Mark Gatiss explores the US films of the late 1960s and 70s which dragged horror cinema kicking and screaming into the present with their uncompromising content.
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THIS PROGRAMME CONTAINS SCENES OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE.
In 1960, a young woman was running away from something.
Something that she shouldn't have done.
Everything would have been fine, if it hadn't been for her choice of accommodation.
After that, horror cinema, and taking a shower, would never be quite the same again.
'Mother! Oh, God! Mother, blood! Blood!'
Psycho casts a long shadow over American horror cinema, and not just because of its shocking set pieces.
Its commercial and critical success gave filmmakers permission
to break the established rules of storytelling.
You fancy killing off your lead halfway through the picture? By all means.
Psycho promised to make the cinema a far more dangerous place, where anything could happen.
'It took a few years for this promise to be fulfilled, but when it was,
'an explosion of American films dragged horror kicking and screaming into the present day.
'With their contemporary settings and uncompromising content, they remain controversial.'
For me, this was a new golden age of horror cinema,
but it also left a rather troubling legacy.
'It's a May weekend in Los Angeles, and I'm learning the correct way
'to film someone stabbing you with a large twig.
'It's all down to getting the correct angle for the blood splatter.'
60 degree boil wash, or she's had it.
'This is a horror convention, where fans from across America
'have gathered for a festival of shopping, film screenings and fancy dress.
'Horror cinema now has a loyal following that protects it
'from the periodic slumps of its earlier years.
'More than anything else, it was the new wave of American films
'that emerged after the late '60s that made this possible.
'Thanks to their fearsome reputation,
'these films are often seen as only being for hardcore horror fans.
'But I think they deserve a wider audience.
'To find out why, let's flip back to 1968,
'when a small independent film appeared almost completely out of nowhere
'and put American horror back on the map.'
There we are, the very thing.
'They're coming to get you, Barbara!'
Stop it! You're acting like a child.
They're coming for you.
Look! There comes one of them now.
-He'll hear you.
-Here he comes now. I'm getting out of here.
No! Johnny! Help me!
In Night of the Living Dead, director George A Romero reinvented zombies
as a non-supernatural, thoroughly modern menace.
I was very struck, watching it recently, how really, really good the zombies are.
Everything which now people do as their standard zombie is absolutely there.
What did you actually ask them to do to be the living dead?
Right from the pop, I've said, "Just do your best dead".
Don't do Frankenstein, just if you were dead and weak,
and you were having a hard time walking,
and just do what you'd like, and I find that people are just so creative with it.
Like Psycho, Night of the Living Dead was made cheaply
and resourcefully, shot by Romero and a group of friends at weekends.
But unlike Psycho, it was made independently of the big studios.
Free from the constraints of Hollywood, Romero could test the limits of on-screen horror.
We decided from the beginning that we were gonna push the envelope a bit,
that we weren't gonna cut away, we were actually gonna show some of this.
We didn't know how much, we didn't know how much the actors would be willing to do.
And there's a shot that I particularly remember where this zombie has a liver.
The thing is obviously real, and it's squishy.
I mean, it gave me a bit of pause.
Then we said, let's let it all hang out.
But the film challenged audience expectations in even more important ways.
I think the biggest reason that Night of the Living Dead was talked about
as sort of essential American cinema, particularly of that decade,
was because the lead actor was an African-American.
And that, I have to say, was damn near pure accident.
Dwayne Jones was the best actor from among our friends.
When John Russo and I wrote the script, we were thinking of this guy as a white guy.
It's all right.
But when he became an African-American, the film became so much stronger.
Night of the Living Dead is raw and violent.
But not, I think, gratuitous, because it feels true to the era in which it was made,
one of civil rights protests, political assassinations and the Vietnam war.
This is the horror film as social commentary, a metaphor for America turning against itself,
enhanced by Romero's satirical, but quite convincing, fake newsreel footage.
OK, Chief. If were surrounded by six or eight of these things, would I stand a chance with them?
If you have a gun, shoot 'em in the head. That's a sure way to kill 'em.
If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch. Beat 'em or burn 'em. They go up pretty easy.
We knew that there was some anger in the film, what we were talking about mostly was
the disintegration of the family unit and of the communal, the community, the disintegration of community
was what we felt. Also a bit of anger that peace and love had not worked as well as we might have liked,
and all of a sudden, the world was still in the same state
of collapse and chaos that we'd all been trying to repair.
Romero's zombies owe nothing to the supernatural.
It's suggested that this outbreak of the undead may be the result of radioactive contamination,
and somehow this just adds to the film's unflinchingly bleak tone,
-in which even children turn against their parents.
-No, no, no, no!
Taking a cue from Hitchcock, Romero is unsentimental about the fate
of even his most sympathetic characters.
You! Drag that out of here and throw it on the fire.
-Nothing down here.
-All right, go ahead down and give him a hand.
-Check out the house.
-There's something there, I heard a noise.
All right, hit him in the head. Right between the eyes.
We were able to actually completely finish the film, make an answer print, the first print of the film,
and we were driving into New York, one of my partners and I,
and the first print of Night of the Living Dead is in the trunk of our car,
and on the radio along the drive, we heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
The success of Night of the Living Dead changed the horror business model.
It showed that low-budget, independent films could turn a decent profit.
'Other young directors picked up their lightweight cameras and followed Romero's lead.
'I've come to a Los Angeles suburb to meet the mild-mannered gentleman
'responsible for perhaps the most notorious of these films.
'He says it goes back to stories from his childhood about infamous real life killer, Ed Gein.'
My Wisconsin relatives would tell me about this man,
Ed Gein, that had been taken into custody
and that they found human-skin lampshades and human-skin furniture.
Maybe there were body parts in the refrigerator. It seemed like THE Bogeyman.
I had enough information to scare the hell out of me.
The same case inspired both Psycho and Hooper's 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,
which presents itself as a true story, a kind of Crimewatch reconstruction from hell.
There's nothing supernatural or even science fiction about the film.
But its characters find themselves trapped in a backwoods America
which seems to have been bypassed by progress,
a place where a family house can also be a slaughterhouse, a place that's atavistic
Before making Chainsaw, I started really considering
what makes horror work, based on my experiences seeing films.
And I found, to me, that films set in and around death
gave it an additional tone, because death is the ultimate monster.
Also, I wanted to show that the process of death wasn't as simple
as sticking someone with a knife, and two frames later, they expire.
The film's bogeyman is Leatherface,
a massive, former slaughterhouse worker forever hidden behind a mask
made from someone's skin, and perhaps the first iconic American horror monster since the 1940s.
Leatherface himself, going back to the classic monster tradition, is quite Karloff-like,
from an initially terrifying, hulking brute, he has moments of pathos, absolute farce.
It's all about a very bad day.
It's a bad day for everyone. It's a terrible day for Leatherface.
Leatherface keeps wondering, "Where the hell are all these kids coming from?"
To the point, he goes and sits by the window and looks out, and then starts patting his face,
because he knows his ass is in such terrible trouble.
This dark strain of humour came as something of a surprise when I eventually saw the film,
having always been slightly scared off by the title.
Surely one of the starkest and most perfect in cinema history.
And I was also surprised by the lack of gore.
This is a film where it's not what you see, but what you hear, that's truly terrifying.
The sound design is so great.
There's a pneumatic drill, almost subliminal, sort of pounding away
and Sally's screams become so endless that it starts to freak you out.
The whole thing becomes like a genuine nightmare.
The screams that she was making were so real
that you felt the sound went into you
and you knew it was the sound of truth.
Had those been fake Hollywood screams, it would have meant nothing.
It had to be someone that just knew she was going to be ripped apart.
Rest assured, gentle viewer, you don't see anyone being ripped apart in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
For all its reputation, this is a film about psychological rather than physical torture,
although the actual filming seems to have involved a bit of both.
The real sense of insanity came from the fact it was 117 degrees in that house.
The hot lights started cooking the props.
The cast and crew would run to the window and heave,
because of this nauseous odour of dead things.
Give me that hammer!
That length of time, under those conditions - everybody got a little crazy.
They all hated me at the end of the movie.
I mean, there were two wrap parties going on.
The groups were split, and my wrap party was sitting on the porch of the house, all by myself.
Low budget, independent films brought a new realism and immediacy to horror,
taking their inspiration from television news and documentary rather than the Gothic tradition.
But horror was also getting proper money behind it once more.
The big Hollywood studios had been rediscovering horror.
Unlike the independents, they didn't want to let the supernatural go.
But even their glossiest productions now had a fresh, contemporary edge.
At the forefront of this new cycle of Hollywood horror was Paramount Pictures' Rosemary's Baby.
Released in 1968, it's the story of a young couple who move into a New York apartment,
unaware that their elderly neighbours are Satanists.
It was the first American picture by an acclaimed European director, Roman Polanski,
and it starred a fashionable young actress, Mia Farrow, as Rosemary,
sporting an equally fashionable Vidal Sassoon haircut.
Rosemary's Baby had an interesting, topical subtext
about women's independence and control over their bodies.
But it also served up a classic horror climax,
where some delicious dialogue helps Polanski get away with not actually delivering a shock reveal.
What have you done to it?!
What have you done to its eyes?!
He has his father's eyes.
What are you talking about? Guy's eyes are normal!
What have you done to him, you maniacs?!
Satan is his father, not Guy.
He came up from Hell and begat a son of mortal woman.
Satan is his father.
Hail Satan indeed.
Rosemary didn't just give birth to the Devil's baby.
She spawned a whole brood of films about demonic children.
Looking back, it's clear why this theme may have resonated with American audiences.
At the time, a generation gap appeared to be opening up between the establishment and young people.
The model clean-cut youth of America seemed increasingly to have been replaced
by shouting, swearing, angry young men and women.
It was like they'd become... possessed.
But who would have thought that one of the most disturbing screen monsters
of all time would be played by a wholesome-looking 14 year-old called Linda Blair?
MUSIC: "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield
While Rosemary's Baby has a sly sense of humour,
The Exorcist takes good, evil and religion very seriously.
It depicts, in graphic detail, the transformation of a loving daughter
into a hideous, demon-possessed creature.
It's a tough film to watch at times, even for hardened horror fans.
It's burning! It's burning!
Do something, Doctor. Please, help her!
In scenes like this one, director William Friedkin veers between an intensely physical evocation of
the child's pain and suffering and bursts of unexpected, foul-mouthed violence.
All right, young lady, let's see what...
Keep away! The sow is mine!
The Exorcist was one of the most widely seen films of its time
and its projectile vomiting and rotating heads have become part of the lexicon of popular culture.
But I think that lurking beneath the set pieces is an even richer and more disturbing film.
There's one particular set-up and pay-off that I find very effective.
This is Father Damien Karras, the closest thing the film has to a hero,
a man wrestling with his own guilt and doubts.
Could you help an old altar boy? I'm a Catholic.
'It's not until an hour of screen time later that Karras finally meets the possessed Regan.'
Well then, let's introduce ourselves. I'm Damien Karras.
And I'm the Devil! Now, kindly undo these straps.
If you're the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?
That's much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.
-In here, with us.
Show me Regan and I'll loosen one of the straps.
Can you help an old altar boy, Father?
"Can you help an old altar boy, Father?"
For me, that simple, echoed line is the most disturbing moment in the film.
Perhaps because it suggests an omnipresence of evil,
that the Devil is always watching us and taking notes.
Helped by some enthusiastic endorsement from Catholics -
after all, it's a film where priests save the day -
The Exorcist proved even more successful than its makers had expected.
'Satan had cemented his position at the head of the box office,
'and Hollywood now felt confident enough to put big money and big stars behind him.'
1976 saw the arrival of what is arguably the first horror blockbuster.
Even though it was an American production with American stars,
the film boasted a fine British supporting cast and a host of memorable British locations,
such as this, All Saints Church in Fulham, site of a memorable impaling.
The film is of course the fantastic The Omen.
"When the Jews return to Zion and a comet rips the sky,
"and the Holy Roman Empire rises, then you and I must die.
"From the eternal sea, he rises, creating armies on either shore.
"Turning man against his brother till man exists no more."
OMINOUS CHORAL MUSIC
The Omen purports to be based on Biblical prophecy,
but you'll struggle to find its most famous verses in the Book of Revelation.
They were a complete invention by writer David Seltzer.
Digging into the Book of Revelation, I just fell in love with the mythology,
and the characters, and the plots, and the preposterousness of the whole thing.
I thought, "I'm going to do something preposterous
"and it's going to look real".
Seltzer uses the myth of the Apocalypse to create a plot in which
the American ambassador to London, played by Gregory Peck, no less, adopts the Antichrist.
Satan has determined to place his child
in a position of political influence and power in the United States.
He uses me, my wife, Lee Remick and me,
as vehicles, dupes, so to speak,
and we don't know that it's the Devil's child.
# Happy Birthday, Dear Damien
# Happy birthday to you! #
How did you feel when Gregory Peck came on board?
Gregory Peck made the movie happen.
Before Greg...I knew him! Before Gregory Peck - I don't want to be one of these Hollywood assholes -
before Gregory Peck came aboard, it was a whole different kind of movie. It was a B-movie.
The original cast was Charles Bronson in the Gregory Peck role,
playing the Ambassador to the Court of St James.
I don't think so!
Suddenly, Gregory Peck agreed to do it. He was in love with it.
The fact that he brought this straight face to it, this incredible dignity, is what made it work.
Charles Bronson would have made it a joke.
A supporting cast of respectable British actors,
including David Warner, lent The Omen added gravitas.
Do you think a key to the film's success is the fact that everyone plays it with a straight bat?
Absolutely. There was no tongue in cheek.
There was no sending up. It was played absolutely for real.
Peck, before one scene, just said,
"If we can convince them with this....
"we all deserve Oscars".
That's what he said.
You can see the challenge Warner and Peck faced in this piece of textual exegesis.
As for the rise of the Roman Empire, scholars think that could well mean
the formation of the Common Market, the Treaty of Rome.
-Bit of a stretch.
-Yes, well, what about this?
In Revelations, it says, "He shall rise from the eternal sea".
Well, that's the poem again. "From the eternal sea he rises,
"creating armies on either shore". That's the beginning.
And theologians already interpreted "the eternal sea" as meaning the world of politics.
The sea that constant rages with turmoil and revolution.
So the Devil's child will rise from the world of politics.
The Omen is all the more effective for the fact that we never see
anything explicitly supernatural happen on screen,
just a series of rather unfortunate events, such as a nanny hanging herself at a children's party.
The reason it felt so frightening is there was a critical mass
and accumulation of coincidental, horrific accidents.
Any one of which, out of context, could have looked like it could have happened.
But then you began to get the accumulation,
and you understand there was this wave of evil coming towards
these characters that they would ultimately not be able to escape.
The film really begins to raise its game with the death of a priest - and former Doctor Who -
staged here in Fulham with an almost operatic flamboyance.
Were you there for the spearing of Patrick Troughton?
I was there on the day that Patrick Troughton was speared.
And I think, these days, it would have all been done CGI,
but we were just a bunch of kids putting on a show
with cardboard and Scotch tape.
There was a fishing line that went from the top of the church
and was anchored in the ground behind Patrick.
And on cue, it was sent sliding down and there was just
a little wooden spear, very light, sent sliding down that fishing line,
and as it supposedly came through,
it was really landing behind him, Patrick just went....
That's an effect that would cost 200,000 today. It cost about seven bucks.
Of course, it could be argued that next to The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby,
The Omen is rather unsophisticated fare. But it's really a different beast.
It's a compact, highly efficient studio thrill ride that owes more
to the set pieces of films like Jaws than it does to the slow-burning traditions of Val Lewton.
But what the film does share with Lewton is panache and ingenuity, no more so than in one of the greatest
on-screen deaths in horror cinema, staged by director Richard Donner with startling originality.
The way I'd written it was that the David Warner character is bending
down to pick up these daggers and a construction crane carrying a huge piece of glass drops it.
And Dick put it on a horizontal plane.
When I saw that head twirling
and I saw the dailies of it twirling in slow motion...
I thought, "Oh, yeah. Dick is doing something very special here!"
Do you have any idea what happened to your severed head?
I lost it in the divorce!
< MARK LAUGHS
Unlike in The Exorcist, good does not triumph in The Omen.
Excuse me, Mr President, when you're ready to leave, your car's right over there.
-In a moment.
'At the end of the tale, Damien the Antichrist is the last character standing.
'But in its very final shot, the film does something highly daring for a '70s horror film.
'It breaks the fourth wall.
'Does that smile mean we're all in on the joke...
'or that the Devil knows we're watching?'
But you don't believe in the Devil?
No. No, certainly not.
I wouldn't be messing around with stuff like this if I did!
The figures spoke for themselves, and Hollywood now felt able to
embrace horror to an extent unmatched since the 1930s.
There's a fascinating footnote to these big studio extravaganzas.
Independent film-makers hadn't entirely given up on the supernatural.
One of my favourite horror pictures of the '70s
is a little-known, low budget effort from George Romero called Martin.
-It's a vampire film, but with an intriguingly modern twist.
Martin is a vampire who looks like a teenage boy,
or possibly just a teenage boy who thinks he's a vampire.
Please don't scream. I just want you to go to sleep.
With no obvious supernatural powers, he subdues his victims using drugs and violence.
I didn't want to do another strictly horror film,
and so I initially said, well, let's do a spoof.
Initally that was my idea, let's do a spoof.
A vampire who is having problems living in the modern age.
Somewhere along the way, it came to me that this could be quite tragic.
The film cleverly straddles the classic supernatural
and contemporary secular strands of horror cinema.
Martin is haunted by memories, or maybe just fantasies, of a romantic, gothic past.
But in reality he's a shy, deeply lonely figure who struggles to communicate with women.
Uh, you must be Martin.
Is Tada Cuda home yet?
I said, what if this is some kid who just is...
he is attracted to women, but doesn't know how to approach it, it's this mystery.
How do I get there? I mean, he keeps saying, I'd love to do the sexy stuff,
when someone is awake.
But he feels he has to knock them out in order to do it.
I was just trying, all across the way, to sort of work it out.
Romero confronts head-on what other film-makers were only prepared to imply,
that vampirism is little different from rape, no matter how much Martin tries to romanticise his actions.
Is he a fantasist who thinks he's a vampire?
Oh gosh, I think completely. He is, completely.
You have to make a decision, when you're doing a film like that, where you want it to be ambiguous.
But you have to make a decision, so that you don't violate your own rules.
But while George Romero is deconstructing traditional horror,
a Canadian director was taking the genre in an entirely new direction.
Even the mention of the name David Cronenberg,
is enough to strike terror into the hearts of lesser mortals.
Where better to contemplate the work of David Cronenberg than here,
at the Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry, the subject of one of his early short films.
It's not real, of course, but Cronenberg's work is replete
with fictitious clinics and institutes
where outlandish research results in physical and often sexual transformations.
Perhaps it's true to say that if there was a Canadian Academy
for Erotic Inquiry, Cronenberg would definitely be in charge.
WOMAN: But then he tells me that...
everything is erotic.
That everything is sexual.
You know what I mean?
He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh.
And disease is the love to two alien kinds of creatures for each other.
That even dying...
is an act of eroticism.
That breathing is sexual.
That even to physically exist is sexual.
And I believe him.
And we make love beautifully.
Shivers, also known as The Parasite Murders and They Came From Within,
was Cronenberg's first full-length feature,
and it perfectly encapsulates his abiding preoccupation with sex and body horror.
It explores what happens to the inhabitants of a plush Montreal apartment block
when they're infected by an outbreak of venereal parasites.
I take a walk nearly every day.
Oh, this is a very...
Oh! Oh, good heavens!
It's fair to say that Cronenberg's cast, which included horror queen
Barbara Steele, may not have quite realized what they were in for.
I don't think I read the script carefully enough.
I just thought, oh, well, that will be a nice little trip to Canada.
Cronenberg loves bodily fluids, as we found out in subsequent movies!
They materialise all over the place and he certainly
pulled it off with the Parasite Murders, or Shivers, with these
repulsive creatures coming out of the bathtub,
and this insane kind of disgusting,
falling apart, parasitical thing that looks like
the crown jewels coming up towards me! I just thought, God!
What am I doing here? This is insane!
SHE GASPS AND SCREAMS
Watching Shivers is a strange experience,
as if we're observing a live experiment
at the Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry.
Cronenberg makes no real effort to get us to sympathise with his
characters, many of whom start off as a rather bland, repressed lot.
The effect is to make us watch with fascination as much as fear,
as the parasites spread by releasing everyone's sexual urges.
Make love to me. Make love to me. Let's kiss...
He's more comfortable when filming things which were important to him,
which were in fact of course all the parasites and all the repellent stuff.
The relentless, squelchy detail of Shivers was pioneering stuff in the mid-70s,
easily written off as a gratuitous way of achieving shock through disgust.
What really depresses me about that film is that it's so unhealthy.
It's not going to corrupt anybody, but it's not going to do anybody any good.
Its after effect is to leave you with a memory of obscene and ugly images, and who needs that?
But Cronenberg's later films, such as Scanners and The Fly,
show that the effect of physical and psychological transformation is an abiding theme in his work.
He often suggests it should be accepted, rather than feared,
perhaps like our own experience of disease and ageing.
Of all the film-makers to emerge during this era, Cronenberg has the most intellectual agenda.
The film ends with the parasites triumphant, free to spread
and infect the rest of society.
Shivers boasts a classic '70s downbeat ending.
Or does it?
What's particularly chilling is that Cronenberg is at best ambivalent towards the parasites.
Perhaps his characters have been strangely liberated.
Most horror movies have a pretty clear sense of defeat or victory.
Few end on such a disturbingly ambiguous note.
Remarkably, Cronenberg's full-frontal assault
on Canadian values was partially bankrolled by
taxpayers' money, through the National Film Development Fund.
Questions were asked in parliament, but the fuss died down when it emerged that Shivers had become
one of the most profitable Canadian pictures ever made.
Back in Los Angeles, a long way from Cronenberg's wintry Montreal,
a strange ritual is being enacted at the horror convention.
This is a Zombie Walk, an increasingly popular phenomenon amongst
fans who delight in dressing down and letting their inner ghoul rip.
They're going too quickly. This is not 28 Days Later!
He's doing it properly!
It's hard to imagine Cronenbergian parasites or demonic children inspiring this kind of affection.
But zombies have now become A-list monsters.
And the turning point was in 1978, when George Romero made a second,
ground-breaking zombie picture, Dawn of the Dead, that taught us to love the walking dead.
I was so cowed by the things that had been written about
Night Of The Living Dead, that for years I resisted doing another one.
I didn't want to do another one which was just zombies in a little farmhouse.
I thought that I needed some sort of a really central theme of the heart of it.
And then I socially knew
the people who developed
this big shopping centre.
It was the first indoor shopping mall anywhere near Pittsburgh.
Now they're on every street corner.
I said, oh, here's something that I can really have a little fun with!
What the hell is it?
Looks like a shopping centre, one of those big indoor malls.
This was the first one of these.
Kids, this was not the social hang out, this is not where all the teenagers went every night - yet.
Romero's heroes take refuge in the mall, surrounded by ravenous zombies.
The film is almost prophetic as a satire on, quite literally, mindless consumerism.
They're still here.
They're after us.
-They know we're still in here.
-They're after the place.
They don't know why, they just remember.
Remember that they want to be in here.
What the hell are they?
They're us, that's all.
There's no more room in hell.
I suppose the zombies are the ultimate consumer!
Do they go back to the mall because it's what they have always known?
It's their sort of Valhalla?
Seeing them walking the corridors,
it actually occurred to me that this is us. This really is us.
There's something about desire.
Zombies desire to be us.
They desire to eat us.
And we desire running shoes and, you know, candles that smell nice!
Is the comedy, the satire, very important?
I've tried to put it in there from the pop into my films.
I think it helps soften it.
It makes it more of a conversation between you and I.
It's a little joke, it's like a joke before an important speech,
you know? It says, wait a minute,
we're friends here, you know, let's chuckle about this and not get too upset.
And I think it's quite important.
Lest this is all sounding too respectable, it should be observed that
Dawn of the Dead mixes its satire with an unprecedented dose of gore.
-It had one of the highest body counts of any film to date,
although in fairness, most of the bodies were already dead.
OK, when the door opens, push, push. That's it. Push.
-You know the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons?
I think the zombies are the coyoties of monster land! They are there to be damaged.
Say goodbye, creep.
I don't know what forgives it, what makes it...
they're just so sort of zlubby!
There's a certain kind of enjoyment that comes from seeing the coyote fall of the cliff.
But take it from me, they're still best kept at a distance.
Oh, it's you guys!
Not this suit! It's Armani!
THEME FROM HALLOWEEN
Dawn of the Dead's blend of slapstick gore and social satire
showed just how much horror films had evolved in the 1970s.
But the shadow of Norman Bates was about to fall across small-town
America in a film which went right back to basics.
Its sole aim - to scare us out of our wits.
The final destination on my horror itinerary is the scene of the crime of Halloween.
Made in 1978, it sees the murderous masked figure of Michael Myers stalk
babysitters in the Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois.
It's one of the most convincing locales ever featured in a horror movie, but most of it was filmed
by director John Carpenter in the Californian suburbs of South Pasadena.
John, what drew you to Pasadena for a location?
Well, if we look around,
it's the trees, it's the houses, it's the feeling of
the streets, it's the way the lawns are kept up...
It feels very Middle America, to me,
in a kind of idealised way.
I mean, truly, there are not houses like this, it's just a beautiful area
There's something about my youth in Halloween night,
in the little town I grew up in in Kentucky, it's the same feeling.
Nobody was around.
Nobody went out.
The bleakness is the issue.
I wanted the empty streets, I wanted it quiet, almost like a ghost town.
Carpenter uses the empty streets to build up a pervasive sense that
his characters are under surveillance from a barely-glimpsed figure.
We just didn't have any money, so you had to rely on seeing him, not seeing him, all sorts of tricks.
Behind the bush.
-I don't see anything.
-The guy who drove by so fast, the one you yelled at.
Oh, subtle, isn't he?!
Halloween wasn't the first film to have a faceless killer
terrorizing a bunch of teenagers, but its sheer visceral power and the
skill of Carpenter's direction, gave it an impact and a success beyond any of its predecessors.
More than any other film, Halloween ushered in the age of the slasher movie.
The scariest scene in Psycho is when Arbogast comes up the stairs.
That moment of coming out of nowhere influenced me for Halloween.
I thought well, if you establish this guy,
and you establish he can be anywhere, the audience
is going to start to believe he's in any shadow.
SHE SINGS AND WHISTLES
It's with this increasing sense that the killer is omnipresent
that Halloween becomes a true horror film,
something much more than just a well-executed thriller.
Like the Devil in The Exorcist, Michael Myers is anywhere
and everywhere, and seems unstoppable by any physical means.
It makes the film an immensely scary watch.
I watched it with an audience, and I'd never heard screaming like this.
Just out and out screaming.
The scene after the closet scene, it's a Panavision shot,
so she's in the foreground in the doorway, we're focused on her.
And in the background, his body is out of focus, and he sits up.
The place goes nuts.
It's been a long time since I've been here.
So this is Laurie Strode's house?
It is, it is. Wow. We have a little shrine set up here.
A little shrine.
On its perfectly-timed release at Halloween in 1978, Carpenter's film became an enormous success.
Apparently there are Halloween tours, Stab-athons...
around this neighbourhood! How do you feel about that?
I had no clue at the time that any of this would be taking place, because
all I wanted to do, all we wanted to do was make a movie.
We were young, the future was ahead of us,
life was great, and all we cared about was getting the movie done.
I had no idea this would happen.
Halloween is the consummate slasher movie.
But I'm not so enthusiastic about its legacy -
a slew of lower quality, increasingly gory, serial killer
outings that would overwhelm the genre for years to come.
Like horror's equivalent of Dutch elm disease.
One of the reasons that
Halloween ushered in so many horror films was because it was cheap, and it made a lot of money.
So others said, oh, great, what a great way to make some money.
Just because I opened the door, doesn't mean that every person
that steps through is going to take the horror film to its next plateau.
But I could... you can blame me for anything you want to!
I take full responsibility!
Back at the Los Angeles horror convention,
the zombies are having a lie-in, and I'm looking at a roll-call of
more than half a dozen actors who've played Michael Myers
in what's become an unkillable Halloween franchise.
Sometimes it doesn't feel like things have moved on much
since 1978, which for me, marks the end of the
last sustained period of horror creativity.
Today's directors often seem content just to follow,
zombie-like, in the footsteps of Carpenter, Hooper and Romero.
Yes, there have been standout single films.
And some splendid flourishings in places like Japan, Spain and Mexico.
But in America and Britain, too much horror seems like
more of the same fare, spiced up with pointless torture.
And at the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon,
I have little appetite for it.
I think the older you get, the more you feel your own mortality, the more your tastes shift.
And mine have certainly shifted more towards a love of
ghosts and spookiness and away from blood and gore,
which as a teenager I sort of lapped up,
for want of a better expression.
I don't in any way impugn anyone's thrill and fun, but I'm
very much with George Romero that without satire, without a context,
it can be just exactly what it looks like, which is just people having their throats slit.
Back when I was a young horror fan, it felt like a somewhat solitary existence.
Now there's a huge, thriving horror subculture, a kind of constituency of horror.
They're the loyal custodians of the genre, but I worry that horror cinema
feels it no longer needs to reach out beyond them.
And many ordinary filmgoers feel excluded from today's horror pictures.
Making this series has reminded me that great horror
can be highly personal and speak to a wide audience.
And I hope I've been able to share my enthusiasm and even make some converts to the horror cause.
After all, it's always nicer to have plenty of company in the cinema.
Otherwise, who knows what could be lurking
in the shadows?
Could you help an old altar boy, Faddah?
Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen...
We hope that the memories of
Michael Myers and company won't give you...
So a word of reassurance -
when you switch off the television,
and the lights have been turned up,
and you dread to look behind the curtain
in case you see a face appear at the window, well,
just pull yourself together and remember that, after all,
there are such things.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media
E-mail [email protected]
Three-part series in which League of Gentleman star, Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss celebrates the greatest achievements of horror cinema.
Mark explores the explosion of American films of the late 1960s and 70s which dragged horror kicking and screaming into the present day. With their contemporary settings and uncompromising content, films like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remain controversial. But Mark argues that these films - often regarded as only being for hardcore fans with strong stomachs - have much to offer. Made by pioneering independent filmmakers, they reflected the social upheavals of American society and brought fresh energy and imagination to the genre.
Mark gets the inside story from a roster of leading horror directors, including George A Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead turned zombies into A-list monsters; Tobe Hooper, director of the notorious Texas Chain Saw Massacre; and John Carpenter, whose smash hit Halloween triggered the slasher movie boom.
Mark also celebrates the other great horror trend of the era - a string of satanically-themed Hollywood blockbusters, including Rosemary's Baby, the Exorcist and the Omen. Along the way Mark visits the Bates Motel, gets mobbed by zombies and finds out what happened to Omen star David Warner's decapitated head.