Monday, 11 July 2011

Ready for your dose of television poison?

Horror is not normally part of the UK television schedule unless it's the screening of a movie. There is more activity in the 2000s than there used to be in the 1990s thanks to the recent importation of US shows like FRINGE and SUPERNATURAL, but we in Britain can boast precious little home-grown horror TV, particularly if you prefer your H to be delivered in anthology or 'portmanteau' format.

However, this wasn't always the case. Back in an era I'm increasingly seeing as 'the good old days' - the late 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s - we were blessed with a plethora of made-for-TV British horror which rarely pulled its punches in terms of gruesome or scary subject-matter.

Brian Clemens's THRILLER ran from 1973 to 1976, and offered us a range of sleazy and grisly tales in which the emphasis was placed firmly on disturbing or frightening the audience (and it almost always succeeded).

ARMCHAIR THRILLER, from Thames, appeared in 1978 and 1980, and featured scripts adapted from famous horror or crime stories. The BBC got in on the act in 1977 with SUPERNATURAL (no relation to the US show), which related stories from 'the Club of the Damned'.

One of the most well-known TV shows of this type, HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR was first screened in 1980 and really pushed the boundaries of television scare-fare, not least in terms of production quality. Probably the best TV horror series of them all for sheer originality was Nigel Kneale's BEASTS; this was first broadcast in 1976 and delivered six free-standing stories, each one drawing terror from the animal world.

But there was one horror show back in that halcyon age, which would probably shock audiences even if it was screened today. In fact, so dark and disturbing were the concepts it investigated that it was very quickly pulled from the schedules and allegedly had its master-tapes wiped on the orders of TV bosses.

DEATH RATTLES was first screened late-night circa 1984, and was the child of a quite rebellious and counter-cultural era in British television. It presented us with a series of contemporary British horror stories, each one concerned primarily with ordinary people living humdrum lives. Yet they horror they experienced - mostly supernatural but not always so - was upsetting to the nth degree.

As with many famous horror films which have supposedly been so dark that their production and screening were plagued with mysterious problems - THE OMEN, THE WICKER MAN, THE EXORCIST being classic examples - DEATH RATTLES encountered difficulties from its outset. Stories abounded during its very low-budget production about nervous breakdowns among staff, unlikely accidents on set, and even hauntings in the studio. When it finally went to air, it was panned by even the most liberal critics for skimming the gutters of human experience.

Subsequently it was removed and almost all trace of it has now been erased from the archive. Rumours persist that rough copies were unofficially made, but I've never seen any, nor know anyone who has.

That's the bad news. The good news is that you can now experience some of the flavour of DEATH RATTLES as at least part of the anthology is shortly to be released in book-form (pictured top left), courtesy of Gray Friar Press.

Several months ago, I was honoured to be asked to transform one of the few surviving scripts into a novella (there wasn't very much of the script left, if I'm honest - so much of it had to be done from fogged memory). Several other masters and mistresses or horror were also approached to produce content, and the result is DEATH RATTLES the book.

I won't say too much more - except that the six novellas it contains are prose versions of six of the spookiest and most bizarre episodes in the series, that it is due out imminently and that it can be purchased HERE.

Just to whet your appetites a little more, here is a full Table of Contents:

Rattling Cages: an Introduction by Stephen Volk

Episode 1: Scattered Ashes - John Llewellyn Probert

Episode 2: Seen And Not Heard - Gary Fry

Episode 3: Antlers - Thana Niveau

Episode 4: The Children of Moloch - Simon Bestwick

Episode 5: Cow Castle - Paul Finch

Episode 6: His Father's Son - Gary McMahon

1 comment:

  1. From Canada originally from the Philippines:

    I have long been a fan of horror TV anthologies stretching way back as 1977. And have recently since the late 90s have become aware of UK horror TV anthologies.

    Death Rattles intrigues me since I did not know about this until yesterday. WOW.

    Now I have probably watched most UK horror TV anthology shows and the following are my personal faves.

    The Supernatural(1977): Gothic stuff, great acting and sets on a budget. Should have gotten a second season. The Dorabella, frankenstein and werewolf eps are standouts for me. I particularly liked the Jackson guy from the Professionals in this show(another fave show of mine).

    Dead of Night(1972): one of my holy grails to my collection(the other is Quinn Martin's Tales of the unexpected). Exorcism ep. is simply genius. Hunting for the lost eps.

    M.R. James Christmas ghost story dramatizations: The BBC annual ones. WOW, I rewaatch this many times. Big fan of M.R. james, the Beeb gives them justice. Did not like the John hurt one though from 2010. As for the non M.R. james stories, liked crooked house and especially Schlaken the painter, the ending blew me away.

    Urban Gothic: What modern British horror TV should be. Low budget done effectively with great storylines, acting etc. Loved the vamp ep.

    Hammer House of Horror: Loved this much. Great acting sets and storylines. More significantly than the second season.

    Thriller: I like both the UK and USA versions. However the UK one is better acted with good storylines.

    Journey to the Unknown: Great stuff, the acting provides this show with a lot of the horror.

    Notable mention: Ghosts, Chiller, Dramarama, Beasts, Tales of Mystery and imagination.