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October 25, 2012

Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett shares ‘Horror Business’ with fans

Posted in: Books

%name Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett shares Horror Business with fans

Kirk Hammett poses with a special Boris Karloff guitar inspired by a movie poster for "The Mummy" in an image from his new coffee table book, "Too Much Horror Business." (Abrams Images)

%name Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett shares Horror Business with fans

Kirk Hammett with an early days iteration of his movie memorabilia collection in an image from his new coffee table book "Too Much Horror Business." (Abrams Images)

%name Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett shares Horror Business with fans

A "King Kong" movie poster from Kirk Hammett's collection. (Abrams Images)

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Kirk Hammett showcases his extensive collection of horror movie memorabilia in the new book "Too Much Horror Business." (Abrams Images)

Kirk Hammett is known to most people as the guitarist in the world’s greatest metal band, but when he’s not devoting his time to Metallica, he’s pursuing a lifelong passion: collecting horror movie memorabilia.

It’s a hobby that dates back to his childhood days in San Francisco, when he’d spend hours with Gary Arlington at the San Francisco Comic Book Company in the city’s Mission District. There, Hammett developed a love for horror and underground comics that dovetailed with his fascination with the Universal canon — Boris Karloff’s monster in 1931’s landmark “Frankenstein” was a personal favorite.

In the new large-format coffee table book, “Too Much Horror Business — The Kirk Hammett Collection,” the musician showcases the treasure trove of cinematic artifacts that he’s amassed over the years, chatting at length with interviewer Steffan Chirazi on a range of issues — the evolution of his archive, the impact of watching “The Day of the Triffids” as a very young boy and the tragedy of the vanishing Saturday monster movie matinee.

It was the acquisition of two particular pieces — the first, a costume worn by Karloff in 1934’s “The Black Cat,” the second, a costume worn by Bela Lugosi in 1932’s “White Zombie” — that convinced him it was time to share the gems he’d collected with fellow fans.

“I could not believe that these things still existed, that they still survived after 70 odd years or so, and I could not believe that they were available,” Hammett said by phone from San Francisco earlier this week. “I saw both of these pieces in two different auction catalogs. When I acquired them, I thought, this is too good for me to enjoy in a solitary fashion. This is stuff that other people should see because it’s so cool.”

Hammett said he initially had the idea for a book about 10 years ago but actively began working on the project in 2009. He chose to organize the photographs of his collection chronologically, and the range of memorabilia is impressive (Hammett estimates that his is the second largest such collection in the world). The book is divided into three parts, the first of which focuses on movie posters and props by decade, the second on toys and masks, the third on other artwork.

Perhaps most striking are the pages devoted to his expansive gallery of movie posters for films including the classics of German Expressionism “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” the 1925 version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” 1931’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and the Universal monster films.  The emphasis on the posters was intentional; Hammett considers them the centerpieces of his collection.

“The movie posters is the stuff that I truly, truly love and am just obsessed with,” he said. “I was truly obsessed with the cultural significance of it all. The beauty of the movie posters really, really struck me. The horror movie posters of the ’20s and ’30s have this very romantic feeling to them. Back then there was no real formula for making these posters. The people who created this stuff put as much time and effort into a horror movie poster as they would have a western or a romance. The goal was to make as beautiful a movie poster as they possibly could.”

Hammett, who in the introduction describes himself as “a keeper, a curator, a warden, a historian, a guardian,” chose to write the captions for the images himself, in order to ensure that his own voice came through.

“It was important to me that the book was personable, rather than it being some sort of reference book or scholarly book,” Hammett said. “I wanted it to be fun and enjoyable. Fan enthusiasm was a big part of it. Knowing that it’s coming from a fan’s perspective, which was my own perspective, I took great pains to make sure that came across.”

Hammett remains an avid collector and in fact, is already making tentative plans for a follow-up volume to “Too Much Horror Business.” Discovering and acquiring the memorabilia keeps him closely in touch with the cinema that deeply influenced him as a young man — the items bring him great joy and maybe even more importantly, an endless source of creative inspiration.

“They’re inspiring to me, they’re totally inspiring,” Hammett said. “The room in my house that all the movie posters are in has very little furniture — all it has is a couch, a guitar and an amp and that’s where I go to play guitar. I feel grounded when I’m in that room. When I’m playing my guitar, this stuff relaxes me, it puts me in the zone where my creative juices are flowing.

“It also brings me back to a time in my life when I was a  kid when I really, really loved this stuff,” he added. “I guess you could say it’s sentimental. I have such a love for the movies themselves, a real genuine love for these movies. I can’t help but not love them.”

– Gina McIntyre

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