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Review: Icons of Darkness

Halloween is great right out of the gate – thanks to the horrifying congregation at Icons of Darkness!

Update: This review is based on the version of Icons of Darkness that was cancelled in 2020. Scroll down to the bottom for links to the version that opened in 2021 at a different location.

Unfortunately, there is no great antonym for “iconoclast”; if there were, we would be using it now to express our reaction to Icons of Darkness, the amazing exhibition of movie props, figures, and memorabilia from the private collection of Richard Correll. More than a Halloween art display, Icons of Darkness functions as a sort of sinister shrine for a pantheon of cinema’s greatest monsters, madmen, villains, and superheroes. Like the faithful heading to mecca, disciples of horror, fantasy, and science fiction can make the pilgrimage to the Montalbán in Hollywood, offering obeisance before their idols, wandering through a macabre congregation of vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, ghosts, aliens, and cyborgs.

Icons of Darkness Review
Outside the Montalbán

Metaphors aside, Icons of Darkness is not quite a religious experience, but it is an uplifting antidote to the ennui of a months-long pandemic lockdown and proof that Halloween 2020 need not be a desiccated wasteland. This is definitely not a haunted house attraction, but thanks to ominous lighting and sounds – along with a few sneaky mechanical scares – the interior of the Montalbán provides a must-see walk-through experience that goes beyond being a mere exhibition.

Icons of Darkness Review: Exhibition
Icons of Darkness review
Lobby Display

You can’t miss Icons of Darkness when driving down Vine Street: the marquee of the Montalbán is festooned with giant skeletons, telling you you’re in the right place. Upon entering, temperatures are checked; masks are required, and admission is timed to control the flow through the exhibition, enabling social distancing.

The lobby sets the tone with a display of Aliens and Predators, along with figures of director Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Nicholson from The Shining, Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jack Skelington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. But you will not want to linger long; it’s better to move inside the main area, which has been converted from theatre seating to exhibition hall.

Here, an incredible array of figures has been arranged in a path with enough twists and turns to prevent you from seeing everything at once, creating sections with thematic groupings: superheroes, cyborgs, dinosaurs, aliens. The pilgrimage begins innocently enough with Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, but soon you are surrounded by more dangerous characters: Hannibal Lecter, The Terminator, the Wicked Witch of the West (as portrayed by both Margaret Hamilton and Mila Kunis).

Icons of Darkness Review
Triceratops and T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK

Further along is a mini-Jurassic Park, inhabited by Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Velociraptors, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The remarkable thing here is that the movie Jurassic Park was notable for being a major shift in cinema special effects toward the use of computer-generated imagery, yet there were full-scale mechanical props built as well, including the giant T-rex head on display here.

Star Wars is well represented with a life-cast head of Mark Hamill, plus figures of Bobba Fett and Darth Vader. There is even a life-size version of K-2SO from Rogue One – quite a surprise since the character was realized on screen with CGI. Next is the Alien Mother from Aliens, followed by other menacing extraterrestrials (from John Carpenter’s The Thing, Mars Attacks, Independence Day, and This Island Earth), plus the friendly one from E.T.

Icons of Darkness Review
Frankenstein, Michael Jackson, female vamp, Freddy & Jason

Leaving outer space behind, the next turn brings devotees of darkness to the Icons of Darkness promised in the exhibition’s title. Here you will see ghastly groupings of classic and contemporary movie monsters. The early era of black-and-white gothic horror is represented by Lon Chaney (Phantom of the Opera), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), and Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man). The Technicolor remakes of those early films, shot in England in the 1950s, are personified by actor Christopher Lee as both Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s creation. The slasher era gets its due in the form of Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees. Further along are characters from Army of Darkness, Creepshow, The Nun, and The Exorcist.

Icons of Darkness Review
Monsters lurk in the rafters.

All the while, misshapen skeletal figures lurk on a balcony overhead, looking down at potential victims. The sense of being fully immersed in a shadowy realm of monsters is quite remarkable, elevating the display from macabre museum exhibition to something resembling a haunted attraction, enhanced by the occasional figure suddenly springing to life.

Icons of Darkness Review: Mezzanine and Rooftop
Icons of Darkness Review
Remove an organ or bone.

In an effort to turn Icons of Darkness into a destination event, the Montalbán is offering two additional levels of mischievous mayhem. The mezzanine on the second floor features a zombie bar and a Game of Thrones photo op, along with a bird’s eye view on the ground floor, affording an opportunity to get a sense of the enormity of the exhibition – a chance to see the forest, not just the trees.

The rooftop (usually used for outdoor screenings) has been transformed into a Halloween version of a midway carnival, with half a dozen creepy games. Guests can try their skills at catapulting a brain into a zombie’s cranium, tossing a skull into a basket waved around by a giant skeleton, tossing a ring over candles held by ghosts, or performing an autopsy.

The games are harder than they look, but they’re not impossible. We tried everything and managed only to get one skull in a basket and remove one bone from a desiccated cadaver (which turned out not to be so dead as it first appeared).

Socially distanced seating is available on the roof, so guests can relax after succeeding or failing at the ghoulish challenges. It’s a great wave to savor the overall Icons of Darkness experience, extending what could have been a twenty-minute tour into an entertaining night out on the town.

Icons of Darkness Review: Conclusion
Icons of Darkness Review
Figures from LEGEND (1985)

We have reviewed Macabre Art & Exhibits on several occasions, everything from Guillermo Del Toro’s At Home with Monsters to Amalgamated Dynamics’ 30 Years of Makeup and Monsters, but Icons of Darkness is far and way our favorite. The Amalgamated Dynamics exhibition was wonderful, but the behind-glass approach left us feeling at arm’s length from the monsters. The Guillermo Del Toro show at LACMA was even more extensive than Icons of Darkness, but layout and cattle-herd approach to crowd control mitigated against relaxed perusal of the displays.

Icons of Darkness avoids both these hurdles. Only smaller items (maquettes and life-casts of heads) are under glass; though larger figures are roped off, they do not feel removed – it’s almost as if you’re rubbing shoulders with the Joker or the Werewolf of London. The sheer scale of the display is overwhelming, and the presentation is arranged in a way that shows off the exhibits to wonderful effect. One should not ignore the advantage of social distancing: carefully timed admission avoids the conga lines, allowing supplicants time to express due reverence for their idols.

So, don’t hesitate. Get yourself to the Montalbán, pay homage to the Icons of Darkness; then have a shot of gin (it’s my only weakness) at the zombie bar, and make a toast to a new world of Gods and Monsters!

Icons of Darkness Review: Must-See Shrine of Movie Monsters

Bottom Line

NOTE: Unfortunately, Icons of Darkness, which had been scheduled at The Montalbán from September 24 through November 1, was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, this post serves more as a record of what could have been rather than a review of what was.

The Montalbán’s annual Rooftop Screams series of Halloween horror movies was also cancelled.

Update: Below are links to the version of Icons of Darkness that opened at Hollywood and Highland in 2021.


Icons of Darkness Review: Photographs

See more photos from Icons of Darkness here.


More Halloween Museums, Galleries, and Tours

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.