Exclusive: Metallica’s Kirk Hammett Talks Movie Posters, His New Book, and More!

Next Tuesday, world famous musician and Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett will be releasing his second book It’s Alive: Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection. The hardcover book is 120 pages of images that feature the personal movie poster collection of Hammett, which include some of the most beautiful, obscure, rare, and/or famous sci-fi and horror posters that have ever been released.

From the Press Release:
This generously illustrated book highlights the finest examples from Hammett’s personal collection—an astonishing trove of horror and sci-fi film posters that span the history of the genre—along with intriguing essays by Daniel Finamore, Joseph LeDoux, and Steve Almond on the rise of horror culture and the rise it gives us.

Additionally, Hammett will be hosting an exhibition, on view August 12th through November 26th, 2017, features film posters as well as collectible electric guitars, monster masks and sculptures. It will take place at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. More information can be found here.

The book is currently available for pre-order through Peabody Essex Museum as well as Amazon.

To give you an idea of what you’re in store for and how Hammett perceives his collection, I got an interview with the legendary guitarist, which you can read below!

Dread Central: I can only imagine what it must’ve felt like to have looked through a collection that I’m sure took years to amass. What were some of the emotions and memories that came up while putting It’s Alive together?
Kirk Hammett: I have to say I felt like a proud parent seeing their child off to college. In other words, I felt like the collection I’ve been rearing and nurturing and caretaking for the last thirty years or so is finally ready to go out on its own and earn its own keep. It really feels that way. I feel kind of proud but at the same time a little sad, because it means the end of seeing my collection on a daily basis. But that’s okay, because now so many other people will be able to see it.

DC: You’re known for having some truly rare and historical posters in your collection. Can you pick two or three that have the most interesting stories and tell me a bit about them? Maybe any wild stories connected to them in relation to you getting your hands on them?
KH: Well, there’s the one about the 1932 one-sheet for The Mummy, right? So a friend of mine was chasing down a lead about some major horror poster find. It was more rumor than anything else, so we weren’t really expecting anything. When he got to the place where this poster resided and finally saw it in person his heart skipped a beat. It was a rare Mummy poster no one had ever seen before. It was crazy.

And crazier was the fact the poster had been mounted on to particle board. Actually, no. Not mounted, varnished. It was varnished directly on to the particle board. It was over this guy’s fireplace, at his house, and he didn’t want to get rid of it because it was a gift from his parents. They’d given it to him twenty-five years earlier, and this was in 1989, so his parents gave it to him in the sixties. So now it was beyond a decorative thing. He had a lot of emotional attachment to it, and a lot of times when you find a poster with that sentimental value – a lot of times people aren’t even interested in hearing cash offers. The first thing going through their mind is the weighing out of the consequences of whether to let go of the poster or not.

It’s perfectly understandable, because I find myself doing the same thing when some one makes a viable offer on something I’ve become attached to in my own collection. So anyways, clearly this guy was weighing out those consequences, because he didn’t get back to us for another three months.

At that time the poster was worth six figures, but that wasn’t what was important. The guy said
if we could make him a reproduction of the poster to hang up he’d sell it to us. So we did. We made a reproduction for him, we gave him a decent market price for the original poster, and on top of that we gave him a movie poster from one of his favorite movies. The whole transaction, overall, took about seven months. But it was by far not the longest transaction. I’ve expressed interest for movie posters in other peoples’ collections, and then twenty-five years later they’ll come back to me and say “Hey, you still interested in that poster?”

With movie posters, a lot of it is just a waiting game. You’re waiting for something to be discovered, you’re waiting until someone decides to sell what you want, or you’re waiting until you randomly come across something.

And it doesn’t happen a lot, but I have randomly come across a few things, and that’s always the weirdest feeling in the world for me. Like recently I was in a comic book store. I’d heard they had all the good stuff in the basement. So of course I go down and start poking around in the basement. Almost first thing I see is a case, and in this case is a collectible from 1935 I’d never seen in person before. I knew about it because I read about it in books printed around the same time.

So here’s this collectible I’d known about for fifteen years, but I’d never actually seen one before, a “Chandu the Magician” Little Big Book. Then lo and behold I randomly walk into a comic book store during the tour and there it is. Sitting all by itself in the corner of a display case just screaming out “Hey Kirk, I’ve been waiting for you!!”

That’s what I love about this hobby … no, this collecting. This passion. It’s so unpredictable. You never know what’s going to show up. You don’t know what posters are going to be found, you don’t even know where they’re going to be found.

DC: There are so many different reasons I can think of for wanting to own a collection of sci-fi and horror posters. But what are your own personal reasons for this passion?
KH: I’ve been into this stuff for so long, since I was five years old, it’s become part of my emotional makeup. It definitely dictates my aesthetic, and has dictated my aesthetic, in life. I tend to go for the darker, more surreal, sorts of decisions. I like going down the path no one else has taken. I like exploration and I like curiosity. Horror movies have supplemented that curiosity and my sense of adventure.

Horror movies have been, and still are, a huge source of inspiration for the art I create on so many different levels. And this all started before my collecting. I feel like the collection actually reinforces and supports all of that. It shores up my creative life; supports my creative life. It gives me a good sense of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

My collection means more to me than just a bunch of inanimate objects, a bunch of stuff. It has
emotional, sentimental, creative, spiritual, and even psychic meanings to me. And I list all of those as incredible reasons to be immersed in my collection.

DC: Who are some of your favorite poster artists from the past? What is it about them that make them stand out in your mind?
KH: Well, definitely Karoly Grosz. He was an Eastern European illustrator for Universal Studios from 1925 to 1935 / 1936 … but my dates might be a little off. He was the one who did all the one sheet illustrations for films like The Mummy, The Old Dark House, Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Black Cat, Murders in the Rue Morgue … his artwork is brilliant.

In The Old Dark House poster his artwork is really just phenomenal. His lines are very seductive and there’s a glamor and an elegance he manages to capture. In some of those movie posters, even though they’re ‘scary horror’ movies, there’s still a factor of beauty and elegance that draws me in even deeper. I think it’s because of the fact it’s not just horror. It’s not just darkness and evil. There are also elements of beauty and hope in Grosz’s illustrations. To me, he was a master.

Grosz was able to communicate so much with his illustrations, which was par for the course at that time. You had to relay a lot of information with these poster images and you had only one big panel to do it with. So yeah, you had to be the best of the best when it came to poster design.

DC: While there was a period where it seemed movie posters were going to be nothing but revisions of Photoshop templates, there’s now a surge of love for limited edition prints from people like Art of Ronin or Mondo. What do you make of these outlets and the kinds of posters they’re offering?
KH: I think some of it is really cool, and some of it is unnecessary. Like, why do something if it doesn’t really bring a new spin to it. But the good ones, yeah. A lot of people are reimagining movie posters, and some of them are doing a great job. Some of them are done really effectively because it’s seen thru the lens of fifty, sixty, seventy years of perspective. So the people who are doing this well are including the history of the film within the illustrations, or they’re including the known atmospheres. Using the known feelings, the known sentiments of the films that have occurred since the films came out…

Wait, I’ve got it… The reimagined movie posters of today are cool because they’re seen through a modern cultural perspective. And I appreciate them when they’re done well.

DC: Which, if any, posters that came out in recent years made you stop and stare with appreciation?
KH: The Witch is a good one, and actually, the Love Witch as well. I think the poster for the Love Witch is really great. It reminds me of a sixties Hammer film. It’s totally old-school looking. I also liked the posters for the Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

DC: What’s next after It’s Alive? Any more books in the works? Maybe a documentary of your collection so we can all see it for ourselves?
KH: I like all of those ideas. Ah … hopefully we’ll take the collection to more venues around the world. I’d like to see it make it across the States, across Europe, across Asia. I would love to see it take on a life of its own. So that’s the main thing. We are pretty much focused on the collection right now, but you never know; there might be more books. I’m not done yet.

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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