Appointments with fear!
words by Ann Laabs
What is British Horror?
For this ’70s “horror kid”, with a childhood spent in from of the TV every Saturday afternoon, watching Monster Shocker Theater on the local UHF station, it means:
- Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula, paralyzing a victim with his piercing wintery eyes.
- Peter Cushing as his intrepid, fearless opponent.
- And Christopher Lee again as Frankenstein’s Monster – and the Mummy – and Rasputin – and many others.
Sure, I thought I knew the British movie industry’s unique take on these classics of the genre. From the vivid, saturated red blood popping off the screen (even in black and white!), the red-faced angry villagers, the mist-swept forests with one lone road transporting a rickety carriage through an inky blue-black night in some anonymous European-ish county … for most US kids of my generation, “British Horror” meant Hammer and these iconic colour-soaked images.
But opening The Third BHF Book of British Horror Stories collection revealed a whole new world of horror from the Sceptered Isle. One of the great joys of horror fandom is finding a “new to you” author, story, movie, etc. It turns out the British cinematic history of horror is vaster than I could possibly imagine. Sure, any fan can name Hammer and their movies, or Amicus and their anthologies. But movies from Tigon, Tyburn? Who the heck are – or were – they?! Thanks to this collection inspired by the whole range of classic British horror movies, I’m finding that out. Discovering, as an American fan of British horror, that my knowledge of British horror only scratches a gloriously rancid, gritty surface? What a treat!
As noted in editor Darrel Buxton’s introduction, the origins of this volume stem generally from Chris Wood’s website, British Horror Movies, and a sub-forum (Your Creations) that opened the gates to a “flood of artworks and short stories”. These works were collected in two BHM collections.
While BHM has gone silent, the idea of another collection lived on. In 2020 Sean Hogan’s collection, England’s Screaming (PS Publishing) introduced stories featuring classic characters and movies from British horror cinema, all existing in an interconnected universe. Inspired anew, Buxton cast a net across the social media sea for a third BHM collection.
One of the pleasurable hazards of a horror short story collection, like the box of chocolates in Forrest Gump – you never know what you’re going to get. Hopefully, you’ll discover some ok stories, some entertaining, and surprisingly often, a couple of real gems. Along with the stories, hopefully, you’ll find new writers to follow. At the least, you hope the collection is worth your time and money. In this case, that’s covered, since the proceeds from sales of this collection to help the venerable, and never more valuable, work of Britain’s National Health Service.
What worked for me was the variety. Even if the current story I was reading didn’t work for me, the next did. For every story that didn’t pull me in, all I was losing was a small investment of time before I moved on to the next story.
In the ‘stories that worked‘ category, the best of this collection – Minister of the Sinister; Incident Report: The Haley Incident; and Nuggets – all featured characters I recognised from my childhood (Quatermass, Peter Cushing, Amicus anthologies), along with movies I discovered as an adult (Death Line), even if I didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of them. Paired with the familiar elements, vivid writing and an involving story kept me reading, even in stories that I had no clue as to their connections to British horror, such as Cold Snap.
The unique feature to the BHM collection is an alluring draw for horror junkies. Reading a story on two levels, trying to figure out what movie references are contained in each story while at the same time being pulled along by the plot is irresistible. Stories that combined these two elements to the highest degree – like the previously mentioned Minister of the Sinister – Incident Report, and OfficeTech Intra-Personal Relationships Course – October 30th, 11 p.m., create a meta funhouse of horrors, drawing the reader in on multiple levels.
In the stories that, for me at least as a reader, did not work, what was the common discordant element? Something in the mechanics of the story that took me ‘out‘ of the world of the story. Some seemed to drag on a bit past their welcome, others had a disjointed plot that never coalesced into a satisfying whole or featured an out-of-nowhere abrupt ending. Fortunately, by my notes, the stories that worked outnumbered those that didn’t 2 to 1.
If BHM decides to publish another collection, making Stratton-Villers from Death Line and Nurse Alex Price more of a Mulder/Scully-ish team, weaving their way through each story with a final story wrapping every previous tale together, would be fantastic. Another minor quibble; from my American perspective, a few stories set in Hammervania would’ve been welcome.
In any case, a collection like The Third BHF Book of Horror Stories is an intriguing collection that helps a good cause in a time of trouble. It’s hard to go wrong with that.
The Third BHF Book of Horror Stories is available to buy now for £9.99 (plus P&P) from lulu.com. All proceeds go directly to the NHS. Click the image below to get your copy now…