You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I love the title of this book. It sounds like something my grandmother would have said around the time I was ten years old and she had noticed my copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland, or the Aurora model kits for Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula, or heard me whining that my parents wouldn't let me go see I Was a Teenage Werewolf. (My parent's had inconsistent rules.) My grandmother would have looked around and said, "When is Dee going to get over all this horror business." And the answer to that, of course, is never. It takes hold around the age of seven or eight and doesn't let go.

This horror fascination is possibly the only thing I have in common with Kirk Hammett, who is ten years my junior but still got hooked around the same biological age. Hammett went on to be the lead guitarist for Metallica, and he has chosen to use some fraction of his disposable income on collecting horror memorabilia in a big way. Too Much Horror Business catalogues his collection of movie posters, toys, movie props, and art. A part of me has to work pretty hard to keep the quotation marks off the word art in the preceding sentence, but he was in a position to buy the original Basil Gogos paintings that became the most famous covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Those are cool things to have. He also has a portrait of Bela Lugozi painted in Geza Kende. A little internet research shows that Hammett paid just over $86,000 for the portrait. (Assuming he bought it in auction in 2004.) Kende was a totally forgettable artist, but that price seems about right for something with this kind of special interest. 

In his introduction, Hammett states that he did not want the book to be at all academic, and to insure that he decided to compose the text from his own responses to interview questions. He does an excellent job, coming off as a knowledgeable fanboy with a genuine appreciation of material ranging from 1920's movie posters inspired by German Expressionism to a wallet picturing the Phantom of the Opera in its original packaging!.

The toys and masks are the most interesting part of the collection. There are pages and pages of movie posters, but the abundance mostly marks the decline of poster design from the silent era to the present day. Perhaps in eighty years, the poster for Hellraiser will be as definitive of its day as Hammett's posters of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari seem to be of theirs, but somehow I doubt it. 

Back to the toys. Here the difference in Hammett's and my age really shows, because while I remained devoted to horror films, I was too old to care about Groovie Goolies or a board game based on Alien. But seeing them now is a kick.

Photographs of Hammett appear throughout the book. In several he performs on the custom guitars he has had made from monster poster images. In another he poses with his young sons surrounded by skulls and models including Frankenstein's monster, Robbie the Robot, and Ray Harryhausen Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Father and sons snarl and make monster hands for the camera. The corruption of youth proceeds apace. 

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