Archive for November, 2018

Gothic Horror Delicous Fright

November 1, 2018

GOTHIC HORROR – DELICOUS FRIGHT
If you ‘google’ gothic it says Gothic: belonging to our redolent of the dark ages, portentously gloomy and horrifying. This worked well with the Victorian’s morbid preoccupation with death and all thing black
I was born In the 1930s before the advent of TV and there were only black and white films at the cinema. This type of film seemed to revel in the gothic – Boris Karloff in ‘The Old Dark House’ was a prime example. If the film opened to a dark brooding mansion with lightening flashing you knew you were in for a bit of gothic horror and a fright.
There was a radio programme on Thursday nights at 9.30 p.m. called ‘Appointment with Fear’; these were tales of horror read by the velvet tones of Valentine Dyall. These tales terrified and delighted me in equal measure. Stories set your imagination racing to an extent that film can never match. My parents used to say, ‘You can’t stay up to listen to those awful stories it’s passed your bedtime and anyway they’ll give you nightmares.’ but I begged them to let me stay up and listen and they usually gave in to me. The Beast with Five Fingers, The Hands of Nekamen, The Middle Toe of the Right Foot and Mrs Amworth I think that tale frightened me most of all Mrs Amworth was a vampire who came knocking on a sick little boy’s bedroom window. Of course Mam and dad were right; when I went to bed I would look under the bed and hide under the covers.
It was not surprising that I was nervous in that bedroom as we lived in a huge Jacobean house on Lord Halifax’s estate in Knostrop. We only rented the house of course all the properties in Knostrop belonged to the Temple Newsam estate and all were devoid of electricity and not even gas in the bedrooms, I had to go to bed with a candle in a candle stick like Wee Willy Winky. The bedroom I slept in was a huge oak panelled affair and the ivy that grew on the outside walls had forced its way through the brickwork and was growing down the inside walls. Particularly scary for me was a panel which was of a brown fabric rather than the normal oak ones and running down the centre from behind was a ‘knobbly’ line of little bumps that had me in mind of the back bone of a skeleton being walled up behind. That is not to say I didn’t love that old house, I have never loved one more but it was a bit scary to a young lad with a vivid imagination.
I would have been about ten or eleven when a film came to our local big hutch of a picture house: Bud Abbot and Lou Castello in Abbot and Costello Meet the Ghosts. I suppose with those two in it, it was supposed to have been a comedy and probably it was to adults but for us kids it was a whole new experience, the class at school was buzzing about that film for a week, we were introduced to Wolf man, Frankenstein and particularly Dracula. The first time we see him we are shown a coffin with a candlestick on the lid, very slowly the candlestick starts to slide as the lid begins to open with a creak and then a hand grasps the edge of the coffin from inside. Wow! What an introduction to the vampire.
Universal Studios of America produced three vampire films in the early 1930s: Dracula, The Mark of the Vampire and The Vampire Returns. The main protagonist for the part of Dracula was played by Bella Lugosi – he of the black staring eye. Those early black and white vampire films might seem a bit jerky and corny today but at the time they were a new innovation, previously the monster had always turned out to be a man and brought to justice but Dracula he was the real McCoy, they shocked people and broke new ground.
So these films introduced me to ‘delicious fright’ and my imagination ran riot when I was in scary surroundings, for instance I was an altar boy at St Hilda’s Church at the time and sometimes I had to serve at the seven a.m. mass in the middle of winter when it was still dark. I would push my way through the great church door into the nave, which was pitch black, and no one else about some times there would be a coffin in the centre aisle where some poor soul had been left overnight before the morrow’s funeral. Then it was down a long dark passageway, still no light, and into the vestry where the cassocks and surpluses were kept behind a big black curtain, when I stood in front of that curtain I would think when I pull that curtain back ‘The Count’ will be waiting to grab me.
It was no better at home if you needed to go to the outside toilet in the middle of the night (which thankfully was rare at that age), I had to descend the oak staircase without a candle – I was not allowed to light a candle in case I burnt the house down – then into the kitchen where I would try to cajole the dog out of his nice warm bed to accompany me, he wasn’t happy but usually came with me then it was through a stone pantry up some steps into a washhouse and then out into the garden where the huge brick toilet lay in an veritable wind tunnel, by the time you got there you felt a long way from safety and civilization. On one occasion the dog who was sat alongside me suddenly gave out a great howl and the hackles stood up on his neck, I thought Dracula and all his mates were after me, I was back in bed and under the covers before he’d finished howling.
Knostrop in the ‘black out’ years added to the Gothic Horror there were a few old scary mansions there and one ‘Rider’s’ as we called it was necessary to be passed on our way to the ‘top’ as we called it. Knostrop was in a valley there were only houses no shops so if we wanted anything – fish and chips for instance – we had to walk to the top of the hill in complete darkness all the lamps were out due to the air raids. The gateway to Rider’s mansion was always the worst part it was always open and the interior seemed to lead to even deeper blackness. If you got past Riders you thought you were OK But of course you had to pass it again on your back down. Pauline, a lovely lass who lived next door, used to say, ‘When I go past Rider’s I call on my guardian angel to keep me safe.’

So, I had developed this fascination with vampire films, when we were lads a group of us used to go to the cinema and we’d take it turns to pick the film we would see. When it was my turn I always picked a vampire film which exasperated the rest of the lads a bit. Colin, god rest his soul once said, ‘Not another vamp film – you’re going to be a vampire you when you die, the fust fat ‘un’.
In the modern era I’m disappointed how the vampire myth has been prostituted and watered down to suit todays audiences who like crash bang films. I know it was only a myth to begin with but it was a good ‘un based on the tenets of vampire lore used by stoker in Dracula and those who set those tenets even before him: The vampire has to sleep in a coffin sprinkled with his native earth by day, direct sunlight can destroy him, he can’t cross running water, has no reflection in a mirror, doesn’t like crucifixes, garlic and holy water, he is invulnerable in the hours of darkness, has amazing strength, can change himself into a bat or wolf, can change local weather conditions usually making fog, can be killed by a stake through the heart but otherwise can live for ever.
My mother told me that when the stage play of Dracula was shown at the theatre Royal Leeds in the early twenties St John’s Ambulance Service personnel were on hand to minister to those who fainted with fright. Now vampires are not scary anymore they have vampire films for kids: The Little Vampire, Count Duckula. Instead of just the one vampire that nobody believes is slowly and climatically introduced they have armies of vampires being shot at by folk with wooden stakes

Max Schreck in Nosferatu
fired by crossbows. In the Vampire Diaries vampires are college students, heroes, lovers. One is tempted to think that making them vampires is just an excuse for giving ordinary guys super powers. If you dropped Max Schreck’s vampire as played in Nosferatu (1922) in among them I think those mamby pamby modern portrayals of vampires would have it away on their toes.

So, they debased my lovely vampire myth but I should cocoa, my fascination with the subject and my preoccupation with the rise and fall of the vampire myth has enabled me to write a dissertation on the rise and fall of the vampire myth which got me a Master of Arts degree.