Hello. My name is Michael Galley and I’m a horror film fan. Visualise me stumbling reluctantly to my feet in order to shame-facedly utter that last sentence to my support group if you wish, but as the years have gone by I’ve found myself able to gather around me some few shards of self-respect and self-confidence which the gawkily self-conscious young man I once was would have found difficult to imagine, so I’d sooner see it as a declaration of pride.
I’m a horror film fan for any number of reasons, but I became a horror fan for one specific one. Almost exactly forty years ago I watched a late night season of BBC2 horror double bills on a series of Saturdays in the summer of 1977; a season that, typically, paired a Universal classic from the 1930s and 40s with a then still daringly modern Hammer or AIP film from the 60s, and was given the umbrella title of Dracula, Frankenstein – and Friends! I’ve borrowed the title for the name of this site (though I’ve unceremoniously removed the hyphen and the exclamation mark, which smacked just a little too much of an unwarranted jauntiness for my down-in-the-mouth liking), partly because it seems to sum up what I’m planning to write about, and partly because it helps to emphasise just how significant and influential that season of films has been in shaping the person that I’ve become and some of the ways in which I see the world.
No child growing up in the 1970s could have been entirely oblivious to the ubiquity of the horror culture surrounding them, from the monster mags gracing every newsagents’ shelves to the lurid box cover art of the Aurora monster kits glowering from every toy shop window.
Horror was everywhere, even sliding sinisterly into the gothic-tinged Public Information Films warning a generation of trembling schoolchildren to stay away from deep water and electricity pylons.
As a result, by the age of eleven or twelve I had developed a vague, unfocused interest in all things Monstrous. That interest was about to find its focus.
It is July 2nd 1977. Margaret Thatcher has yet to unleash her bile and malice upon an unsuspecting nation, and the miserable prospect of Monday morning’s ritually humiliating swimming lesson is far enough away to be ignored for now. The long hot blissful summer holiday is so close I can almost taste it. Mum and Dad are still alive and well, and Tom Baker is still the Doctor. All is right with the world, for these moments at least. Dad, tall, slow-moving and gentle faced, has finished recording the day’s mundanities in his Letts half-page-to-a-day diary, and, always early to bed, is on his way upstairs. Mum, warm brown eyes dancing with their usual life and humour, has, astonishingly, agreed to let me stay up late to watch a film that I’d been pestering her about. BBC2 is about to show Bela Lugosi in Dracula, and for one particular boy, cosy in the corner of a red sofa in a three bedroom semi in an obscure suburban corner of Norwich, as well as for a whole generation of particular children of a pleasingly morbid cast of mind and a similar, self-dramatisingly adolescent sense of their ‘outsider’ status, life is never going to be the same again.
Before launching boldly into Dracula and his monstrous company, however, perhaps it’s also a good moment to be clear about what this site will not be. Although I will be writing about the films I saw all those years ago, I’m not essentially going to be writing reviews, and I’m definitely not putting together an academic study of the horror film, something I wouldn’t have the objectivity or diligence or talent to achieve, and which has already been done by much better writers than me. If you’re looking for something rigorous, well-researched and offering critical insight into the production of these films I’d whole-heartedly recommend anything by Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby or Dennis Meikle, or going back a bit, try to get hold of the histories of the genre written in the seventies by Dennis Gifford or Alan Frank. Because I truly am a horror fan those works are already putting my limited DIY shelf assembly skills to the ultimate test, and I’m not presumptuous enough to try to compete with any of them. But this is something different.
Of necessity, most responses to the genre focus on the moment of production – I’m writing instead about the moment of reception. I don’t intend to focus on the films themselves so much as on what they did to me, and because I think I’m not untypical, to many of us. What I write here is going to be unashamedly subjective and personal, and the films themselves are often going to be a jumping off point for whatever experiences, or memories, or ideas they are associated with for me. The approach means that this site is at least as much memoir as it is film criticism. Perhaps more accurately, it’s about the symbiosis between the two. My adolescent response to these films helped shape the way I see and respond to the world now, but as I’ve gained a little life experience the way I see and respond to the films themselves has changed and developed too. Its that process I’m most interested in here, and so I’m prepared to wander perilously close to the precipice of self-indulgence. And then throw myself headlong over it.
I don’t pretend there’s anything remarkable about me personally or about my life. I suppose my only hope for the more personal parts of what I write here is that in my unremarkable ordinariness – when combined with the most extraordinary of film genres in its most classic form – there might be something with which you can identify, or empathise.
As a result there should also be a note of caution with regard to factual accuracy, or the lack of it. Making a virtue out of my own laziness, I plan on checking and researching the details I refer to as little as possible. It is not the facts themselves I want to report, but my memory of them, as partial and subjective and unreliable as that might be.
I will tackle the films, permitting myself whatever digressions and diversions I fancy, in the order they were transmitted way back when in the ‘long hot but not quite so hot as the summer of 76’ summer of 77. Hopefully, time and life and my own previously mentioned laziness permitting, I’ll cover the whole eleven week season of double bills before the fortieth anniversary year is out.
If you’d like to know the films involved before reading the rest of the site, there are full listings of all the BBC2 horror double bill seasons available at http://www.worldheadpress.com/bbc2-horror-double-bill-183 .
So there you have it. Hop on over to the following sections and wallow in your own inner monster. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy or be interested by there. Perhaps you share some of my memories. Perhaps you passionately disagree with some of my opinions. The Houses of Dracula and Frankenstein are large and interesting places, after all, with room for many mansions. Stick around and see what unfolds.
I bid you welcome.