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Metallica's Kirk Hammett Has Way Too Many Skeletons in His Closet

We spoke with the legendary metal guitarist about his lifelong obsession of collecting horror memorabilia, from vintage toys to old school movie posters.
October 27, 2015, 3:00pm

All photos by Raymond Ahner

Kirk Hammett got his start in music founding the Bay Area thrash band Exodus in 1979 at the age of 16. By 1983, he was lead guitarist for Metallica following the firing of Dave Mustaine (now of Megadeath fame). The curly-haired guitarist is known for his killer riffs—he came up with "Enter Sandman"—searing solos, and the occasional sneaking in of jazz and blues into Metallica's sound, especially during the band's Load and ReLoad period. But, for me, I've always thought of Kirk as a serious horror dude. He's published a book documenting his collection of horror memorabilia, and he's created his own horror convention/festival, Kirk Von Hammett's Fear FestEvil (Kirk Von Hammett is the name he takes when working in the horror realm).

As a serious horror enthusiast myself, Kirk was always on my radar as a pro-collector. With the Halloween season fully upon us, I spoke to the metal master about a lifetime of horror fandom, the joys of watching Nosferatu 800 times, and his favorite new and all-time horror flicks.


VICE: Let's start at the beginning. How did you first get into horror and collecting horror memorabilia?
Kirk Hammett: I saw my first horror movie when I was five years old. It was Day of the Triffids. That was totally the "stuff" of horror movies. By the time I was six years old, I started buying and reading monster magazines, particularly Famous Monsters of Filmland. I would save my milk and donut money, and starve over the course of a school day, just so I could go buy comics and magazines.

I've also seen in your collection lots of vintage horror toys. Was that something you collected later in life? Or did you collect those as a kid, too?
It was pretty wacky, but when I was a kid, I collected comic books and magazines. I also played the hell out of all the monster toys. Actually, I didn't keep any of those old monster toys, I blew them up with firecrackers and set them on fire.

From ages 14 to 23, I was just eating, breathing, sleeping music, but in the back of my mind I was still thinking horror.

And how did getting into music affect your collecting habits?
Music came into my life and totally washed away everything else. I became totally obsessed with music and playing guitars. You know, learning the ins and outs of being a musician. But by the time I started making some disposable income, around the time of Ride the Lightning, I started buying comics again and buying a lot of monster toys that I could not buy as a kid. And then I started buying the masks and the artwork and paintings and got totally immersed in all that. And the last thing I got into was the movie posters, and when I started getting into those, that was the ultimate thing for me to collect. The graphics are incredibly beautiful. The design, the style—I just found them to be objects of beauty. So the last 30 years or so, I've been an active collector. From ages 14 to 23, I was just eating, breathing, sleeping music, but in the back of my mind, I was still thinking horror. I was still watching horror movies and reading horror novels.

Do you see similarities between the way you dove so deeply into music when you first got into it and the way you dove so deeply into collecting?
Oh yeah. I'm totally OCD, I'm totally obsessive compulsive. It really, truly is a mental disorder for me. But at the same time, I'm not a hoarder and I'm very, very selective about what comes into my collection. That's my approach to building my collection. A lot of people just buy and buy and buy, with no real thought behind it other than to just acquire. I've never been that kind of collector. For me, being a completist or having multiples of stuff is just not my bag. It never has been. But what is my bag is trying to get these movie posters recognized as the fine pieces of art they are. Particularly, the posters from the 1920s and 30s, which were the ultimate in graphics and design. If you look at them, there's a romanticism in these posters that you just don't see in movie posters today. There's a lushness and an elegance to these posters that are slightly out of place because, after all, they are advertising horror movies.

I can't watch a lot of that stuff at home because my kids are still too young for body parts flying in the air. When I was their age, I definitely watched body parts flying through the air, and it didn't really do me any favors.

Do you have a favorite horror flick? For me, and I always get in trouble for this, it's Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
I. Love. That. Movie. Bro, it's so weird. It has nothing to do with the first two movies; It has nothing to do with any of the following movies. That's part of the reason why I love it.

I'm obsessed. Do you have a movie like that that you're obsessed with? That you watch over and over?
It changes from time to time. I've watched Nosferatu like 800 times. I watched Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera with my kids the other day and was astounded because it had the original soundtrack synced up to the film. There's a restored version of Metropolis that I've yet to watch, so I've been delving into the silent era a bit more. I usually say, for my favorite film, The Mummy or Bride of Frankenstein. I just watched the first four Frankenstein movies with my kids, and I have to say, the first Frankenstein is a piece of art, man. From beginning to end, it has a pace to it. It has a vibe. All the actors are fantastic. Karloff as the Monster is a showstopper.

It feels cliché to say "they don't make them like that anymore," but with Golden Age Horror… I mean, they really don't make them like that anymore.
Yeah, but there's a lot of really great stuff coming out now. I think the movies coming out now are a lot better than the state of horror movies ten years ago. I loved Amigo Undead, and there's this movie that I somehow missed when it came out two or three years ago called Rigor Mortis. And WolfCop—I love WolfCop. I love What We Do in the Shadows—I think that's a great fucking movie, man. I love that movie to death. I watch a lot of the newer horror movies too because, I just can't help myself.

When I go out on tour, I make sure I have a lot of stuff to watch. I can't watch a lot of that stuff at home because my kids are still too young for body parts flying in the air. When I was their age, I definitely watched body parts flying through the air, and it didn't really do me any favors.

What are you working on next?
I'm working on a KVH YouTube channel [KVH stands for Kirk Von Hammett], which is going to be a pretty fun project for me. I'm going to take a crack at doing something I've always wanted to do, which is be a horror-show host. I'm telling VICE first! We're still working it all out. We're in the pre-production stage, but just putting it out there that that's my intention.

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