Sunday, 7 November 2010

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (BBC)

Just finished watching this 3-part BBC documentary series on the history of Horror Cinema, screened on BBC2 in the run up to Halloween.

Written and presented by League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss (with English Gothic author Jonathan Rigby as script consultant), A History of Horror is a whistle-stop tour through three important epochs of Horror - Episode 1 - Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood explored the early horror films of Universal and RKO, Ep. 2 - Home County Horrors took a look at British Horror: the films of Hammer and Amicus, while Ep. 3 - The American Scream concluded the series with the new wave of American Horror Cinema of the 70's.

Three 1-hour episodes could hardly do justice to Horror Cinema's most important and fruitful eras and Mark Gatiss is immediately up front about this in Episode 1's opening prologue, adding a disclaimer that the program would be his own personal journey through the annals of Horror. And while I could live without mention of important Horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Carnival of Souls and Black Christmas, the series did have some serious omissions, like Murnau's Nosferatu, Last House on the Left and Suspiria. In fact Gatiss finishes the program with Halloween, admitting that he doesn't have much time for the 80's slasher boom, but what of The Evil Dead, the original Nightmare on Elm Street and The Blair Witch Project ?

"Oh my God, what am I doing here ? This is insane !" - Barabara Steele cheerfully recalling her revulsion for Shivers
For seasoned Horror fans, there was little new information to be gleamed, but Gatiss made for an intelligent, passionate and likeable host, interspersing the history lesson with some enjoyable comments about his own love of Horror films. The program did features some excellent interviews - Hammer's Jimmy Sangster's frank appraisal of latter day Hammer and his direction on The Horror of Frankenstein and Lust for a Vampire; Barbara Steele on the genius of Mario Bava and Black Sunday, John Carpenter explaining why Cat People is so overrated, and George Romero deciding that Martin is really not a vampire. The program also featured some fine clips - the Val Lewton segment will send me digging into the Warners' boxset as soon as I can, and some choice moments from Terence Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula made me yearn to have for these Hammer classics on Blu-Ray.

At the time of writing this post, A History of Horror is still available online at the BBC website (accessible to UK residents only it seems), but I'm sure the complete series will be freely available to catch on youtube - in any event, it's well worth seeing.


  1. Just about agree with everything you said here, but it was great to see Mark's obvious enthusiasm throughout and it inspired much nostalgia for me. I'd love to see a follow up.

  2. I have a weird thing going on with Mr. Gatiss - now known for writing Doctor Who and co-creating Sherlock with Steven Moffett. I took a bit of a weird turn to him when he played a major role in a David Tennant Who episode - I know he's a performer too - but when you've already got a job behind the scenes - leave the acting to others who need a job. I also have a problem with him playing Mycroft Holmes - again - why do you believe you're good enough to take this important role from a real actor? (That said, he is fine in the role.) So I don't know if I would enjoy this or not - especially with the necessary brevity of three hours.

  3. I understand... The last thing I saw Gattis in was yet another BBC documentary, this time on the life of MR James, and it was quite good too... As for Doctor Who, I've never been a fan, but the 70's-era episodes are currently on TV over here when I get home from work in the afternoon and my God, that show is the epitome of cheapness...