A History of Horror is a three-part series focusing on three separate periods of horror in film.
Directed by – Rachel Jardine
Written by – Mark Gatiss
Starring – Mark Gatiss, Roy Ward Baker, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Peter Cushing, Piers Haggard, Anthony Hinds, Vincent Price, Jimmy Sangster, Barbara Shelley, Barbara Steele, David Warner
The second episode of this great series focused mainly on Hammer horror but also explored other terrors that were created on the other side of the pond. It’s even more apparent with this episode that Gatiss is giving us what he loves as a good portion of time is spent on the career of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Obviously you couldn’t speak of Hammer without uttering the names of Cushing and Lee but it’s not hard to see the level of respect for the two men that Gatiss has. Another portion of the episode is dedicated to Roger Corman and the Poe films, typically starring Vincent Price. This is another period of horror that I’m not familiar with so the entire episode was certainly informative for me.
Since the episode is in territory I’ve never traveled it was great to see all the old footage of the Hammer films. From their earlier gothic films to the later attempts to bring the films into the present day a good portion of time is left exploring the well-respected catalogue of movies. There’s some focus put on Bray Studios and of course Cushing and Lee. Their performances in the Frankenstein and Dracula films for Hammer are impressive and they always made quite the pair. While the films may not be considered very shocking now, these early Hammer flicks splattered the screen in bright red blood and sexual overtones, something the censors began to take note of.
While Hammer horror may have taken up the first part of the episode, it’s the work of Roger Corman that makes up the second half really. His adaptations of the works of Poe were big hits and had a much different feel than the Hammer films. Some focus is also put on Vincent Price during this period as he had many roles in the Poe films. Vincent Price has always been one of my favorites with the way he delivered his lines and the way he seemed to stomp through a film bordering on over the top at every turn. I did grow up with him in the Hilarious House of Frightenstein and of course Scooby Doo!
There’s some great interviews with Roger Corman as well as Barbara Steele, who manages to crack quite a few jokes while looking into some of her performances. You can see the changes begin in horror as these films certainly deliver more sex and blood than the earlier Universal monster films. By the end of the Hammer era nudity was being thrown in just for the sake of it being there! It’s not hard to tell where horror was going from this point and I’m interested to see if Gatiss draws a line from these films to the films he’ll explore in the third episode.
It must be said again that this series is strongly focused on areas that Gatiss is interested in. It’s not the most informative work for fans of the genre but there are moments in there that even the most hardcore fan may find fascinating. Gatiss is given access to areas that many of us may not have seen before. My own knowledge of Hammer horror is severely lacking so I was pleased to sit back and learn. When it comes to documentaries on horror films it’s hard to present information that fans don’t already know. What matters is the presentation in the end and Gatiss does a remarkable job guiding us through some of his favorite topics. I can’t wait to see how he handles chainsaw wielding Texans in the next episode!
Under the marquee – Will