Fear in the Night is about the pleasure of watching scary and – in particular – unscary films. A pleasure which began for me some years back. Decades, even – well, about two of them.
These nights of fear were spent watching great films, awful films, and everything in between – whilst generally consuming copious amounts of beer and wine, and from time to time pizza. Although this was not essential.
What was essential was the company: Phil and I watched films whenever we had the chance. And then like a total arsehole I went and moved to Canada, which made our film nights quite tricky to continue. And for that I am so very sorry.
The thing is, ultimately this is not about fear at all, but love: the almost unquestioning love we discovered for films that weren’t always, in all ways, the greatest. Although sometimes they were.
It all began with Hammer. Hammer Horrors, and those of their rivals, Amicus, which we often happily confused.
It’s probably fair to say that when we started watching these films we watched them somewhat ironically. Our commentary would ask questions like, “who’s pouring red paint across those flagstones?” And observations like, “that’s a really nice painting of a castle”. At some point one of us would add something about how unerringly bright the night sky seems to get in the vicinity of, say, Karlsbad.
But we found so much to love in them. Yes, sometimes they were ludicrous, the production values weren’t always the highest, and they were possibly never scary. But I’m not sure I can express quite how irresistible – how… how charming – they were, and indeed are.
I can only speak for myself of course, but I think we grew to love them not in spite of their failings, but ultimately for those very things that at first glance looked (dare I say it?) second-rate, or cheap. We kind of needed to stop comparing them to other films: they were more comparable to theatre. And once you saw them through that lens, they were truly beautiful.
Somewhere along the way, the sets began to look flawless, the backdrops stunning, and the performances, far from being on the hammy side (if indeed we had thought just one or two of them might have been, from time to time), were pitch-perfect.
And most importantly, there was someone we couldn’t help but respect and admire from the very beginning. An actor who somehow managed to make even the most patently artificial creatures look terrifying; the least special ‘special’ effects believable: Peter Cushing.
The title, Fear in the Night, refers to the 1972 Hammer film. Not strictly speaking a horror – more of a thriller, really. But it does feature the wonderful Peter Cushing – and it does helpfully raise a fair question of quite what characterises a horror film.
I couldn’t not talk about The Wicker Man here, for example – but does it really count as horror? But then arguably all the Frankenstein films are sci-fi, really, aren’t they…?
Well then, definitions may have to be the next thing to consider.