[Update: The EMP Museum is now the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) as of Nov. 19, 2016. The Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film exhibit ran until July 30,2017. It has been replaced by the Scared To Death: The Thrill of Horror Film exhibit.]
Seattle’s EMP Museum (now the Museum of Pop Culture) has been displaying its horror exhibit, Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film since Oct. 2, 2011. The exhibit is curated by Roger Corman, John Landis and Eli Roth and features a selection of their favorite horror films, past and present. The centerpiece of Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film is four film viewing areas located in the middle of the space. Each viewing area covers two films that the curators deem to be important. The films covered include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Evil Dead II (1987), The Wicker Man (1973), Suspiria (1977), Diaboliques (1955), Psycho (1960), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Each area is self-contained in kind of a cast-iron chamber of sorts with a love seat to allow for viewing. There is a touch-screen to start each presentation, which lasts approximately 3 minutes per film with a short intermission in between. The presentations are very well-done and give an overview about why each film can be considered important, in addition to showing key scenes. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre presentation was fascinating, although I already knew much of the information.
In addition to the viewing areas, there are individual sections where you can watch video presentations about the curators themselves. I’m not as familiar with John Landis and Roger Corman, so it was very interesting to learn more about them. Landis is of course most famous for An American Werewolf in London and the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, in addition to many classic comedies such as Animal House, Trading Places, Spies Like Us and The Blues Brothers. Corman is known for The Little Shop of Horrors and the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations Pit and the Pendulum and House of Usher. Eli Roth, known for his Hostel films, has an area kind of hidden off in the corner, perhaps because his brand of “torture porn” is much less family friendly.
As you first enter Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film to the right there is a display of different categories of horror film and examples of each. Some categories include zombie, vampire, witch, Frankenstein, mutant, etc. In this same area is also a digital copy of a working draft of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, complete with handwritten notes and revisions. For me, this part of the exhibit is by far the weakest. Even the most novice horror fan, or even someone who doesn’t like horror at all, knows enough about it that they can distinguish between a zombie film and a vampire film. This display, while aesthetically pleasing, is really a waste of valuable space.
I can think of multiple ways to put this space to better use. For example, they could have had sections highlighting horror from specific countries, for example, Italy, Japan, Germany and France. Another idea would be to highlight a specific sub-genre of film and go into detail, for example Italian cannibal films from the 1970’s. Another possibility would be to discuss in depth the tradition of horror novels being translated into film. They could have done a feature on the women of horror. They could have had sections on specific directors, for example George A. Romero or Lucio Fulci.
The entire exhibit I would suggest is very media-dense, meaning that to get the full experience you need to take the time to watch the videos in full and listen to any audio. For those less inclined, there is a props section featuring famous items from many films. You can see the hacksaw from Saw, the Xenomorph Alien from Alien, Jason Vooehees’ machete and mask from the Friday the 13th remake of 2009, the Ghostface mask from Scream 3, Jack Torrance’s axe from The Shining, a zombie costume from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, and much more. Additionally, in the Eli Roth area are props from the Hostel films, including a chainsaw, a scythe, a circular saw and an interrogation chair.
Finally, there is an infographic featuring ‘100 Horror Films to See Before You Die’. This I felt was a well-thought out list, although I’m not sure if I agree with all the choices. To state just one example, the list features Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 instead of The Beyond, the latter of which I feel is a much better and unique film. In the viewing areas, I would suggest that Night of the Living Dead, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Hellraiser or even The Blair Witch Project could all be better choices than some of the films featured.
What the Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film exhibit does show is a love for horror film in all of its forms, from its earliest days to the present. You may not agree with all of the editorial decisions made by the curators, but the exhibit will leave you enthusiastic and ready to go home, make some popcorn and watch your favorite horror flick. The exhibit has a suggested rating of PG-13.
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