Saturday, 23 October 2010

Whose hand was I holding?

A History of Horror
with Mark Gatiss
Episode 2
Airdate: October 18th 2010.

Ok, that wasn’t so bad. As I’d suspected in my review of episode one (right here), the second episode of Mark Gatiss’ love letter to horror movies was a little more informative to me in places... quite simply because I don’t know the period and examples of horror highlighted in this episode as well as I do the stuff in the first.

The show opened, again, with another movie parody and I think (although please correct me if I’m wrong) that the Hammer film scene being referenced in this sequence was, in fact, the pre-credits sequence from Dracula A.D 1972... a Hammer film I like particularly well because I remember growing up in that period, love the flared trousers and funky music and... well... it’s got Caroline Munro in it.

After this Mr. Gatiss did some stuff on Hammer and it surprised me that I knew pretty much all the info in this sequence... I must be more into Hammer than I thought. There were two glaring ommisions that I can see, however... at least in terms of what I personally would consider to be the two Hammer films which most reflect how great the studio could be... Quatermass And The Pit and The Devil Rides Out were not included in this show.

But I soon cheered up when Mario Bava popped up in relation to his first commercially acknowledged feature film as director, Black Sunday and parts of the pre-credits sequence were shown. Barbara Steele was being interviewed by Gatiss and she still comes across as beautiful and “dramatic” now as she always did in interviews. Very over the top but charming with it.

Again though, I was a trifle disappointed when the enormous contribution to the genre by Bava was dropped after a few minutes and we moved on to somebody else. After the show had spent a fair bit of time building up the inestimable talents of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I would have thought they would have at least mentioned one of Mr. Lee’s Bava movies, The Whip And The Body.

There were some other great horrors featured. Roger Corman was interviewed although, again, nothing here we haven’t heard before. And also, my favourite number one scary movie of all time, Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, titled merely The Haunting. This is a truly terrifying movie and Mr. Gatiss was quick to talk about it’s fine details... like the fact that you don’t really see anything and that the house is the dominant character itself, which when you think about it is no mean feat when you have actors like Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn running around inside. It would have been nice to have heard Mr. Wise tell the story of how he shot it using a new widescreen lense which was still in the experimental stage because it gave the image the kind of unsettling distortion he wanted... but like I intimated in my first review, there probably wasn’t enough money in the pot to do 100 episodes of the series... gotta keep things moving along there.

And after that Mr. Gatiss took me into territory I was really unfamiliar with, I’m pleased to say. The Home Counties Horror angle he’d so cleverly worked up as a sub-genre I wasn’t even aware of was quite interesting to me... as were the portmanteu films he mentioned too.

Now I tend to steer clear of movies comprised of short stories because, well hit and miss is an understatement as far as I’m concerned. These movies never have the time to work up the characters to the point where you can actually sympathise with them and usually end up being much more miss than hit (the one notable exception I can think of, Dead of Night, was briefly mentioned by Mr. Gatiss). But to be honest... he’s piqued my interest. Wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of the anthology movies he covered because some of the imagery looked quite interesting. I’ll have to try to get hold of a couple of those... so that’s one good thing come out of this series already for me. I’m going to explore a little more outside my box on that one.

As for the distinctly British, pagan/folklore movies highlighted in the last segment of the show, well - I’ve never really been the biggest fan of either the Wichfinder General or The Wicker Man, even though both movies feature scenes of amply endowed young ladies running rampant and even though the latter movie features one of the most brilliant and unexpected endings in movie history (right up there with spaghetti western The Great Silence). There’s just something about these two that I’ve always found to be a big turn off... maybe it’s the emphasis on physical horror as opposed to supernatural scares which dampens my enthusiasm for these kinds of movies... but whatever it is, I’ve always given these one short shrift.

That being said, I now have Mr. Gatiss to thank for getting me interested in a movie called Blood On Satan’s Claw which I have never seen but seem to remember having some tie-in novel/adaptation of it in paperback when I was a kid. The film looked kind of interesting and my curiosity is now even more piqued since I’ve found out that Wendy Padbury, who played one of my favourite Doctor Who assistants Zoe Herriot, is in the movie. Will have to take a serious look at this one.

So there you go... a good second episode hitting similar kinds of marks as the first. The one big weakness for this one was, of course, no Caroline Munro interview... which I see very much as a missed opportunity.

Now the third episode looks like it’s going to be dealing with horrors of the 70s and 80s... my least favourite period of movie horror, at least as far as the US movies go with their hack and slash fodder which seem more like dumbed down and less well made copies of the stylish Italian gialli which I suspect must have heavily influenced them. I can only hope that Mr. Gatiss spares some time for some of the Spanish and Italian horror movies which were being made at the time!

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