A continuation from his excellent three part 2010 documentary series A History of Horror, Mark Gatiss leads us on a tour of some of the horror films of western Europe over the last hundred years, examining the changing influences that defined the genre throughout the continent.
Formed of an absorbing ninety minutes, Horror Europa travels through five countries to tell its narrative. Beginning in Belgium, Mark Gatiss - sharply dressed throughout in an electric blue suit - introduces us to one of his favourite films, the erotic and subtle vampire thriller Daughters of Darkness. We’d previously seen Mark speak on the film alongside the documentary’s consultant Jonathan Rigby last year, but here he visits the locations in Ostend where it was partly shot, taking some obvious veiled glee in recreating moments from the film. From there, he travels back to 1920s Germany, examining one of the exclusions from the earlier series that he was most questioned on - the classic silent film Nosferatu, arguing that its creeping, expressionistic framing and construction both defined and influenced numerous others around the world. From there, his journey proceeds through France and Italy before concluding in Spain. As the documentary progresses, so does the passage of time, with Mark arguing that the growth and evolution of the genre country by country is both in response to the success of it overseas, while also influenced by the events of the wider world, most importantly the aftermath of both World Wars. But there’s also a notable change in tone in the films as we progress nation to nation, from the tormented work of Germany, the anger of France, the stylistic flamboyance of Italy and finally the melancholy introspection of Spain.
Aside from Mark’s own examination of the numerous films he presents to us, Horror Europa is packed with information and interview material with both their actors and directors, including Edith Scob, so memorable behind a mask in France’s Eyes without a Face; Italy’s Dario Argento, famous for his violent stalker movies in Italy; and Guillermo del Toro, director of the more recent The Devil’s Backbone and the Oscar winning Pan’s Labyrinth. Mark also indulges some wry and occasionally black humour in the presentation between film clips and the new documentary material, with a highlight featuring director Harry Kümel being handed a distinctive looking green drink from his film Daughters of Darkness in a toast, before being hilariously warned off drinking it - we won’t spoil the surprise as to the contents of the glass.
Artfully and archly shot throughout the duration, the documentary makes ample use of the locations that appear in the films it examines, as well as some other hugely evocative and indeed spooky places - not least an abandoned sanatorium in Berlin, all paint peeled walls, shattered windows and floating brick dust. The choice of culled film footage here is also carefully selected, but also among the most impactful and unflinching moments from their respective works at times, fully earning the after dark broadcast slot. Packaged together, Horror Europa is an entertaining tour around its targeted section of the continent, taking the time to linger in places and give them their due while simultaneously rattling through Mark’s chosen list of subjects. Scheduled as an intelligent treat pre-Halloween, it is perfect viewing.
Following the preview screening at the BFI, Mark was joined on stage by Jonathan Rigby and producer John Das for a Question and Answer session. Lead by Jonathan, the three described in depth the inspirations and production process for the film, revealing it originally emerged from discussion about how to progress from the original three part series. Mark suggested Europe be the subject, while joking that the absence of Nosferatu was also one of the driving forces for the new documentary, noting the sacrifices that occasionally had to be made when making the 2010 series. He also made light of the constant questioning on Twitter for the film’s exclusion from the series, with Jonathan astutely noting that it carried the leader of ‘A’ (not ‘The’) History of Horror, as the series is very much a personal opinion on the genre rather than a definitive statement.
Horror Europa was filmed in twelve days across eight countries, effectively a nonstop tour around Europe as well as a single day’s trip to Canada to interview Guillermo del Toro in Toronto. The filming process would often involve arriving in a country in the morning, with the crew filming material by the afternoon in remarkably fast turnarounds with little preparation. There were amusing stories of the locations that some of the filming took place in, including that striking, paint peeled sanatorium in Berlin, very much evocative of the shadow of the war but also, it turns out, the site of serial killings. In the case of Orava Castle in Slovakia, so memorable onscreen in Nosferatu, the locals were completely unaware of the significance of the location, or that such a renowned film had been shot there. Mark told an amusing story of a chance meeting that occurred after the hectic filming schedule for Horror Europa had concluded, having experienced that distinctive sensation of waking up in a hotel room with no knowledge or sense of where you are or how you got there - whilst walking past the Savoy in London, he bumped into Richard E Grant, who told him he was making a series for Sky titled The World of Great Hotels, presumably on a far more leisurely schedule!
Mark said his favourite interviewee during the making of Horror Europa was Edith Scob, saying she was the equivalent of the French Una Stubbs, and utterly delightful, while the interview that was most concerning was with Dario Argento, both through his perceived aura and the need to ask about his ‘complicated relationship with women’, the answer to which was rather effectively blocked and thus didn’t make the final cut. In the end though he was an excellent and funny interviewee, initially speaking in Italian but then suddenly breaking into eloquent English - a moment captured in the documentary.
When questioned later by an audience member, Mark confirmed he would like to proceed with further hypothetical documentaries on the subject of world horror, either one dedicated to Asian horror or a general ‘mop up’ piece that collated any favourites from around the world he had been unable to include in these four films. From the consistent quality, strength and humour of the documentaries that he has presented thus far on the subject, these possible further examinations of the genre frankly cannot come soon enough.
Horror Europa screens in the UK on BBC Four, October 30 2012 at 21:00GMT.
The Q&A session was filmed by the BFI and video highlights will be released on their website soon.
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