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A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

Actor and writer Mark Gatiss celebrates the greatest achievements of horror cinema

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by year (3)

Available now on BBC iPlayer

  1. Watch the latest programme

    The American Scream

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    Available since Wednesday with 5 days left.

    3/3. Mark Gatiss explores the American horror films of the late 1960s and 70s.

  2. Also available

    1. Home Counties Horror

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      Available since Tuesday with 4 days left.

      2/3. Mark Gatiss looks at horror films from the 50s and 60s, an era dominated by Hammer Films.

    2. Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood

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      Available since Monday with 3 days left.

      1/3. Mark Gatiss explores the early horror era of Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.


Q & A with Mark Gatiss

What's different about your history of Horror from previous attempts to cover the subject?

I hope it's infused with a genuine love of the genre. I've seen some documentaries which either treat everything very jokily or totally po-faced. We've had a lot of fun making this series but treat it with the proper respect it deserves.

What did you want to achieve with the series?

An accessible history of horror movies that's unashamedly personal. I've left out some very famous films that I don't happen to care for and, sadly, had to ignore some because of time constraints. It would be impossible to do justice to horror cinema in thirteen hours never mind three so forgive me if your favourites are missing!

How did you first become interested in Horror cinema?

The first film I can remember seeing on TV was 'the Brides of Dracula'. I was instantly hooked.

Did you make any exciting new discoveries while making the series?

Watching some films I scarcely knew, such as the bulk of Mario Bava's work. It's absolutely incredible stuff. Also to be able to handle Lon Chaney's actual make-up box and the wax head he used to model his grotesques looks upon. That was something.

Who were you particularly thrilled to meet?

It was amazing to meet people like Anthony Hinds and Jimmy Sangster whose names were legendary to me from my childhood but I suppose it would have to be Gloria Stuart, who has sadly just passed away at 100 years old. To be able to talk to someone who starred in 'The Old Dark House' was just amazing. Also Carla Laemmle, who could remember watching Chaney as Quasimodo scaling the front of Notre Dame Cathedral back in 1922 and Donnie Dunagan who was the little boy in 'Son of Frankenstein'. His memories of Karloff and Lugosi were delightful, wise, funny and deeply touching.

Can the early movies (particularly from Episode 1) really still scare a modern audience raised on movies like Saw and Hostel?

Yes and no. It completely depends on the threshold of your own terror. I'm constantly amazed how many people say 'Oh, I just can't watch films like that'. You can look back on a film like 'Bride of Frankenstein' and see that it's a beautiful, sly, strange work of art or Hammer's first 'Dracula' which retains a wonderful, visceral power. In any case, I worry about people brought up on 'Hostel'. I think we should tell the police about them.

Why did you stop in the late 70s?

We had to stop somewhere and the release of 'Hallowe'en' in 1978 seemed the perfect place. It's a superb film. Almost perfect in its power to shock and scare. But it ushered the age of the slasher movie, effectively killing off 'supernatural' horror for a generation. Of course, there were exceptions but 'Hallowe'en' seemed the natural place to end.

In the final episode you mention that there have been some standout films since Halloween, which are your favourites?

The Shining. The Fog. American Werewolf. The Thing. Evil Dead II. Salem's Lot. Silence of the Lambs...

Why should non-horror aficionados watch the series?

I think there's a genuinely fascinating personal story spanning the three episodes. Not just my own affection for the films, but the journeys of actors like Boris Karloff and Peter Cushing and directors like George Romero and John Carpenter. And they should also watch because I say so.

In Episode 2, which deals largely with Hammer Horror, you say that this is the period that's closest to your heart. Why do you love these films so much?

They were the films I grew up with and responded to the most. Having said that, your tastes change and I find I enjoy some of the later, less famous Hammers more than some of their most celebrated films.

Are there any particular films in the series you can highlight that have influenced your own work?

The Wicker Man (obviously!) Blood on Satan's Claw. The Haunting. Cat People. I Walked with a Zombie. The Quatermass Xperiment.

You’re shipwrecked on a desert island, what one film from each era would you take to your castaway cinema?

Son of Frankenstein. The Devil Rides Out. Martin.

We'll give you a Satanic Bible to read, but is there a particularly important book on the subject you'd take with you?

When I was seven or eight, I was bought a fantastic book called 'The Movie Treasury of Horror Movies' by Alan G. Frank, it became my bible. It’s packed full of the most amazing photos and is still fantastic to look at.

What Horror 'luxury' would you take?

There’s Lon Chaney's Make Up kit, but that wouldn't be much use on a desert island. I'd take the debris of the 'Orca' from Jaws so I could paddle home.

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