gore whatsoever, but plenty of solid frights abound. This film is certainly much too scary for kids — and for those afraid of the dark.

May (2002) – A socially awkward and painfully lonely young woman decides to take her mother’s words (“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”) to heart. “May” is many things, drama, dark comedy, gory slasher flick and psychological horror story all rolled into one. The empathy you invest in the title character during the first half of the movie gets its real test in the second half once blood starts to flow. You may not like May very much, but you’ll find it hard to hate her.

Three… Extremes (2004) – This film is a trilogy of Asian horror stories by three different indie directors. “Cut” is the most sadistic (and bloodiest) of the three segments, “Box” is the most disturbing and “Dumplings” is the most stomach turning. Taken together they provide a really fascinating introduction to some of the most prominent themes in East Asian horror. You won’t feel hungry after watching this one!

Noroi (2005) – Forget “Blair Witch,” the Japanese film “Noroi” is what found footage-style horror films should look like. A documentary filmmaker explores several unrelated paranormal incidents connected to the legend of a demonic entity. This film is so stuffed full of mood and disquieting images that you’ll almost forget it’s not a real documentary about real events. Makes the most of using a first-person narrative with legitimately creepy results.

The Orphanage (2007) – Laura brings her husband and 7-year-old adopted son back to the now-dilapidated orphanage where she herself grew up, planning to create a home for disabled children. Her son almost immediately acquires an imaginary friend and starts acting oddly. During an opening day children’s party, the boy disappears soon after he and his mother fight. This moody Spanish thriller is terrifically creepy with just a few slam-bang shocks, and contains one of the saddest endings I have ever seen in a horror film. Its producer (Guillermo del Toro) plans a big budget US remake, but see this one first.

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