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Horror Europa With Mark Gatiss
Following on from his critically-acclaimed 2010 documentary series A History Of Horror, Sherlock co-creator and The League Of Gentlemen star Mark Gatiss is returning with a one-off, feature-length delve into the decidedly odd world of European horror films…
Compared to your previous documentary, this one is going into uncharted waters…
For, me too, in a way. That’s one of the interesting things, I suppose, that came out of doing the first one. That was borne of my own nostalgia and growing up with horror films. But most of the films in Horror Europa I only knew about as pictures in magazines. I remember as a child thinking, ‘What is that film? I’ll never get to see that.’
So these aren’t things you grew up with? Or it’s more you grew up seeing stills of them…
Stills, yeah. With very few exceptions. I do know I saw Les Diaboliques [1955' on BBC2’s late night French slot. I remember that very well. But they simply weren’t available.
When you actually caught up with some of these movies, did they live up to your expectations?
At the moment I’m watching a horror film every Friday night, which is where they should be! And I’m on a mission to track down the ones — not necessarily European ones — that were only ever pictures in a magazine to me. There’s a film called Frankenstein 1970 with Boris Karlof. As long as I can remember I’ve known about it. I ordered it and finally watched it last week. It’s actually quite good, but it’s from the Fifties, and it’s very sci-fi because that’s when horror sort of stopped in America. It has some quite modern twists. It was okay, but it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Similarly with some of the films that have only existed in my head, as it were, from Europe — they’re bound to disappoint. It’s better, really, to discover things you don’t really know much about at all. So in the documentary I wanted to talk about The Whip And The Body [1963, Italy], which starred Christopher Lee. I’d never seen that until a couple of years ago. It just blew me away — the saturated colours, the sheer kinkiness of the actual plot. It’s so bizarre! I just think they’re gorgeous films.
It seems he almost had a covert parallel career in Europe…
Oh Christopher Lee? Yeah. I don’t think Hammer Films in the UK treated him as a star. But everywhere else in the world they went crazy for him. So he went to Europe and he made a lot of movies there, where he was definitely a big name.
Unkindly, we always thought European cinema — particularly Italian cinema — historically just did cheap knock-offs of Hollywood films like Superman and Star Wars. Is that valid? Or would you say US cinema rips off European works?
Well it certainly does now, doesn’t it? And Asian cinema. I know The Meaning Of Liff is coming out again, so I’m hoping there’ll be a new coined word for the inevitable disappointment of an American remake of a Japanese horror film.
With a documentary like this, a lot of it is you walking and talking. Does it make you self-conscious?
No, it’s just acting. It’s all acting! The thing I always wanted to avoid was falling into that sort of ‘noddy’ trap. You know, to some extent these things have to be done. You have to be shown getting out of cars, you have to be shown looking out of a window. Because, of course, when there’s narration and you haven’t got a clip, that is the form documentaries take. I remember on A History Of Horror, the first person I interviewed was [director] George Romero, and I was determined it wouldn’t be like that. There wouldn’t be a separate shot of me nodding along. So it was actually conversational. But when we looked at it, it just looked like I was interrupting him all the time, even though we were actually chatting, like we are now. However, my favourite thing to do is the bits when I’m just able to improvise something about my own personal response to a prop or how I feel about where horror is going. That sort of thing. That makes it much more personal.