I came across this photograph the other day. It made me smile and it made me a bit sad. It was obviously taken at the height of the Hammer Horror craze, and summed up all the camp sexiness and silliness but great fun of the genre. I could name two of the young ladies in question, There was Madeline Smith, who invariably played the doe eyed damsel in distress who was the target of general wicked beings, and the delightful Ingrid Pitt, who invariably did not.
My memories of Hammer Horror are slightly dim. What I seem to recall is that some time in the late 70’s my parents, who were in some ways ahead of their time, had acquired and newfangled thing – a portable TV. It had something like a 6 inch screen and a big aerial. It was, of course, a black and white TV. I was in my early to mid teens at the time. What I recall is something about Friday or Saturday nights when I was allowed to stay up later, fish and chips for supper (back in those days when “chippies” opened late, and I could eat a mountain of food and still look like a racing snake) and then retiring to bed with said black-and-white TV to watch a film.
I can’t say I have been an avid fan, but something about the photo resonated. I remember the frisson of excitement as a Hammer Horror film would come on, about 10.30-ish. In some senses they were, I suppose, ground breaking. There was a quite calculated sexuality about them, although they were innocent by today’s standards and not at all scary. Christopher Lee was indeed brilliant, but clearly Ingrid Pitt made quite an impression on my adolescent sensibilities. She was sexy as hell, she knew it, and played it for all she was worth, turning the volume up to eleven, to borrow a phrase coined by one critic.
Her Cult status with horror fans stems from “The Vampire Lovers” (1970) and “Countess Dracula” (1971). I am sure she made quite an impression on my juvenile mind. I have had a soft spot for a bad girl and a Vampiress ever since.
I suppose I miss being young and relatively care free – that’s natural. But I also feel sad for what young people have to put up with or expose themselves to these days. To be honest, I must be very unusual because I don’t remember all the teenage “you don’t understand me” thing that they have to do. I was probably too busy taking exams. Another thing I don’t remember is the whole nocturnal thing that teenagers seem to do. Staying up late meant 12 o’clock to see Dracula get frazzled by sunlight in the final reel. From my albeit limited experience, these days it seems to involve all-nighters on gaming sites of dubious integrity and then laying in bed until emerging hollow eyed and sullen at about 2 pm. I can’t say that is an improvement on what I recall a more innocent, yet healthier and happier times.
As for Ms. Pitt, she has sadly departed us now. She led an eventful life, having been placed in a Nazi concentration camp as a child, being taken with her mother to be shot before escaping and living rough with Partisans. In later years she turned author and was much in demand in horror conventions and the like. Whenever I heard or saw her interviewed about these she seemed utterly charming, good-humoured and a real lady. I shall make it my business to acquire the above mentioned films on DVD, and relieve the innocent or perhaps not so innocent moments of my youth. Were they happier, simpler times? Is that how it always feels? And what other titles should I acquire?
Gildas the Monk