Sci-fi and fantasy flicks come alive at the London Film Museums

Pegasus and Bubo the Owl from Clash of the Titans

Photos, from top to bottom: Pegasus and Bubo the Owl from Clash of the Titans, Medusa from Clash of the Titans, Pinhead from Hellraiser and a costume from Planet of the Apes. (photos by Cameron Meier)

From and, June 22, 2012

Medusa lives! Pinhead spotted in England!

No, these aren’t the latest bad horror/sci-fi mash-ups. They are real observations from my trip earlier this month to London. I travelled there for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee but was also pleased to find a sort of diamond in the rough – two of the capital’s best-kept secrets: the London Film Museums.

Both museums can be viewed together in a single afternoon, and they are relatively close to one another, just a short Tube jaunt or cab ride away. I tackled the Covent Garden one first ( It’s the smaller and newer of the two, so inconspicuous that I had trouble finding it.

Housed snugly in the same block as the famed London Transport Museum, the displays are nevertheless impressive and particularly fascinating for fans of the early days of film and photography. From old movie cameras to insight into the technology that birthed the medium, the cinema enthusiast will find many treats. Chief among them are projections of some of George Méliès’s fantastical works and the Lumière Brothers’ short films that launched cinema. No, today’s museum-goers don’t shriek at the locomotive in Train Arriving in the Station, as members of the original 1895 Paris audience did, but the film still holds a certain power, evidenced by the popularity of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

The main attraction is “Magnum on Set,” which tells the stories of several great films, including Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, Orson Welles’ The Trial and Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, through the on-set photographs of the legendary agency Magnum Photos. Interspersed throughout the photographic displays are other artifacts, including a drool-worthy trinket for sci-fi buffs: costumes from the first Planet of the Apes.

Pinhead from Hellraiser

If the Covent Garden branch is the brains of the Film Museums, the South Bank one is its heart – and offers the real treat for lovers of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Opened in 2008 as the Movieum and located next to the giant London Eye Ferris wheel, inside the County Hall building (across the river from the Houses of Parliament), this museum can, surprisingly, be a tad tough to find as well. But after locating the entrance and paying the admission – yes, this one charges, unfortunately – you’ll be surprised at the exhibits’ size and sprawl.

“Charlie Chaplin: The Great Londoner” is well worth your time, but the real treat is “Ray Harryhausen: Myths and Legends,” an exceedingly cool homage to the master of stop-motion animation, including original props and some great insights into the history of the art form, from the groundbreaking days of Edwin S. Porter to Harryhausen’s last film, Clash of the Titans, in 1981. Also don’t miss the sci-fi and horror rooms, especially the Harry Potter props and costumes, and the disgustingly realistic creations from Hellraiser and other assorted gore fests.

John Huston once said, “The directing of a picture involves coming out of your individual loneliness and taking a controlling part in putting together a small world.” The London Film Museums allow you to step briefly into that world.

Planet of the Apes costume