Universal Monsters Come to L.A. Natural History Museum

Frankenstein 1931 Still - Photofest - H 2019
Courtesy of Photofest
Props from 'Dracula,' 'Frankenstein' and more will be on display through early 2020.

Universal's monsters are rising from the dead thanks to upcoming films such as The Invisible Man (out Feb. 28, 2020) and Paul Feig's recently announced Dark Army. But the classic creatures will also be haunting the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County this Halloween.

The Natural History of Horror exhibit, which opened Thursday and runs through April 2020, features props and rare stills from movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein, and looks at the real-life science and events that inspired monster movies of the 1920s-50s (such as the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb leading to The Mummy). 

Universal film exec Holly Goline notes the studio’s current slate of monster movies are grounded in real science, so the museum is a fitting place to honor the past while looking for hints to the monsters’ future: "The pieces you'll see come out next are rooted in what we are doing at the natural history museum."

This exhibition has roots dating back to 1935, when Universal donated a number of props to the museum. Throughout the process of putting the exhibit together, collections manager Beth Werling uncovered a hidden piece of history. 

"I discovered that two of the Universal props donated in 1935 had been misidentified by the studio, Werling says. "Instead of being from The Good Fairy, a broom and pitchfork are actually from The Bride of Frankenstein."

Though it was too late to include those items in this exhibit, she hopes to get them in front of the public in the near future.

Other lessons were learned along the way for the staff. Sarah Crawford, senior manager, exhibition design and development, was surprised that author Mary Shelley based Frankenstein off of real-life scientific experiments of the day.

"She was likely inspired by the work of a man named Giovanni Aldini who toured 19th century Europe, drawing crowds to watch him shock dead animals — and even human corpses — with electricity which caused the bodies to move," says Crawford. "Spectators though electricity might hold the key to reanimating the dead."

See some highlights from the exhibit below.