A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss: Home Counties Horror

Countering last week's American-centric approach to the "horror" film in the first half of the 20th century, Part 2 of BBC Four’s A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss brings us back to dear old Blighty. Specifically a park in Slough...

Titled 'Home Counties Horror', the second instalment looks at Gatiss' love for the Hammer film of the 1960s and ‘70s. Love is a crucial term here as this is no dry, analytical or academic approach to the output of the British film company. The Doctor Who writer clearly states from the outset that he is indulging his own personal "favourites", as it were.

Thankfully, for the viewer, A History Of Horror is anything but indulgent. The aforementioned park in Slough, where many Hammer films took place, is home to a stylish and entertaining introduction to the topic. And, throughout the hour, the settings for the links and narration are suitably pleasing on the eye; ranging from creepy castles to comic shops to tea shops in Whitstable. That's right, Whitstable.

The seaside "resort" in Kent makes for a charming diversion from the gore as Gatiss takes a brief look at Peter Cushing, who spent the last years of his life in the town. It's a wonderful tribute to the actor (one that, rather refreshingly, makes no reference to Star Wars) and includes archival footage of the actor in top form, revealing his endearingly cheeky comic side.

But it's not all tea shops and laughs. 'Home Counties Horror' includes an impressive array of shocking clips, even by today's standards, from the films under the gaze of Gatiss - particularly Black Sunday (featured in another diversion from Hammer, looking at Italian Horror) and The Plague Of Zombies. Both will either act as an alluring advert for the films or put you off completely with their blood-curdling scintillating scenes!

Somewhat taking a back-seat to the movie footage, narration and links are the equally impressive interviews, featuring genuine icons like actor David Warner (The Omen) and directors Roger Corman (Sharktopus) and John Carpenter (The Fog). The lesser-known director, to the horror layman anyway, Jimmy Sangster makes for an honest approach as he reveals his own problems and limitations as a director. He also laments the shift in tone for Hammer as their films became more orientated towards "tits and bums".

Part 2 of A History of Horror is a much more personal affair than the first ('Frankenstein Goes To Hollywood') and is all the better for it - never more so than when the writer/actor regales the audience with a story from his childhood where he was banned from watching (and reading) Horror after some sinister artwork from the youth. The expressions on his face reveal his joy in reminiscence and are utterly infectious for the viewer.

If you think you know what Hammer is about and dismissed it, then Mark Gatiss' love-letter to the classic British institution will undoubtedly change your mind.

Airs at 9pm on Monday 18th October 2010 on BBC Four.

Reviewed by Cameron K McEwan.