MoPop’s Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film

Why do we watch things that terrify us? We visited Seattle MoPop’s horror movie exhibit to find out.

Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film Logo at MoPop

Why do we watch things that terrify us? Countless studies have proven the appeal and the draw of the macabre, exploring why audiences turn to the genre of sleepless nights again and again. 

The safety of being scared in a safe environment, the willingness to be petrified when we know we won’t deal with the after effects of killer clowns, soul-sucking demons, and whatever that is at the end of Annihilation. A study conducted during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020 deduced that horror fans tend to become more psychologically resilient from watching frightening worlds. It makes sense when you consider it – we spend more time considering the worst case scenario on screen. 

MoPop Scared to Death: The Thrill of the Horror Film

Before checking out MoPop’s Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film, I visited the Seattle museum in 2012 and caught its very first horror-themed exhibit, Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film, a twist on the current iteration that also boasted a slew of memorabilia and a creepy atmosphere. And while I always appreciate the context of both exhibits, diving into the nitty gritty of fear, I’m mostly a sucker for being in the same room as horror movie props. 

But I suppose they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, do they? 

There’s something about standing in front of the very ax that Jack Nicholson swings over and over again in The Shining (1980). It’s not dissimilar to visiting horror movie locations – they carry a tangible thread from the films we love, letting us exist in that same physical space. That in itself carries a trace of terror to it, making the Scared to Death exhibit one I highly recommend. 

The Shining ax prop at MoPop Museum
Jack Torrance’s ax from The Shining

Quick Guide to Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film

Location: MoPop Museum, Seattle
Date of Visit: May 2023
Admission: $25-35 per adult (depending on the day) / $0 per child 0-4 years, students, military and seniors receive special deals. Exhibit is recommended for ages 13+.
Top Tip: Check the MoPop blog in advance to time your visit. They’ve previously had a Sadako lookalike at the exhibit clawing her way from a TV set!

Our visit to Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film


MoPop Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film wall adornments

As I mentioned, I’ve visited MoPop a few times before but this was the first time for my partner. We booked tickets the previous day but upon closer inspection we’d bungled it and accidentally chosen the wrong date. 

First thumbs up for MoPop: this was not remotely an issue. They let us in when we arrived the next day. And despite their booking portal listing specific entry times, no-one checked, and we were allowed immediate entry. Our tickets granted us admission to the main museum and this includes 11 exhibitions. The prices vary depending on what day of the week you attend, but ours came to around $33 each including tax. 

The MoPop Museum itself

Founded in 2000 as the Experience Music Project by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum was designed by architect Frank O’Gehry who took apart several guitars to try and create the rock n’ roll atmosphere the building warranted. Its unique aesthetic makes it a standout piece of Seattle history. 

The museum’s original purpose as a place to celebrate the history of rock n’roll –  inspired by Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix – since made way for science-fiction, fantasy, and popular culture in general to form the basis of its exhibits. In 2016, the EMP Project as it was known by then, rebranded as the Museum of Popular Culture, or MoPop. 

It’s not difficult to locate the building once you arrive at Seattle Center, but I did struggle – presumably because I’m a fool – to find which entrance was actually open. Luckily, my partner is much smarter than me, and when inside everything is clearly signposted. Thank goodness. 

The Exhibit

Scared to Death is located on Level 2 in the South Galleries alongside two other exhibits genre fans will enjoy, Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic.

Once through the main exhibit doors, you enter a downward spiral staircase. The faces of countless unknowns screaming in terror line the walls, while audio piped in suggests someone, somewhere is terrified. It’s certainly a vibe, and one orchestrated to weed out those who might find the prospect of diving into horror’s basement about as fun as a colonoscopy without sedation. 

A tide of supposed dead bodies strung from the ceiling greet you as you make your way onto the main floor. This is the start of themed sections of the exhibit, with a zombie containment area, a vampire’s lair, and this… a slasher’s snug? There is no real order to how you experience the exhibit, you can take a wander and go wherever. Oral histories play in secluded booths, photo ops galore are dotted in nooks – a vampire’s coffin and a spongy TV set – and of course, there’s the props.

So. Many. Props.

Highlights from Scared to Death: The Thrill of the Horror Film

The museum website lists a Freddy Krueger sweatshirt prop which I unfortunately couldn’t find, but apart from that, I lapped up this treasure trove of horror history.  

The Howling (1983) – Werewolf hand

The Howling hand prop at MoPop Museum, Seattle

Friday the 13th (1980) – Mrs. Voorhees’ severed head

Mrs. Voorhees severed head from Friday the 13th, at MoPop Museum, Seattle

Friday the 13th (2009) – Jason Voorhees’ clothes, mask, machete used by Derek Mears

The machete, overalls, and mask worn by Derek Mears from Friday the 13th, at MoPop Museum, Seattle

Halloween (2007) – Michael Myers’ coveralls worn by Tyler Mane

Halloween (2007) Michael Myers coveralls worn by Tyler Mane at MoPop Seattle

The Thing (1982) – Fuchs’ burned body,MacReady’s hat worn by Kurt Russell, signed clapperboard

The Thing (1982) - Fuchs' burned body, designed by Rob Bottin, created by Henry Alvare, MacReady's hat worn by Kurt Russell, signed clapperboard

Highlights from The Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction

Next door is the sci-fi exhibit which carries many props from science-fiction television and cinema, and what better property to welcome you in than the T-800 himself?

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – T-800 endoskeleton

The Terminator T-800 prop from Terminator 2 at MoPop, Seattle.

Terminator jacket, arm, skull, and T-1000 head and finger

Terminator T-800 prop from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) on display at MoPop, Seattle.

Alien (1979) / Aliens (1986) – Narcissus’ dropship, the Nostromo Refinery Tower and the Gateway Station craft

Alien Narcissus, Aliens' Gateway Station craft and Nostromo Refinery on display at MoPop, Seattle.

Aliens (1986) – Ripley’s ammo, Hick’s body armour, a pulse rifle

Aliens Pulse Rifle prop, Hicks' body armor, and Ripley's grenades on display at MoPop, Seattle.

These props in particular I spent a lot of time with for one reason – I can’t visit the place they were filmed. That’s one thing that’s not lost on me, as I construct this new website dedicated to diving into the locations of my favourite horror movies. Both Alien and Aliens were filmed on studio sound stages in England; Alien at Shepperton and Aliens at Pinewood with the final alien nest filmed at the decommissioned Acton Lane Power Station (which has since been demolished). I can’t stand where those sequences were filmed so the next best thing? These props. 

Seeing the words “used by Sigourney Weaver as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in the film Aliens (1986)” brought a lump to my throat. This is the same ring of bullets she tosses into the alien queen’s nest. How are people simply milling about when this prop is right here? You can see the heart over Hicks’ chest, a remnant from when James Cameron had the cast decorate their armour to help them get into character; Michael Biehn joined the production late, stepping in for James Remar who had already adorned Corporal Hicks’ plate with a padlocked heart. Apparently Biehn was not a fan as he thought it looked too much like a target.

It should come as no surprise that I named my dog Ripley. 

Visiting Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film

The official MoPop site includes details on directions whether you’re driving, walking, or catching public transport. It also lists the locations of nearby parking. We took the ferry and walked from Colman Dock to Seattle Center, but you could also catch the Seattle Monorail from downtown, as well!

We spent around 90 minutes in MoPop overall including a trip to the gift shop where I snagged a very nice Halloween tee. 

Because Seattle Center is a big tourist attraction, lunch options are plentiful. We researched beforehand and decided to stroll along Mercer Street and hit up Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge for delicious Creole cuisine that hit the spot. I highly recommend paying them a visit!

Places to Visit in the Area

If you’re at MoPop, you should definitely visit the Space Needle. It’s right there. As someone who has fought against a fear of heights for their entire life, I can honestly say once was enough for me. By the time we’d reached the top, I headed to the bar and clung to it for dear life. 

On the horror front, several downtown Seattle The Ring filming locations are within walking distance of MoPop, and further downtown you’ll find Haunted History Ghost Tours of Seattle, Spooked in Seattle Tours, and also the Seattle Terrors and Ghost Guided Walking Tours

Let us know how your visit to MoPop’s Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film went and which props caught your eye. I didn’t include all of them to leave some element of surprise for your own visits, And if you catch anyone sobbing in front of dropship miniatures, do say hello!

Librarian by day and scribbler by night, Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, Regal Cinemas, Total Film, and more. Gem especially loves writing about horror movies. When not visiting her native England, she enjoys traveling to spooky film locales. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie – please don't make her choose.

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