Bloody Britain, at least we’ve got Hammer!
Guest writer KATIE DOHERTY says living in Britain has its ups and downs. But even at its worst, the UK has Hammer Horror and that makes everything okay!
A British girl living in her world of romantic Gothicism together with an obsession with Hammer Horror surely is the right candidate to talk about what it means to her British identity? Indeed, this is me, Katie Dirge, writer and horror fiend. I am not here to comment on gender, politics or social struggles.
I don’t claim that all British folk have the same opinion as me on this subject but I do bring horror, blood and my very own British view on the wonderful world of Hammer Horror.
Living in Britain has its ups and downs. We are the ones that have picnics in the rain, drink gallons of tea and run to the nearest park when the sun comes out – to some this is such a funny way of life but to us it is just the British way.
As a nation we have been called eccentric, quaint amongst other things (not always flattering I might add) but we have done one thing, we have painted your screen red with the blood of Hammer Horror and given the rest of the world a little taste of Britain.
So, it begs the question. What makes Hammer Horror films seem so British?
To me, I see them as normal people going about their business and then taking a slightly wrong turn to a nasty end but to others they are the quintessential folk of the British Isles with their dinner parties, servants, manor houses, well dressed ladies and gentleman, rough and tumble pubs … the list goes on.
No matter which film I am watching I always get a warm homely feeling. You want to laugh, right? It sounds so silly but you have to realise to someone like me who loves the sight of creepy woodland, gothic mansions, the macabre … this is my fodder, my “cup of tea” as us British may say, it simply gives us Brits a sense of identity even if we are big breasted maidens or fanged yet handsome fellows (that’s Christopher Lee, by the way).
In 2012, watching films such as The Plague of the Zombies or The Devil Rides Out, I really enjoy the fact that it takes us away from Hollywood, the use of CGI and Californian sun.
Pale skin, rainy days, thunder and lightning over dark and foreboding buildings, somehow you know you are in Britain and Hammer do it so well!
The film studio have always wanted to uphold their British identity despite gaining help with distribution from American companies, they are keen to keep their Britishness and independence which certainly shows in the aesthetics of their titles and they are known worldwide as a very British film company.
Hollywood are rather good at making horror films, one after the other, each being as gory and as formulaic as the last, which almost mirrors Hammer horror back in the day when Dracula made more appearances in their films than Sunday roasts on a dinner table.
So, why have the Hammer studios been kept as a national treasure, unlike its foreign relatives whose horror films get put in discount high street stores before we know it or the bargain bin at the supermarket?
There is something that just makes us want to go back for more.
It isn’t the gore or the scares; we love it because it is subtle and has a damn good plot.
As a horror fanatic in both film and literature I am fully aware of the effect of subtleties within a narrative, they work and keep you hooked.
Hammer has taken gothic and run with it, adopting the rich mix of romanticism and horror which has its roots in gothic literature, notably English author Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto.
Gothicism works on the use of terror, melodrama and romance with such characters as the virgin and the hero – devices used regularly within Hammer Horror films.
The experience of watching a horror film today is probably rather different.
When Hammer first produced these films they were frightening but today we have been spoilt with gore, murder and torture and some audiences may miss what was so great to their predecessors.
For those teenagers out there who chose the Hammer Horrors over the gore soaked cinema of the naughties; I salute you!
Hammer Horror will always be an institution and a staple in the history of British cinema.
It brought us some of the most loved actors, lavish sets and some of the brightest blood we have ever seen.
They may not be as scary today but they have certainly gained the love of millions of fans around the world that crave, not only a taste of horror but also a taste of Britain.
KATIE DOHERTY is the editor and writer of Black Sunday zine. As an ex-film student she began writing scripts but then moved onto non fiction works surrounding heavy metal music, horror and the darker side of life. You can find out more about her at http://thehouseofdirge.com