The Real-World Inspiration for Monsters Like Dracula, Frankenstein

Dracula, Frankenstein and other monsters may have literary origins, but Hollywood has turned them into iconic characters that have scared and thrilled audiences for decades.In the new exhibit, “Natural History of Horror,” the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County explains the link between art and reality, and shows how filmmakers looked to science and archeology as inspiration for hair-raising movie monsters.
 
“It’s really been a journey since those films were created to see how these different monsters have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years,” said Jeff Pirtle, director of archives and collections, at NBC Universal.
 
“When you look at, for instance, Dracula, all you have to do is see a man in a cape and a tuxedo underneath -- it’s an iconic image," said Beth Werling, collections manager in the museum's history department. "You know, it’s the suave, sophisticated Dracula during the day, and a vampire at night. You look at Frankenstein and the green makeup and the flat head and the bolts coming out of the neck, you know what you’re looking at.”
 
Visitors can see original monster movie posters and props donated by Universal, including the ball and chain that shackled Frankenstein’s reanimated corpse in the 1931 movie.
 
There is also a reproduction of the costume from the 1954 film "Creature from the Black Lagoon," with movable gills.
 
Beyond the props, the exhibit highlights the real-life inspirations for the Hollywood horrors.
 The myth and science that inspired the Creature from the Black Lagoon movie. (Photo: Elizabeth Lee / VOA)Milicent Patrick designed the “creature” from the Black Lagoon by studying reptiles, amphibians, fish and pictures of extinct animals. One of the creature's origins came from the discovery in 1938 of coelacanths — fish that some biologists thought at the time to be the missing link between sea and land creatures.
 
The discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 inspired "The Mummy" in 1932. In the new exhibit, the wrappings of a real mummy are displayed near fake wrappings from the movie.
 
“The prop is pretty much what the originals were made out of — linen cloth, very coarsely woven. And in our case, with the prop mummy wrappings, they were dubbed with Fuller’s earth (clay material) to give them the kind of dusty, crusty look to age them," Werling said. Fuller's earth is "kind of like a dirt-like mixture that you would use when you wanted to age something or have something look dusty. As ...