This story was originally published in October 2012.
You may know him as the lead guitarist of what is arguably the biggest heavy-metal band in the world, but you may not be aware that Kirk Hammett is also curator of one of the finest collections of horror memorabilia in existence. It all started when he was a little boy…
Kirk Lee Hammett was born in San Francisco, California, on November 8th, 1962. By his own admission, he was a bit of a loner. So when he sprained his arm at age 5, being forced to stay inside, recuperate and watch television by order of his Irish merchant marine father was just fine by him. Better yet, it wasn't long before he caught a broadcast of 1962's The Day of the Triffids, his first horror movie, which led to Dracula, Frankenstein and the other Universal monsters. Before he knew it, Hammett was a bona fide "Monster Kid."
What's a Monster Kid? It's an affectionate term for a generation of creature-loving children who cut their teeth on the classic black-and-white horror movies that filled the pages of the popular publication Famous Monsters of Filmland in the late-1950s and '60s. While other kids were out playing, Hammett bathed in the flickering light of the cathode ray tube, often curled up with the latest issue of Famous Monsters. Aimed at children, the magazine frequently featured full-page photos of creatures imploring parents to permit kids to indulge their imaginations—because in "Horrorwood, Karloffornia," monsters were actually good for you. The publication, edited by fantastic-film enthusiast and rabid collector Forrest J Ackerman, also nearly single-handedly sparked fan-boy and collector culture with its popular mail-order ads. These lurid classified were teeming with monster masks, makeup and model kits, skeleton hands, talking skulls and even the opportunity to own your very own "Monster Fly."
Go inside Kirk Hammett's horror art exhibit in Salem and his visit to the witch museum in our exclusive video:
Following in the footsteps of "Forry" Ackerman, Hammett began collecting all manner of horror-related ephemera. At first comic books and magazines like Creepy, Eerie, and The Vault of Horror, followed by toys, model kits, action figures and movie posters. Then he picked up a guitar and the rest, as they say, is music history. But Hammett never stopped collecting. When he wasn't banging his head onstage with Metallica, the self-professed horror nerd was buying collectibles at auctions, going to conventions and generally dorking out with a handful of like-minded friends. Today, his San Francisco home serves as a veritable private museum of monster memorabilia that very few people have ever seen–until recently.
He first gave the public a sneak peek with the "Kirk's Crypt" mini-museum at his band's own Orion Music + More festival in June. In October, he's providing a more intensive view with Too Much Horror Business: The Kirk Hammett Collection, a 224-page art book in which the genial musician reveals the results of 44 years of collecting and waxes poetic about the horror genre. Hundreds of items are on display: Boris Karloff's costume from The Black Cat, Bela Lugosi's outfit from White Zombie, original horror-themed paintings by the likes of Frank Frazetta, Donnie Darko's bunny suit and even the jawless "Dr. Tongue" zombie from the opening titles of George Romero's 1985 film, Day of the Dead. An eclectic mix of classic and contemporary, the house of Hammett is a horror fan's wet dream.
The guitarist recently sat down with Revolver to tell us why he finally decided to share his collection with the world, what his favorite horror movies are, why King Kong is cooler than Godzilla and why he'll never stop being a horror fan.
I REMEMBER WAY BACK SEEING A PHOTO OF YOU WITH YOUR COLLECTION, SURROUNDED BY PUSHEAD SKATEBOARDS, EC COMICS AND HORROR TOYS. YOU'VE BEEN COLLECTING FOR A REALLY LONG TIME, HAVEN'T YOU?
KIRK HAMMETT I've been a collector ever since I was a child. I got into horror stuff when I was 5 years old. I never ever really stopped maintaining my interest and fascination with it. I collected comic books and toys when I was a kid, and then I got way into music and playing guitar. That kind of took my whole world over and I was totally obsessed with music for a while. Then I joined the band and we started making albums and going on tour and I started making a little money. And from the very onset, ever since I started making money with Metallica, I've always taken my cash and bought collectible stuff like comic books, toys, magazines, books, artwork, whatever. I've been doing this for a pretty long time.
AMONG YOUR COLLECTION ARE KARLOFF'S COSTUME FROM THE BLACK CAT AND LUGOSI'S FROM WHITE ZOMBIE. HOW DID YOU PROCURE THESE ITEMS?
About three years ago, I remember getting an auction catalog in the mail and I just randomly opened it up and started thumbing through the pages and I saw a picture of something and I couldn't believe what is was. I recognized it right off, and I read the caption and sure enough, it was the original outfit that Boris Karloff wore in the movie The Black Cat from 1935. It was just in the corner of the auction catalog. It wasn't getting a lot of major page space or photo space like the more major items like the ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, which would take over two pages to describe. This costume is just in the corner, a small little blurb. I was floored. I couldn't believe that it still existed, and I went to bat for it and I got it. It's one of my prized possessions because that movie is one of my most favorite movies of all time.
I HAVE TO ASK: HAVE YOU EVER PUT THOSE COSTUMES ON?
You know it, baby!
DID THEY FIT?
You know, I'm glad to say that I fit into Boris Karloff's stuff but not Bela Lugosi's stuff. Lugosi was taller and slightly bigger, but Karloff was only maybe an inch or two taller than me and around the same weight.
THAT MUST BE QUITE A THRILL. I CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE WEARING SOMETHING THAT BORIS KARLOFF GOT TO WEAR IN A FILM.
It's a strangely odd and invigorating feeling.
I BET. FROM WHAT I'VE SEEN, YOU'VE AMASSED AN IMPRESSIVE COLLECTION OF PAINTINGS. DO YOU HAVE ANY ORIGINALS BY FAMOUS MONSTERS COVER ARTIST BASIL GOGOS?
I probably have the premiere collection of Basil Gogos paintings that are pre-1990, I guess you would say.
ANY ACTUAL FAMOUS MONSTERS COVERS?
I hate to bum you out, but I have about a dozen. Well, actually, you might like that.
NO, NO, I'M VERY HAPPY FOR YOU. ENVIOUS, BUT HAPPY.
Because when I tell collectors that, they're like, "Aw, come on, man! You're kidding me." I started buying this stuff in the '80s when there wasn't much of a market for it. I would come across artwork dealers and collectors who had this stuff and they saw it more as a novelty than anything else. I mean, back then, the original artwork market was centered more on comic art. So an original painting that was on the cover of Famous Monsters would come up and a lot of these collectors didn't know what to do with it. They didn't know who to call. There wasn't a vast network of monster/horror collectors back then. It was very, very small. Everyone knew each other. After I got my first two or three, word got out that I was a buyer for this stuff and dealers started contacting me and saying, "I've got this painting. It's kinda odd. It's Famous Monsters No. 35."
Exactly! My usual answer was, "I can't believe no one is interested in this besides myself," and I would buy it. I got almost all of them for pretty cheap.
AMAZING! I THINK MY FAVORITE BASIL GOGOS FAMOUS MONSTERS COVER WAS THE FIRST ONE HE DID, WHICH WAS A PORTRAIT OF VINCENT PRICE FOR FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER AND HE PAINTED IT ON GLASS AND HE SAID THAT IT LITERALLY VANISHED OVER TIME. THE PAINT FADED AND EVENTUALLY DISAPPEARED FROM THE GLASS AND NO ONE WILL EVER BE ABLE TO OWN IT.
Wow. I never knew that.
HOW DID YOU COME TO OWN "DOCTOR TONGUE" FROM DAY OF THE DEAD?
A friend of mine, Greg Nicotero [the renowned makeup and effects artist behind, among many other projects, The Walking Dead] gave it to me. I've known Greg ever since 1987 or something. One day we were over at his parents' house in Pittsburgh and he said, "Come over, man. I have something for you." I turned the corner, and there it was.
I CAN'T BELIEVE HE JUST GAVE IT TO YOU!
Yeah, I mean, I said to him, "What's going on? Where did this come from?" It was just totally surprising. He said that it had been sitting under [makeup/effects artist and actor] Tom Savini's porch, just rotting away. He said, "I thought you might be into it," and I said, "Are you kidding me?" It was one of the greatest things in the world! It was a bit rough. It's been restored not once but twice. When you get props that are over 20 years old, some of them have degraded beyond recognition because of the latex or silicone or whatever they make it from.
YEAH, IT BREAKS DOWN OVER TIME.
Right, it doesn't hold up. It degrades, and it starts to rot after a while. But Doctor Tongue was doing really good for being under Tom Savini's porch for a few years! [Laughs] I'm very happy to have acquired that. [Late Metallica bassist] Cliff Burton's favorite movie was Dawn of the Dead, so just to have something from those zombie movies, the original trilogy, for me, is just super cool.
DID YOU EVER GET A CHANCE TO GO TO FORREST ACKERMAN'S "ACKERMANSION" BEFORE HE PASSED?
I actually went there quite a few times in the '80s and '90s. And every time I went over there, I'd just trip out over the collections, just how big it was and the magnitude of it. Just how super cool Forry was and how informative. He just knew everything about horror and science fiction. Every time I would go over there, I'd say, "Hey, I play in a band. You should come by and check out the band," and he would say, "Well, Kirk, sounds good. Just let me know." We finally got it to happen in 2004. He actually came to one of our shows on the St. Anger tour and I was very, very happy about that. He finally actually experienced what I do. He was with this guy Joe Moe, and Forry told Joe right after that concert that he finally had an idea of what it must feel like to be a rock star after seeing our show. He was bragging about the fact that he had better seats than Nicolas Cage. [Laughs]
THAT WAS REALLY KIND OF YOU TO DO THAT FOR FORRY. AND NOW, MUCH LIKE HE DID, YOU'RE SHARING YOUR PASSION FOR HORROR WITH THE WORLD. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FINALLY PUT TOGETHER A BOOK FOR THE PUBLIC?
Well, I've actually been talking about writing this book to my friends for the last 10 years, and they're just tired of hearing about it. "Yeah, I've heard this before. Blah, blah, blah." About three years ago, I turned a few different corners with my collection. In other words, I got some pieces that I had been looking for, movie poster-wise as well as toy-wise. And I got some really, really great pieces of artwork. I thought, OK, I feel like my collection is good enough now that it can be in pretty good shape to make a pretty interesting book. I also thought, I have all this stuff sitting in my house and I only have so many friends who can come over and look at it who actually love it. There must be another way where I can share it with the world. That's how the whole book idea came back into play and I thought, Well, if there's gonna be a time for me to do it, it's now. My collection, I think, is peaking at this point and I really want to just show people how cool this stuff is to me and maybe people will get off on it that don't know about it. Maybe I can turn some people onto this by collecting this stuff. Then there are other people who just know. They're the Monster Kids, too. And they're just gonna love it. It's awesome. But yeah, it basically came from just hitting a point and wanting to share it with everyone.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT HORROR THAT CONTINUES TO FASCINATE YOU?
Ever since time immemorial, I've always felt like I was on the outside. How should I put this? Not really connected with society as a whole. Ever since I was a young kid, I've felt that way. It must be genetic. I had a pretty normal childhood. Nothing special. Because of those feelings of disconnection, whenever I'd see a horror movie, I would instantly relate to the monsters or the creatures or the villains or the mad doctors or whatever. After a while, these characters and creatures became a part of my rich fantasy life. I didn't have any friends when I was a kid. [Laughs] After a while, these monsters kind of became my friends. For, like, the first part of my childhood, they were my playmates. Of course, once I got older, I got more into the character development and the storyline and the plots and everything. That held my interest even more, and I got more into it. I guess, bottom line is I'm just attracted to things that are dark, scary, unique, fantastical, mysterious and horrific. I'm not too much of a guy who's into violence for the sake of violence. I'm not into graphic violence. I have to stress that. A lot of the horror stuff that I'm into has to have a supernatural element or fantasy element. Maybe even a paranormal element. But graphic violence, I've never really been a huge fan of. You know what I mean?
ISN'T IT INTERESTING WHEN YOU TALK TO OTHER HORROR FANS, WE ALL SORT OF HAVE A VERY SIMILAR STORY? MANY OF US WERE LONERS GROWING UP AND ALL WE DID WAS WATCH HORROR MOVIES AND THE MONSTERS WERE OUR FRIENDS DURING OUR LONELIEST TIMES.
Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny because a lot of my friends that are into this, we're just a bunch of nerds. Like, when you get all of us into a room, you'll look at us and we look like nerds, but this guy is a doctor, this guy is an artist, this guy is a lawyer, this guy is a toy manufacturer. And then there's me. It's just crazy, you know? It's just one of those things because we're all still nerds even though we've all made it somewhat in the professional world. From what I can see, we still have not really let go of that nerdiness that comes along with being a horror fan. I'm, like, the king of the nerds.
IT'S ALMOST BECOME COOL TO BE A NERD NOW. I DON'T KNOW IF YOU'VE NOTICED…
Yeah, and that's kind of annoying because there are these hipsters that I used to butt heads with. Those are the type of people that I tried to get away from when I was a kid.
YEAH, THE KIDS THAT ONCE TRIED TO BEAT YOU UP FOR BEING A HORROR NERD ARE NOW THE ONES GOING TO COMIC-CON.
It's crazy! Or trying to be a nerd when they're not truly one. I should say that nerds are born, they're not manufactured. [Laughs]
SO, AS A BORN NERD, WHAT'S YOUR DESERT ISLAND MOVIE?
That's a hard one. It would either be Bride of Frankenstein, The Black Cat, or The Evil Dead, and Re-Animator.
GOOD CHOICES. OK, A FEW MORE FUN, RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS: LON CHANEY OR RICK BAKER?
Well, they're the two [makeup and effects] innovators of their generations. Lon Chaney took the whole makeup thing and turned it from just making actors up as chimpanzees or monkeys to making actors up as horrific monsters and vampires and hunchbacks and phantoms. That wasn't something that was explored completely when he was around in the '20s. He definitely was a pioneer. Having said that, Rick Baker, for his generation, he really took it to an extreme. You know, An American Werewolf in London—doesn't get much better than that. Anthropomorphic changing like that. You didn't see that to the extent that Rick Baker did it. But if I had to pick between the two, I always go old school.
FAMOUS MONSTERS OR FANGORIA?
Well, I grew up on Famous Monsters so I have to pick Famous Monsters. But having said that, once Famous Monsters disappeared, Fangoria was the only act around, so I spent a lot of time reading "Fango," too. And I loved "Fango" because it was a more modern take on monster magazines.
ARGENTO OR FULCI?
You know, I would say [Italian director Lucio] Fulci because he did Zombie. One of my all-time favorite scenes is where the zombie is underwater and there's a shark—and he takes a bite out of the shark! [Laughs] I mean, Dario Argento is great, and I think Suspiria is a pretty cool movie. When that came out, there was nothing like it. But I have to say, man, Fulci's Zombie: fantastic!
SPEAKING OF ZOMBIES: FAST ZOMBIES OR SLOW ZOMBIES?
[Laughs] The first time I saw a fast zombie, I was little shocked. I was like, Woah! The zombie's on speed! I think they're just equally as terrifying. Look at The Walking Dead. All those zombies are pretty slow. The fast zombies are much more dangerous, but slow zombies are much more suspenseful.
BUT THEY'LL GET YOU IN THE END, NO MATTER WHAT SPEED THEY MOVE. LOVECRAFT OR POE?
That…is a good question. That's a hard one. I spent years reading Edgar Allan Poe in elementary school, much to the disappointment of my Catholic school teachers. Then I remember I discovered H.P. Lovecraft when I was 17 years old and I thought, Oh my God, this is something that's so the next level. I mean, he created an entire alternative universe around Cthulhu. So I have to say that, even though I like to go old school, Lovecraft is the guy.
GODZILLA OR KING KONG?
I love King Kong. Godzilla is great, but I mean, I love that original King Kong. The whole concept of going to Skull Island and getting Kong and bringing him back to New York and showing him at Radio Music Hall, and him climbing the Empire State Building — it's hugely romantic, and that's something that Godzilla does not have. Romance. And empathy.
OK, LAST QUESTION: IF YOU COULD BE ANY MONSTER IN HORROR HISTORY, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU BE?
That is a fantastic question. No one's ever asked me that.
YOU MEAN, YOU AND YOUR NERD FRIENDS HAVE NEVER DISCUSSED THIS BEFORE?
Well, actually we have, but no one's ever asked me a question like this in an interview. Believe me, we have drunken debates about this all the time. I would have to say Dracula for the following reasons: He was cool. He lives forever. He had a love interest in the original movie. And he's just totally goth. You can't get more goth than Dracula. I guess Nosferatu is a little bit more goth — but Dracula had a cool castle.