My long standing love affair with horror movies began when I was 9 years old, I had snuck out of bed to watch Carrie on TV late one night and ever since then I was hooked. From then onwards be it ghosties and ghoulies, or long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night I was more than happy to be delivered to them. I have wiled away many happy hours with my pals Freddie and Jason not mention an entire cast of zombies, vampires and werewolves. One of my favourite ways to spend a day (and/or night) is having a marathon horror movie session. Although I have to say that I draw the line at the ‘torture porn’ genre that encompasses the likes of the Saw or Hostel movies, sorry but to me horror is a fantasy genre with fantasy monsters, there are enough bloody real weirdos out there and these types of film, for me personally are too ‘real’, its not escapism when you can imagine some sicko out there for real perpertrating these sort of things. But this isn’t a debate about that.
As a genre horror is one that is often treated with contempt by critics especially, but its appeal with the general public is something that is undeniable, and despite lulls in popularity over the decades it always finds a way back and reassert itself, usually with a particular film that will restablish its credentials and its popularity.
This is why I was so pleased to see Mark Gatiss’ A History of Horror on BBC 4 this month. Gatiss is clearly a life long horror fan, something that is probably quite obvious in his own writing, (League of Gentlemen anyone?)and this 3 part program is a love letter to the genre. The first episode dealt with the 30’s and 40’s, a golden age for the horror movie producing such fine works as Universals Dracula and Frankenstein and making horror icons of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It also gives an interesting insight into the lives of those both in front and behind of the camera.
The second took a look at the British horror films in particular the much loved Hammer Horror films that also were responsible for creating another two classic horror legends with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. These films gave horror its second wind, seeing as during the 40’s the genre largely died out, most likely due to the fact that people felt there was enough real horror in the world with WW2. And the success of ‘The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Dracula” paved the way for a whole new wave of horror most notably the films of Roger Corman in the US (in fact another horror legend Vincent Price starred in all but one of Corman’s Poe films) and the work of Italian filmmaker Mario Brava, Black Sunday starring Barbara Steele is another stand out piece of the time. The British film industry has never been in such good shape though and Hammer themselves won the Queens Award for sevices to export during this time.
The final episode to be shown this week turns towards the US and the work of Tobe Hooper and George Romero, also the rise of the ‘slasher’ film.
It definately makes a real difference to a program when the person presenting it has a real love for the subject matter being dealt with and this certainly comes across with Mark Gatiss. If you love horror movies or even have an interest in film history then this program deserves your attention.