Every time I wander into HMV I always have good intentions such as buying some comedy DVDs but end up buying some gore-fest instead, horror or some serious drama/thriller/crime. My DVD collection does not inspire any laughs though I do own the Marx bros, Duck Soup. And that’s what I did the other day bought loads of horror, horror and more horror. Even purchased “Tales of the Crypt” (Brit flick from early ‘70s starring Peter Cushing, Joan Collins and Ralph Richardson… a real gem of bad acting and red poster paint as blood… it’s apparently a cult movie now, same with the Hammer films of that time) as it took me back to being a kid.
That’s what I blame for my gore/horror/thriller/crime film collection and strangely weird knowledge on said genre…my childhood. I was rarely rapt by comedy though I had a penchant for musicals. My mother’s favourite film of all time was Dr Zhivago (possibly to do with it starring Omar Sharif as opposed to the historical/political context of the film) yet the first film she took me to as a kid was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and I do vaguely recall it but what I also remember was wandering around the cinema sitting on the stairs in the aisle, I believe it took my mother some time to realise I had done a bunk as she was entranced by the film… I was, apparently, bored. Don’t believe I was taken to the cinema again until the age of 9 where I saw another animation, “The Rescuers” and later the more adult “Grease”.
I spent a lot of my time in front of the television especially late night movies when really I should have been tucked up in bed instead of gawping at something scary on the screen. My back catalogue of celluloid memories include tacky Brit flicks which are now iconic “Twisted Nerve” which is offensive and misogynistic thriller chiller yet it was resurrected by Quentin Tarantino who used the eerie whistling composition by Bernard Herrmann for Kill Bill vol. 1. To be honest, it was the only scary thing regarding the Boulting bros film. Another pot boiler from the late 1960s starring Rita Tushingham…. why, Rita why? You had such a hopeful career so why succumb to this dreadful misogynistic classic crap, “Straight on till Morning”..?. Same with the shockingly sleazy bad, “Frenzy” (Hitchcock becoming more like Brian De Palma..than Hitchcock). Also many of those films especially Brit films involved casual racism, homophobia, violence against women without any implicit or explicit critique. I suppose these shocklers have their own little niche in Brit flicks nestling between the kitchen sink dramas and the quiet(ish) 1970s where many film directors ran off to Hollywood or discovered television. From the early 1970s onwards British film had a tumbleweed effect (all Hammer, Confessions and Carry On) though with some notable exceptions.
What made things bearable for me was Vincent Price he scared me more than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. “Theater of Blood” is seared in my mind mainly because of Robert Morley and his poodles. Also, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Scream and Scream Again” which starred the unholy trinity of horror; Cushing, Lee and Price. I think one real inventive oddity sticks in my mind and that’s Psychomania starring Beryl Reid and George Sanders (this was his final film) the plot all séances, satan and sadism; terrorising the locals “back from the dead” biker gang. Bizarre and surreal yet entertaining.
The genres of these films overlapped and can be categorised into sub-genres. After a time they did also merge into two distinct categories; pure supernatural style “what’s-that-noise-coming-from-the-attic” horror to the psychological thriller usually depicting woman in peril chased by a “mad man”. Funny when I watch these films now on DVD or if some channel on telly decides to raid the cinematic obscure vaults of 1970s Brit flicks I find them interestingly bad, which also exposes the politics of the time. But there were smart and ingenious though creepy unsettling creations of that period, “Wicker Man” and “Witchfinder General”
But what remains in my psyche is these appallingly bad films my staple celluloid diet. One of the first thing I learned as a kid was how to turn off the telly properly when everyone else had gone off to bed and there was I all alone watching scary movies acting all cool and not frightened at all though once in bed I would dive under the duvet hiding away from the nightmarish images I had encountered on the screen. Scared stupid I was. But in the safe cold light of the morning it seemed like a load of fun and till the next time.
When I watched “The Exorcist” at the cinema around 21 years ago I frightened myself but didn’t want to admit it as I wanted to be appear cool and blasé about horror. This time I couldn’t dive under the duvet as the weather was just too darn hot so I buried my head in the pillow and hoped for the best listening to anything that may go bump in the night. Why the masochism? Well, I liked being scared stupid!
What I was also reminded of while writing this was when I was around 9-10-years-old I wrote to the BBC as I had just watched a real Brit schlocker though to some it’s a classic a chiller of a masterpiece, “I Start Counting”…possibly as it starred a young Jenny Agutter and Simon Ward but it’s the usual casual plot line about a serial killer murdering women… Women in peril film with very shoddy and sexist politics. But for some reason I was gripped by it (especially the opening song…still remember it now) so I wrote to the BBC asking whether it was based on a book and they replied informing me it was written by Audrey Erskine-Lindop. What kinda amazes me is that 1. I was writing to the BBC about a violent adult film and 2. looking back am surprised that the person who responded to me didn’t ask, “Why are you watching these films at the age of 9?” “You should be watching “Blue Peter and then safely tucked up in bed when these films are televisied”… But they didn’t and if they did I still woulda ignored the advice. And hell, the experience of cinematic horror viewing from an early age didn’t harm me….. Well, I think it didn’t….I mean, the real world is far more horrifying and frightening.