Thursday, November 04, 2010

Horrific Viewing

I feel I must mention how much I enjoyed Mark Gatiss' recent BBC Four series, A History of Horror. (And not just because I couldn't help but notice that I have a shirt identical to the one Mark Gatiss was wearing in Part Two - clearly I wasn't the only one who went to that sale at BHS). I usually approach programmes about genres, be it science fiction or - as in this case - horror films, with some trepidation. Particularly when they are fronted by a 'personality'. All too often they prove to be entirely superficial, with some semi-celebrity trotting out the usual received wisdom about the subject, and always focusing on the same old 'classics' from the genre in question. However, A History of Horror proved to be quite different. Gatiss demonstrated his knowledge, and love, of the subject matter, looking at lesser-known classics like The Blood on Satan's Claw, as well as the usual suspects. He brought real insight, not mention enthusiasm to the series. Of course, I should have been reassured by Gatiss' track record - he wrote and appeared in the excellent Crooked House for BBC Four a couple of Christmases ago, for instance - and by the fact that he had Johnathon Rigby, author of English Gothic, as the series' advisor.

Of course, it helps that Mr Gatiss and myself are both gentlemen of a certain age, who can recall being enthralled by BBC Two's horror double bills which often ran on Saturday nights during the Summer. These would sometimes yoke together an old black and white Universal shocker with a Hammer horror, or maybe a pair of Amicus anthology films. As well as the well-known entries in the various studios' series, they'd also turn up rarer stuff, like Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum or The Man Who Could Cheat Death. Those double-bills were a real education for me. Gatiss also mentioned that an early inspiration for him had been a book on horror movies by Alan Frank, which he'd received as a Christmas present - it became his 'bible' for a while. Interestingly, I too was inspired by an Alan Frank book - a different one to Gatiss' Christmas present - which I borrowed from the local public library. It became my 'bible' on horror movies for some time, (I renewed the loan from the library so many times that the book was in danger of becoming a permanent fixture in my bedroom). Eventually I managed to buy a copy from one of those remaindered bookshops. I still own it. Getting back to the TV series, my only criticism was that it ran for just three parts.

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