Away from his work on Doctor Who and Sherlock, writer and actor Mark Gatiss is known as an avid horror fan, indeed it is well documented that The League of Gentleman has horror running through its metaphorical DNA and helped to create the programme’s delightfully dark humour.
Following on from his successful The History of Horror series on BBC4, Mark Gatiss is provided with the opportunity to explore the European contributions made to the horror genre and how its legacy has had lasting influences on classic horror as known to British and American audiences. Horror Europa begins (rather unexpectedly) in Belgium with The Daughters of Darkness (1971) where Gatiss explores how one can incorporate a lesbian vampire into a film whilst keeping it tasteful and dark for a ‘70s audience. He then travels to Germany where he explores how the Expressionist movement used works such as Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Hands of Orlac (the last two featuring noted German actor Conrad Veidt) to metaphorically depict the nation in the interwar period of the ‘20s and ‘30s. The next stop is France, here Gatiss explores Eyes Without A Face (1960) which broke ground with its graphic surgical removal of a woman’s face. Next, to Italy where time is devoted to exploring the output of cult directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento with a final stop in Spain and how social realism and the legacy of the Spanish Civil War influences its horror output through to the modern day.
The instant appeal of Horror Europa comes through Gatiss himself; he clearly has a passion for horror both as an audience member and as a film creator. This makes his interactions with people of interest more refreshing; he knows the right questions to ask, meanwhile, he listens and responds attentively to his contributors without being patronising.
The other enticing element of Horror Europa is the previously mentioned contributors. There is a wide range of guests that Gatiss interviews including classic Italian film director Dario Argento himself, modern horror maestro Guillermo Del Toro as well as numerous performers from the films he discusses. This provides first hand insight into the films now regarded as classics. However, because of his love of the genre, Gatiss also takes the time to discuss the genre he loves with experts such as Werner Sudendorf, Curator of the Berlin Film Museum; Gatiss uses such guests to explore not only the artistic and commercial impact, but also the cultural impact.
It is very difficult to pick fault with such an insightful documentary, but what the previous series A History Of Horror benefitted from was several hour long episodes; Horror Europa is only granted a single ninety minute slot which leaves you a tad short-changed in a nice way because you end up wishing to know more about the films that Gatiss has discussed.
Horror Europa is a must for fans of the genre and fans of Mark Gatiss himself; his passion comes through in the films he has chosen to discuss and is the perfect interviewer for the guests he has invited along on his trip around Europe. However, there is so much to discuss in these films and sadly not enough time, it would have been nice to devote an episode to each country. Mark Gatiss certainly leaves his audience wanting more.
Originally broadcast: 30th October 2012 – BBC4