Everyone has a hobby—some enduring side-project or consuming pastime; for most, though, these activities don’t include meticulously crafting werewolf teeth or purchasing obscure mummy memorabilia. Charlottesville artist Matthew Gatto, on the other hand, has that precise passion. For years, he’s been collecting his way to a small museum’s worth of spooky artifacts. Starting in the spring of 2016, Gatto has led private tours through a room in his apartment dubbed the Parlor of Horrors. Now, for the first time in his impressively creepy collection’s history, the public will be able to see—or peek through their fingers—themselves.
During the month of October, Gatto’s collection will be open to the public at The Bridge, a public arts initiative and gallery space which aims “to bridge diverse communities through the arts.” Diverse, in this case, refers to anyone passionate about the spooky spirit of Halloween, from classic horror film buffs to trick-or-treaters and everyone in between.
Gatto acquired his fascination with horror by watching his mother go all out for Halloween each year. “She would decorate the house. She would find out in advance what my brother and I wanted to dress up as and helped us piece our costumes together. She’s a craft lady extraordinaire—she sculpted and painted. I was inspired by watching her develop her craft and work on projects over months.” This dedication to time intensive crafts clearly left its mark, as the featured attraction during Parlor of Horrors is a life-sized mummy—based on the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff—which took Gatto seven months to complete.
“I was probably 12 the first time I saw it,” Gatto said. “I remember watching An American Werewolf in London, and seeing the practical effects and makeup. I was blown away. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it.” He credits his obsession with mask-making directly to the 1981 film. Gatto had always wanted a mask or bust from the film, but as he was unable to afford one, he took matters into his own, untrained hands. His first mask required three attempts over three years to get right. Once a wearable piece, the intimidating werewolf head now sits mounted as if killed in some mythic hunt.
The Parlor of Horrors will feature Gatto’s entire collection, composed of dozens of chilling pieces—detailed masks, fangs, and hands alongside ephemera from classic horror films. For those considering a visit to The Bridge but are apprehensive about blood-and-guts, fear not: gore-horror and thrillers don’t qualify for Gatto. He instead prefers old-school ghouls from the early-to-mid-1950s Universal monsters: Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein, Werewolf, and the rest of the gang.
Gatto’s attention to detail results in an impeccable appearance, not only for his masks but also in their presentation. “I take pride in displaying things, not even just monster things. I enjoy the curation and exhibit-design that comes with it,” Gatto said. Although most of the work featured has been created or purchased by Gatto, the exhibit also includes pieces by four other artists: Richard David Moore, Brian Wiltz, Adam Wallacavage, and Margaret Rolicki, who contributed everything from screen-printed posters to blood-dripping mirrors.
Not satisfied by a mere gallery exhibit, The Bridge and Gatto collaborated further to plan a series of horror-themed events throughout October. The month’s timeline fits the trajectory of a classic horror film—inciting incident, rising action, an impressively scary climax, and a feel-good ending. It starts with a typical First Friday reception on October 6, then follows with an outdoor concert ominously scheduled for Friday the 13th. The show features the perfectly-named 80s hard-rock duo Bat Fangs and should provide a raucous enough time to wake the dead. As a unique bonus, Champion Brewery devised a new werewolf-themed beer for the Parlor of Horrors: Lichen Bite Imperial Red Ale, which will debut during the concert and be available throughout the rest of the events. The brew’s mobile tap will even feature a ghoulish hand-made werewolf handle.
The next day on October 14, The Bridge will host an outdoor screening of Nosferatu, the classic 1922 silent German horror film, along with a live organ accompaniment from Matt Marshall, a Film Lecturer at UVA and Hollins University. Charlottesville is no stranger to the film, as this particular event has occurred several times in various venues over the past decade. After attending a handful of Nosferatu screenings since moving here twelve years ago, Gatto knew he wanted to bring that experience to the Parlor of Horrors. Marshall was quick to join the event, as, in Gatto’s assessment, he’s a “fellow monster-dude.”
Then on October 21, Christopher Hays will be spinning records during the Party of Horrors!, a Halloween dance party. Gatto described his vision for the event: “Costumes are encouraged, but not required. It’s going to be a throw down—people will be dancing surrounded by monsters!” A unique experience, no doubt.
Finally on Halloween comes the feel-good conclusion: a family-friendly trick-or-treat evening where little kids can get the wits scared out of them. It will be the final day of the exhibit, but don’t worry, there will be plenty of candy on hand (or claw).
Gatto hopes the Parlor of Horrors can deliver some of the wonder and excitement from his childhood Halloweens—or better yet, from his first viewing of An American Werewolf in London—to the Charlottesville audience. While he admitted that exposing his private collection of priceless horror mementos makes him a bit anxious, Gatto said that “if one person enjoys it and takes something positive away from it, then I’ll be happy.”
Photography by Tristan Williams