Guest writer BRIAN NOONAN tells how Hammer and other British nuclear-inspired horrors were the staple of his teenage nights in the 1970s
It’s Saturday night and the glow of my small television lights my room.
I wait in anticipation for Nightmare Theater.
It’s 1973 and this is how I spend every Saturday night until I become a teenager.
The long running television show never aired a disappointing feature, because they were “Creature Features”, and that’s what satisfied me.
A giant mutant insect or unearthly spectre was all I expected.
Quality of production was of no consequence.
Looking back, I wonder how I could have equated the masterpieces of Universal Studios and Hammer Films with the hackish nonsense pumped out in the 50s and 60s.
But as a child, knowing nothing of the society that birthed these movies, they worked together to build the lexicon of my imagination.
I watched them 15 or 20 years after they made their run in theatres, when most of them were well on their way to the annals of camp.
Some, like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gorgo were straight up monster movies.
But others, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, were more cerebral and not easily defined.
The element they often had in common, however, was their link to the Duck and Cover era, the “Atomic Age”.
The Cold War cultivated the anxiety of a nuclear threat, and horror became less supernatural and more scientific.
Of course, the boy huddled under covers in his bedroom had no such awareness, only a love and passion for Godzilla, an authentically good movie I realized decades later.
It Came from Beneath the Sea featured an enormous octopus, itself a product of hydrogen bomb testing.
I reveled in the giant atomically concocted ants of Them, probably the movie I remember most vividly for the trance-like stare of the little girl found in the desert.
There were some movies like The Quartermass Xperiment, presented in the US as The Creeping Unknown, that while not directly related to the atomic bomb, were reminiscent of the beginning of an era in which technology was both wondrous and frightening.
No doubt science fiction, but with the feel and stylistic approach of a horror movie.
It was etched in my memory as one of the creepiest.
Village of the Damned fascinated me with it’s aura of strange scientific mishap wrapped in a Gothic horror.
Again, not directly related to The Bomb, but somehow reminiscent of its effect.
The shambling, radioactive creeper of Hammer’s X the Unknown was a vision not easily forgotten.
Some of the more eclectic films include The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and a strange and compelling little gem entitled These Are the Damned, which featured radioactive children and a gang of bikers chanting an odd but catchy song.
For the generation which these films were made, I suppose they were a form of release from fear of an ambiguous enemy. For me, a generation later, they were shlocky fun on Saturday nights.
BRIAN NOONAN is “a 51 year-old Musician/Singer/Songwriter and father of two, living in Madison, Wisconsin USA with my girlfriend. I spend as much time outside biking, hiking and exploring as I do in my studio playing drums and composing songs. I have an over-active imagination and an ever-growing library of books, movies and music to draw inspiration from. I am in the early stages of satisfying a gnawing compulsion to create with words.”
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