October Takeover: European Horror – Vampires, Black-Gloved Killers and the Devil

~posted by David H.

If you’re looking for the birthplace of the horror film, then the place you should be looking is Europe. From German silent films to Hammer’s Technicolor horrors and on to the black-gloved killers of Italian giallo, Europe has been a prime breeding ground for horror. For viewers willing to try something new (and who don’t mind subtitles), it’s a treasure trove of fright.

One of the first narrative horror films and arguably the most important is Germany’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Steeped in expressionistic artwork, the story (about an evil hypnotist using a zombie to commit murder) is less important than the visuals. Its world of off-kilter walls and twisted streets captures the feeling of watching a madman’s nightmare. Equally important is the film Nosferatu, an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula that features a bald, skeletal Count with rat-like teeth, quite unlike the glamourous vampires of today

During the 1950s and ’60s, England’s Hammer Studios led the way forward with their reworking of Universal’s B&W films into beautiful Technicolor. Horror of Dracula, the studio’s version of Bram Stoker’s novel, stars Christopher Lee as a suave, handsome Dracula who alternately oozes sex and bloodlust. Paired against him is Peter Cushing as the authoritative and athletic vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing. The two also starred in The Mummy with Lee as the menacing title character and Cushing as a British archaeologist. Though Hammer closed its doors in the 1970s, the studio name was revived recently for the release of the chilling Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Influenced by Hammer’s films, Italy responded with Mario Bava’s Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday). Starring Barbara Steele as both villain and heroine, the film is a black and white phantasmagoria of fogbound landscapes and crumbling castles. Bava’s later film Black Sabbath, starring Boris Karloff, showcases his facility with color with nightmarish reds, blues and greens filling the screen. Bava later pioneered both the giallo genre (which marries sex, death and horror together) and the modern slasher film with Blood and Black Lace, where a masked killer murders the employees of a fashion studio. Giallo gained another master with Dario Argento and his films The Bird with the Crystal PlumageFour Files on Grey Velvet and Deep Red. Even better are Argento’s dark fairy tales Suspiria and Inferno, films filled with garish color, horrific violence and stream of consciousness plots.

Though Hollywood dominates the genre here, Europe continues to turn out excellent horror films. From English director Ben Wheatley comes Kill List, the story of a hitman who’s most recent job may cost him what’s left of his soul. The Spanish film Here Comes the Devil tells a dark tale of two children who disappear one day only to reappear with disturbing new personalities. Lastly, for those who love the bizarre, is The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, an homage to the giallo that leaves reality far behind as it tells the twisted tale of a man’s missing wife.

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