Whether or not you’re a culture-vulture, you must have noticed that zombies, werewolves, ghosts and creepy outer-space creatures have invaded today’s films and television.

Why they’re so popular is a hot subject for psychiatrists, sociologists and futurists — plus a long list of other theorists. No one can deny that they’re here, but aren’t you surprised to find film characters in an art museum?

Last weekend, for example, these netherworld creatures occupied both the Carpenter Performing Arts Center and the CSULB University Art Museum. Back in the day, as they say, “who wuddathunk” — that one day horror-film special effects would be considered art — even the bloody ones that make your skin crawl. 

We’re not kidding, of course. Right now in the 21st Century, this is another example of our post-post-Modern world — or so some people have labeled it.

And talk about popular! The largest UAM crowd we’ve ever seen showed up at the opening of “Gabe Bartalos: Abhorrence and Obsession.” Young people, old people, students and film lovers.

Gabe is a special-effects pioneer who is renowned for his prosthetic sculpture and horror film makeup. He is also a ground-breaking film designer who specializes in “surreal sets” and “surrealistic horror.” For more than 20 years, his work has been making people rethink their opinion of the blood-and-gore genre. According to him, “Designing special effects for horror films is an art form that enhances the mundane experience of daily life.” Therefore, those designs belong in contemporary art museums just as much as any other art expression does.

On view through Dec. 8 are 28 works including seven large-scale pieces created for Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle.” Among them are “Loughton Candidate,” “Zombie Horse,” and set designs from a range of cult horror films such as “Brain Damage” and “Basket Case.” Surrounded by horror effects in a fresh context offers viewers the opportunity to reevaluate their opinion of the subject.

At 8 p.m., the crowd marched in unison to the Carpenter Center where Gabe, and fellow artist Matthew Barney, sat on the stage discussing their work and philosophy of filmmaking in detail. (Hmmmmm, some of us thought film-making was a performing art.) With UAM director Chris Scoates as moderator, the audience was held captive throughout the entire “conversation/discussion/performance.” Especially provocative was their description of “the creative process as entertainment,” and the difference between “the producer’s vision,” “the director’s vision,” and “the artist’s vision.” (Needless to say, they identified with the latter.)

Mixed in throughout this heady show (two independent film-makers brainstorming on stage), was their acquaintance with myriad film giants. Names such as Brunel, Dali, Kubrick, Marie Abramovitz and Chris Burton were bandied about with respect and reverence — even Norman Mailor and Brian Eno were mentioned. To be perfectly honest, there was so much information about “horror film-making as art,” I’m going back to the museum to see the exhibit a second time. This exhibit is guaranteed to set attendance records.

“Gabe Bartalos: Abhorrence and Obsession” continues at UAM through Dec. 8. For more information about hours, location, parking and price, visit www.csulb.edu/uam, or call 985-5761.

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