Philip Larkin (the dead poet of “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” fame that is, not the Philip Larkin who occasionally contributes to this blog) during his time as librarian at Hull University in the 1970s was said to have complained to a friend about the lack of late night horror films on regional TV at the time, claiming ‘We’re absolutely starved of tit and fang up here.” It is of course conceivable that the other Philip Larkin holds similar views. But I couldn’t possibly comment on that.
Larkin was referring to that unique, but long gone staple of the British B-movie industry, the Hammer horror. A classic combination of gothic horror – plundered from the literary works of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Dennis Wheatley and Sheridan le Fanu among others and endlessly recycled – and soft porn. Cheaply made and featuring a regular cast of actors, such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley, the Hammer films would be considered quite tame by modern standards, not to mention tacky with their extensive use of unrealistic rubber bats and plastic fangs from Woolworths, but nevertheless are still highly entertaining to watch today.
Phil Barker in his review of Sinclair McKay’s history of the Hammer films, A Thing of Unspeakable Horror, published in the Observer sums up the genre perfectly:
“Hammer gave us a world all their own, a place with Home Counties woodland masquerading as Transylvania (it was Black Park near Slough), heavily cleavaged vampire women, lashings of fake blood with a strange milkshake texture, and the occasional bad sets, particularly in the later films, as if Dracula lived in a branch of the Angus Steak House. It’s immediately recognisable, this land where ‘the inns are full and boisterous only until someone mentions a certain word’, and McKay does a tasty job of evoking it. We all remember the red lining of Dracula’s cape, but what a pleasure to be reminded of Peter Cushing’s eyeball, suddenly seen huge through a magnifying glass as he examines the brain.
I realise The Dreaming Arm is in serious danger of becoming a branch of the Kate Bush fan club at this stage, but to celebrate Hallowe’en, here’s her very own tribute to the Hammer films – Hammer Horror . In contrast to the very heavygoing “This Woman’s Work” of the last post, “Hammer Horror” is a light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek number, in which Kate takes a leaf out of Alice Cooper’s book. Dracula will be turning in his grave. And then he’ll get out of it and find some healthy young virgins to suck the blood of.