John Das, 2012
Starring: Mark Gatiss
The absolutely wonderful Mark Gatiss - one of my favorite people working in film, television, theater, radio, and more - followed up his three-part 2010 horror documentary for the BBC, A History of Horror, with the 90 minute Horror Europa. Where A History of Horror focused on British and American genre films, Horror Europa explores European horror, beginning with German cinema in the '20s through the ‘70s, essentially ending with John Carpenter’s Halloween, when European tastes and traditions came to the U.S.
I haven’t seen A History of Horror, but it was very well reviewed and I absolutely loved Horror Europa. It comes highly recommended and will be of interest to horror connoisseurs and newbies alike. Gatiss is mesmerizing: intelligent, articulate, well-dressed, handsome and thankfully dispels all notions that horror nerds have to be overweight, un-showered, unsuccessful and live in their parents’ basements. While I hate to disrespect my fellow horror fans, I think it's time to appreciate horror as a more multifaceted environment. Gatiss brings class and credibility to this. He begins with German Expressionism and moves through Belgium, post-war France, Italy in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Franco-era Spain and more. Gatiss discusses and analyzes a wide range of films including The Man Who Laughs, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Les Diabolique, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, La residencia, Eyes Without a Face, Deep Red, Who Can Kill a Child? and many, many more.
Gatiss doesn’t just talk about the films and show clips. He goes on a journey around Europe, visiting locations in eight different countries where the films in question were shot, and interviews personalities associated with the films when possible, such as Dario Argento, Edith Scob, Harry Kümel, etc. Gatiss also provides historical context and theorizes the impact political climates - such as WWI and WII, fascist Spain and a more prosperous Italy - had on the films. He inserts humor and personality and helps show that these films, despite their long history being shunned by academics and art house cinephiles, are living, breathing embodiments of the cultures in which they were created.
My only real complaint is that I wish we had gotten three hour long episodes, as with A History of Horror. On a more minor note, there are a few random modern films thrown in, namely the works of Guillermo del Toro. I understand that he is a major horror personality, is knowledgable, has made a number of successful films and is a pleasing interview subject, but I would prefer to see him in a sequel to Horror Europa focusing on recent genre efforts. Plus... he is not European. He’s from Mexico, a country with a rich and exciting horror history of its own and worthy of more attention.
In addition to writing and presenting Horror Europa, Gatiss has also written a number of Doctor Who scripts and novels, the Lucifer Box series of novels, a biography of the director James Whale and They Came From Outer Space!: Alien Encounters In The Movies. He has acted in Doctor Who, Sherlock, Jekyll, and Psychoville, among many other things, as well as being a founding member of The League of Gentlemen and the co-creator of Sherlock with his friend and Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat. He wrote and acted in Crooked House, one of the BBC’s traditional Christmas ghost stories and wrote Horror Europa. The list goes on. He is an ideal figure for both A History of Horror and Horror Europa, as he grew up with and still maintains an obvious love of horror films.
Though Horror Europa isn’t available on DVD, check it out on Youtube. It aired this past October for Halloween on the BBC4. According to Gatiss, Horror Europa is not the end of his documentary series on horror films and he would like to do more.