By Greg Aragon
If ancient dinosaur bones and bubbling tar pits aren’t scary enough, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) now has a new exhibit that will bring guests up close to some of the creepiest characters of all time.
Entitled “Natural History of Horror,” the new exhibition links science, history, and the art of movie making by exploring scientific discoveries from early experiments in animal electricity to the excavation of King Tut’s tomb. It was these discoveries that inspired some of Hollywood’s most iconic movie monsters.
The display, located at the Natural History Museum (NHM), features 17 objects from the museum’s own collection, and four ghoulish figures that starred in movies from Universal Pictures: “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Visitors will discover the scientific inspiration for each of these classic monsters through rare movie props, film footage, hands on interactives, and specimens.
“It made sense that our classic monsters would be shown alongside the scientific artifacts from Natural History Museum’s collections, as they give background on the science that inspired their creation,” says Holly Goline, Universal film executive. “These iconic monsters have such an enduring legacy across generations of fans, so having them be part of this exhibition at a museum we all know and love gives guests the opportunity to see these stories come to life in a new way.”
Just in time for Halloween, visitors to the exhibit will have the opportunity to explore the origins of the monsters that inspire horror films to this day, and at the same time, get up close to rarely-seen objects from the NHM’s impressive Hollywood collection.
A highlight of the exhibit is the costume from “Creature from the Black Lagoon” movie that was released in 1954. Designed by Milicent Patrick, the monster was inspired by real animals, both living and extinct. To create it, she looked at reptiles, amphibians, fish, and at illustrations of life in the Devonian period, roughly 400 million years ago.
Alongside the iconic movie poster, there are silicone copies of the creature’s full-body suit and the original mask. Next to this, the museum is showing a fossilized fish with unusual limb-like fins that look ready to crawl from the ocean onto solid ground, that was once believed to be the ancestor of all land animals. The Creature that Patrick designed reflects this imagined link between land and sea.
Another famous monster on display is Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein’s quest to reanimate the dead was based in part on the work of a real 19th-century scientist named Luigi Galvani. When the Frankenstein movie was released in 1931, many censors thought it too graphic and some scenes were cut. One of these scenes features the Frankenstein monster in shackles. These original shackles are part of the exhibition.
The Frankenstein display is paired with specimens and scientific instruments that show how early experiments with electricity led the way for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the film based on her novel.
Dracula is also spooking guests at the museum. This display tells the story of how vampire legends existed centuries before Bram Stoker published his 1897 novel Dracula. Scientists believe that deadly diseases from this era may have inspired the vampire myth we know today. The exhibition demonstrates these connections through artwork and illustrations from the 1830s paired with film stills and an actual prop bat from the film.
Dracula was one of the first horror films with sound. In the exhibition, an interactive Foley table display invites visitors to explore the sounds of horror and the techniques that early Foley artists used to create them.
The last famous monster on exhibit is The Mummy. Museum visitors will have an opportunity to view the wrappings from the 1932 movie, which were worn by actor Boris Karloff. It took eight hours to apply his makeup and the 150 feet of bandages he was wrapped in. The film was inspired by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, which was opened by archaeologists in 1922 after lying untouched for over 3,000 years. Wrappings and other objects found in Egyptian tombs will help tell the real story behind the discoveries that gave rise to the idea of the mummy’s curse in popular culture.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is located at 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007. “The Natural History of Horror” runs through April 19, 2020. Admission to the museum is $6 – $15. For more information, visit: www.nhm.org.