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  • Carrie Specht

The Natural History Museum Presents The Natural History of Horror


Beware, the exhibition of the Natural History of Horror. Just in time for Halloween, the Natural History Museum is presenting a spooky, homegrown Hollywood exhibition that reveals the science of the scary. Walk into the museum’s Grand Foyer, past dueling dinosaurs, toward the building’s northeast corner, and you’ll soon find yourself in a dark room flickering with hidden surprises, and familiar faces.


The NHM has a strange curiosity for mysterious, eerie, and grotesque monsters. Maybe you do too. Do you have a love for the thrill of intense, heart-pounding bursts of adrenaline that only horror movies can provide? If the answer is yes, then this is the exhibition for you. You'll be thoroughly entertained as you hear about the scientific experiments and discoveries that inspired filmmakers to create four of the world‘s most iconic movie monsters: the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and Dracula. You can explore the scientific inspiration for each of these classic monsters and discover the surprising real-world backstory of each larger-than-life character.


The Gill Man, the fishy fiend from the 1954 film, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, was modeled after a Brazilian myth of a half-man, half-fish creature living in the Amazon River and the discovery of a live coelacanth in 1938 (a large, bony fish thought to be extinct for more than 65 million years). At the time, the coelacanth was suggested to be a missing link between life on land and at sea. Thus the "Gill Man". A reproduction of the cutting-edge suit, which had gills that moved when it breathed, will be on display for fans to ogle.

Visitors to the exhibition will also come close to another embodiment of creepiness — Frankenstein's Monster. The 1931 movie based on Mary Shelley's novel is about Dr. Frankenstein, a scientist who brings a corpse back to life. The character’s quest to reanimate the dead was based in part on the work of Luigi Galvani. The 19th-century scientist's experiments in “animal electricity” captivated the public, including Shelley. An interactive “lab” offers visitors a chance to try their hand at reanimation (of a frog, at least). Visitors can also see some key props that were donated to the museum‘s History Department, including the metal shackles Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) used to restrain the monster.


The 1932 film, The Mummy, was inspired by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 which was opened by archaeologists in 1922 after lying untouched for more than 3,000 years. The Natural History of Horror exhibition unwraps the origins of one of the most terrifying of screen legends shining a spotlight on the wonderful things inside, including strange animals, statues, and gold. The discovery of such ancient opulence sparked an international obsession with ancient Egypt. However, the hieroglyphics on the tomb were mistranslated in news reports as curses, so when filmmakers put actor Boris Karloff in a sarcophagus and makeup, it was box-office gold.


Then there is Count Dracula. The vampire legend might have started as a way to explain the spread of disease, but the myth took flight in the 1931 film Dracula. In the gallery, you will find Dracula in your midst where you can immerse yourself in the vampire legends that were around for centuries before Bram Stoker published his mesmerizing novel of the same name in 1897. There was a time when people blamed the spread of the plague, rabies, and other contagious diseases that raged across Europe on vampires. This outdated perception is called out in the exhibition through compelling paintings and illustrations of afflicted humans as well as the breakthrough medical discoveries.


While it may be hard to pry yourself away from all of the monster lore when you finally step back into the museum’s light-filled Grand Foyer, it is foreseen that you will have gathered many ghoulish and geeky facts with which to impress your friends. Complete with rare movie props, film footage, hands-on activities, and museum specimens, this could be the best Halloween adventure you've had in years, and one you and your family will remember for many more. The exhibit will be up from October 10, 2019 through April 19, 2020. It's free with paid museum admission, and absolutely free for museum members.