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Podcast Episode 37: Take A Tour Of Surgeons’ Hall Museum With Mr. Horror Musical

Actor Jesse Merlin plays a crazed surgeon in ‘Re-Animator The Musical’ and has a fascination with the medical arts

Photo by Beth Accomando / KPBS

Above: Actor and singer Jesse Merlin — seen in this undated photo — has played a crazed surgeon, and he also has a fascination with medical science. That makes him the perfect tour guide through Edinburgh's Surgeons' Hall Museum.

Episode 37: Mr. Horror Musical Takes You On A Tour Of Surgeons' Hall Museum

Jesse Merlin, AKA Mr. Horror Musical takes us on a tour of Surgeons' Hall Museum in Scotland.

WARNING: Explicit content and language.

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Transcript

How many of you ever snuck looks at medical books with explicit photos and illustrations of disease or deformities? It half grossed you out and half fascinated you. You didn’t want to look but you had to.

That’s at the root of horror too. You are seduced and reviled simultaneously by certain kinds of horror.

For the latest edition of the Cinema Junkie horror-themed October podcasts, I want to stray a little from movies to introduce you to two things. First to Jesse Merlin, aka Mr. Horror Musical, and to the Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. What do these two things have in common? Well, in 2012, Merlin, who played the character of Dr. Hill in Re-Animator the Musical, went with the cast and crew to Scotland to partake in the annual Festival Fringe. Being an ardent fan of "Re-Animator the Musical," I naturally followed them to Scotland. That’s when Merlin told me about the Surgeons' Hall Museum.

What do a re-animated deviant surgeon, cannibalistic serial killer and a Max Von Sydow-inspired Catholic priest all have in common? They are all characters in musical plays inspired by horror films, and they are all played by the classically trained opera singer Jesse Merlin.

Merlin looks like a caricature of a young and untanned George Hamilton, and has a bass-baritone voice perfect for Gilbert and Sullivan. Since that’s not what Hollywood’s looking for, Merlin had to scare up roles elsewhere.

"I have become Mr. Horror Musical lately with Dr. Hill in 'Re-Animator The Musical' and then I was Hannibal and a bunch of other roles in 'Silence! The Musical' here in L.A.," Merlin said.

He also played a comic version of Max Von Sydow’s Catholic priest in a Hollywood Fringe production called “Exorcistic: The Rock Musical Parody Experiment.” This is a guy who began singing opera professionally at 22. Merlin said his career has taken an ironic turn:

"Because now that’s my selling point. Here I am, this highfalutin, snooty, ridiculous opera singer — that’s my background — having to wade into the entrails of a rock musical. And not just do hard rock and perform with a four-piece, really cooking rock band for the first time, but also lay down the beats and freestyle a little. I kind of thought about, what about opera — and particularly Gilbert and Sullivan, which is a big part of my background — leads me to horror? And I think it’s a grounding in over-the-top, archetypal stock characters — extreme characters. I think horror is a place where actors who are off-beat — who don’t look like a model, who don’t look like an obviously easily marketed character type, one who is a little average or unusual looking or has an unusual talent — will find a place in horror where no one else really has a place for you."

So that's Jesse Merlin, and he is the perfect person to lead me through the macabre and fascinating Surgeons' Hall Museum. So take a listen as we walk through room after room of medical surgery specimens and history.

If you want to see some photos of the museum, they do have a Facebook page.

Jesse Merlin can be seen later this month in the new film "Helen Keller Vs. Nightwolves," a horror film designed to be bad by the maestro of modern bad cinema, Ross Patterson. The film will be streaming live on Halloween on Dread Central, so check it out. Merlin also played Werewolf Hitler (you have to see it to understand) for Patterson in "FDR: American Badass." And keep alert for "Re-Animator The Musical," because it has a way of re-animating.

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