‘A History Of Horror’, the Classic Horror Campaign & Roy Ward Baker
I think it fitting that before I get into my take on the first part of Mark Gatiss’s BBC4 documentary and, having just watched Richard make us all very proud of him on the Beeb, that I should pay my somewhat belated respects to a stalwart of the British film industry and a horror master, Roy Ward Baker.
Whilst it’s true that, during an illustrious career as both a film and TV director, he will be remembered for the most brilliant ‘A Night To Remember’ (and the finest example of the telling of the Titanic disaster yet committed to film), it’s his pedigree of work with both HAMMER and Amicus that I and countless others will remember him. While never being the biggest fan of ‘Scars of Dracula’ (mostly because of Dennis Waterman), RWB helmed two of my most treasured movies: Amicus’s ‘Vault Of Horror’ and HAMMER’s ‘Quatermass And The Pit’.
‘Vault Of Horror’, based upon stories from the EC Comics, was my first experience of portmanteau horror, only seeing such gems as ‘Dr Terror’s House Of Horror’, ‘Dead Of Night’, ‘Tales From The Crypt’, Asylum (another of RWB’s efforts) etc afterward, and it remains a stalwart of my horror collection. From the Massey siblings tale of family betrayal and murder followed by a Vampirically bloodthirsty revenge in ‘Midnight Mess‘ (the sight of Daniel Massey trussed upside down with a beer tap plunged into his neck, fresh bloody nectar on tap appealed to my twisted sense of movie bloodlust!). The OCD-crazed Terry-Thomas in ‘The Neat Job‘ driving his young wife (Glynis Johns) to madness and murder with a well-planted hammer to the cranium!. A tale of theft, murder and Indian mysticism are mixed together wonderfully in the Curt Jurgens segment ‘This Trick’ll Kill You’, whilst Michael Craig come a breathless cropper over a double-cross in ‘Bargain In Death‘, the film saves the best for last with Tom Baker as an artist bent on Voodoo revenge in ‘Drawn And Quartered‘, the sight of John Witty screaming having fallen foul of a paper guillotine is truly a classic moment of gore.
Nigel Kneale himself spoke very highly of Hammer’s rendering of ‘Quatermass And The Pit,’, and of RWB more so. In this sublime and truly wonderful film version of the classic 1959 BBC production, Andrew Kier (who for me will always be the definitive Bernard Quatermass) attempts to discover the true origins of what appears to be a WW2 German V-Weapon discovered during Underground works on Hobb’s Lane station (John Carpenter would tip an honourable hat in his excellent ‘In The Mouth Of Madness’ with Hobb’s End the setting for the Lovecraftian machinations of the movie), which transpires to be a Martian spaceship buried beneath the Earth millions of years before; the film is a wondrous mix of typical Hammer fright and tension interlaced with some of the most entertaining and thrilling Science Fiction writing from one of UK’s most skilled and sadly-missed writers.
Whilst he would also contribute the the Hammer roster with ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (which woulds form part of ‘The Karnstein Trilogy’), and ‘Scars Of Dracula, both of which found favour, I will always treasure ‘A Night To Remember’, alongside ‘Vault Of Horror’ and ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ and the finest examples of a film maker at the peak of his abilities.
Moving onto more pleasant news of late, last Monday evening saw BBC4 deliver part one of ‘A History Of Horror’: Frankenstein Goes To Hollywood’. What a sumptuous, passionate and thoughtful love-letter to a genre it was too. Gatiss begins the series by divulging to us why and what it is about horror that he finds so thrilling and exciting, and recounts how he used to stay up to watch horror double-bills during his youth in the 70’s. Funny that…..
In the first part, he goes to great and knowledgable lengths to discuss the work of those early greats of the genre: Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I could not help but find myself in a fit of dual-awe when Gatiss witnessed the unveiling of Chaney’s make-up box. It was entranced not only by this treasure-trove but also with his look of utter amazement as if he were that young boy again, falling head-first in the magic and the thrill of horror movies for the first time. I don’t doubt that many true fans of the genre felt exactly the same way watching that singular moment of amazement.
Recounting the undeserved sadness of Bela Lugosi and the deserved success of Boris Karloff, he rounded off by giving prominence to that rarest of movie moments: a sequel that outshines the original. In this case, James Whale’s ‘The Bride Of Frankenstein’. With a nod to the efforts of Warner Bros’ and RKO, he envelop’s the early developmental stage of the genre’s Hollywood beginnings with a impassioned retrospective of ‘Son Of Frankenstein’. This coming Monday (18th) it’s ‘Horror In The Home Counties’: HAMMER!
For their part, BBC4 is doing it’s part by screening some classics along the way. Following from the first part of ‘A History Of Horror’ they lined up ‘Bride Of Frankenstein’, ‘The Cat People’ and ‘I Walked With A Zombie’. This week it’s a HAMMER/TIGON mix with Brian Donlevy’s portayal of Bernard Quatermass in ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’, ‘Brides Of Dracula’ and the Vincent Price fear-fest ‘Witchfinder General’.
Phew, still reading? Well done…..
Finally, a quite humongous round of applause and hugs all round to Richard on his ‘Point Of View’ piece! (see it HERE) Well done sir! Liked Jeremy Vine’s “the Beeb is somewhat squeamish when it comes to horror films” line! (ok, slight paraphrasing there!). The current petition count’s at 1186 so great work so far but some way off 2000! Still, let’s be positive, with what’s being going on recently, there’s light at the end of the tunnel!
Oh, and don’t forget Mark Gatiss and Rory Kineer in an new adaptation of H.G. Well’s ‘The First Men In The Moon’ on BBC4 Tuesday evening! Two fine great actors and a marvellous tale to be told. Do tune in.