Natural History of Horror Opens at the Natural History Museum Just in Time for Halloween!

“Frankenstein” at the NHM’s exhibit “Natural History of Horror.” All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat.

The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) offered us a preview of their newest exhibition, “Natural History of Horror,” which will be on display through April 19, 2020. The artifacts, which are all from the NHM’s own collection, feature four of the characters from the pantheon known as the Universal Monsters.

The Natural History Museum details the scientific discoveries believed to be the inspiration for the movie monsters. The exhibits include historic artifacts and specimens, replicas, film, and some of the actual props from the original movies.

Doctor Frankenstein’s monster was inspired by the work on reanimation by 19th century scientist Luigi Galvani. “Natural History of Horror” includes the shackles worn by Boris Karloff when he is tormented by Doctor Frankenstein’s assistant, Franz, played by Dwight Fry. Specimens and scientific instruments from the museum’s collections illustrate how early experiments with electricity influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the subsequent film.

Many people believe it was the bloodthirsty sadism of Vlad the Impaler that vampire legends were based upon. According to the Natural History Museum, scientists today believe that epidemics from Bram Stoker’s time period, like cholera, may have inspired his novel. The exhibition includes artwork of the plague from the 1830s as well as stills and an original prop bat from the film. There is also a bat specimen, which made me kind of sad. To celebrate the fact that Dracula was one of the first horror films with sound there is an interactive Foley table. I recognized it right away and started making noise while some members of the press voiced concerns that we weren’t supposed to be touching things and cameramen excited turned our way—movement! Action! They love that stuff.

Milicent Patrick, who designed the costume from Creature from the Black Lagoon based her creation on images of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Along with costume replicas, on view will be a “fossilized coelacanth, a 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.” While the link between that particular and the creature is only conjecture, it is a true Los Angeles right of passage to be totally freaked out as a child by the giant “Mega Mouth” on display in the museum’s lobby.

Naturally actor Boris Karloff is well-represented here, and the jewel in the Mummy collection is a stack of bandages he wore in the 1932 film, “The Mummy.” According to the NHM, it took It eight hours and 150 feet of bandages to prepare Karloff for filming. The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 inspired the horror movie. In addition to the poster and stills, objects found in Egyptian tombs will be on display. The Natural History Museum clearly doesn’t believe in the curse of the Mummy.

In addition to the exhibition, the museum treated us to a panel discussion led by Su Oh, Vice President of Education and Programs and Interim Vice President of Exhibitions, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County *she must have a HUGE business card). The panel was comprised of Jeff Pirtle, Director, Archives & Collections, Universal Studios; Holly Goline, Universal Film Executive; and Beth Werling, Collections Manager, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who discussed curation of the exhibit and the provenance of some of the items. When the movie props were donated to the museum they didn’t include information about which films they had been featured in, by what character or in which scene. The staff has had to watch untold hours of film with a keen eye to spot their props. Just recently, too late for this exhibition, it was discovered that a pitchfork in the collection was from “The Bride of Frankenstein.”

Screenings of the films along with similar panels will be presented for “Fright Nights: The Science Behind Scary Movies: during the “Natural History of Horror” exhibit. Running from 5:30 pm-9pm, “Each evening includes access to the exhibition, a film screening, special performance, light snacks, and cash bar.” Admission: Members: $12.00, Non-Members: $15.00. TICKETS.

Scheduled events:

●   Friday, February 14, 2020: Unrequited Love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon

●   Thursday, March 26, 2020: Monster Fears with Frankenstein

●    Friday, April 10, 2020: All Wrapped Up with The Mummy

In addition to “Natural History of Horror,” “Godzilla: A Living Atomic Bomb” will also be on display from October 16, 2019 through April 19, 2020 on the second floor of the NHM. Punctuation is important. A living atomic bomb will not be on display. If this doesn’t make your skin crawl, you can brave the spider pavilion with a seperate $6 ticket.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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2 Responses to Natural History of Horror Opens at the Natural History Museum Just in Time for Halloween!

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