The John Potts article “What I Owe to Hammer Horror” from the 47th edition of Senses of Cinema (www.censesofcinema.com) caught my eye because of the idea of owing something to film. Also, I feel I am too young to have been acquainted with the Hammer Horror film, yet the genre is too recent to be part of the more accessible classics (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff etc.), thus I was curious to know what could be learned from them.
Potts was born and raised in a small Australian town. He juxtaposes his memories of this town with his memories of the Hammer vampire films of the 60’s and 70’s. His town was closed off to foreign, non-British influence, possessed little semblance of a social hierarchy and was lacking in mysterious landscapes. It is primarily for these reasons that he was drawn to the Christopher Lee films. They showcased all the elements that his upbringing lacked. Essentially, they taught him about Europe and a world different from his own.
Due to what Potts presumes as a lacking budget, the movies were filmed in Germanic regions. What most struck him about the settings were their lush forests and beautiful landscapes, populated by old-world churches. Since these were very much unlike those of his youth, they intrigued him. He states later in the article that when he made his first visits to Europe, these are precisely the things that he searched out. Another mystery of the films was their portrayal of social class relations. Dracula is an aristocrat and he physically drains the peasants of their lives. An idea like this was foreign to Potts as the member of a simply middle-class town. This education was valuable because class differences are typical in most parts of the world. He even recounts a visit to a small Yorkshire town where a pub owner was busying himself for the arrival of a lord, at whose arrival all the villagers would gather. At times, the ideas presented in the Hammer Horror films seemed not to apply, but instances like this always brought them back. These films gave Potts a heads-up concerning the world outside his small town.
This idea of being taught by films is important to me. I am also from a small town and I’ve never been outside the country. I wish I could afford to travel far and abroad, but at the moment I’m stuck an hour drive from where I was born. I watch films from all over the world. In them, I’m given the chance to look into foreign eyes and foreign lands and see the world outside my own. Granted, I can’t take the elements of these films for fact in all cases, the lack of their validity would at least teach me something about their society. If I were to travel to Europe, I would probably act in much the same way as Potts. I would seek out the old-world and the lush forests and the small town people because these are the things are most mysterious to me when watching films about the region. I think I have a similar infatuation with Pott’s homeland of Australia. Peter Weir’s The Last Wave educated me in the social problems of the country that exist between the whites and the aborigines. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition has a similar effect, while also introducing me to the harshness of the outback. Since viewing that film, there is no place I’d rather explore. In a time when travel costs are so high, sometimes the only way to educate ourselves in the world around us is through film.