Sunday, April 18, 2010

Highgate Cemetery is officially a Hammer-free zone

When I was growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, Hammer Horror still retained just a smidgen of that disreputability it enjoyed when it first erupted in 1957.
Since then, I've watched it become a cosy uncle of British cinema, equivalent almost to the Ealing comedy in respectability and affection, with some pleasure but a little sadness also.
It's disheartening to see something that was once edgy become so thoroughly absorbed into the fabric. I suppose the days when we see the films being shown on television on weekday afternoons are just around the corner.
So in a way it was almost pleasurable to discover that there are corners still where Hammer Horror is still something to be sniffed at, and handled, if at all, with tongs.
Despite living virtually on its doorstep for over five years, I had never been to Highgate Cemetery. A visit from my sister a couple of weekends back seemed the perfect opportunity to put this right, since she too is a Hammer Dracula addict, and the cemetery was used for some of the locations in Taste the Blood of Dracula; the (matte-painted) church in which the blood rite takes place being approached via a gated section of the cemetery called the Collumbarium.
We arrived on the Sunday morning, just in time for the guided tour. We asked the tour guide if the official route encompassed the Collumbarium.
"We go past it," he replied; "why?"
It's funny how embarrassing the phrase Taste the Blood of Dracula seems when you have to say it to a Highgate Cemetery tour guide.
"It was used in a film," I fudged.
"Which one?" he persisted.
"A Hammer film called Taste the Blood of Dracula," I conceded, any further obfuscation futile.
"Oh," he said, almost wistfully, as if receiving confirmation of a bad suspicion. "We don't mention that."
"Yes, I've got the DVD, but I won't be mentioning it."
"Any chance that we could go in on our own?"
"No, it's unsafe and you'll get lost."
Feeling thoroughly leprous, we decided not to take his tour, and that's why there are no photographs of the locations for Taste the Blood in this post.
The wonderful feeling that I again love something just a little bit too unsavoury for the English to openly acknowledge to each other on a Sunday morning, however, remains oddly compensatory.


Jack Veasey said...

This post just made my day. Thank you!

At Silver Springs in Florida they love to talk about "The Creature From The Black Lagoon," and are proud of the non-indigenous monkeys released after the shooting of Tarzan films. But we Americans are so crass...

monty said...

Great story, loved it...

Will Errickson said...

Yes, wonderful anecdote. I appreciate the mixed feelings when something once edgy and distasteful is now part of mainstream culture. I especially liked when you realized how embarrassing it is to say out loud TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA!

James said...

Great story, Matthew. Shame you didn't get to see the Collumbarium though. I visited Highgate a couple of years back with a friend who lives in London. It wasn't the season for tours though, so we didn't get to visit the section where you went with your sister. We did find Karl Marx's grave though.

Jinx said...

Brilliant story! Nice to know Hammer remains a little bit subversive and naughty.

Mr Pendlebury said...

I Know what you mean, they seem to have gone from being late night Friday and Saturday viewing to Carry On style quaintness in just a few years (well it seems ike just a few years to me).

Lolita said...

I see you also get the Japanese spam! Congratulations!
Before I say anything else: I adore the picture with Vincent Price and Kermit the Frog!
I have unfortunately not been able to drool over Christopher Lee as Dracula, but I have to do something about that. However, I saw an interesting book about British horror film from Hammer to Shaun of the Dead, that made me reach for my credit card. It would look pretty among my other film books. Do you know if it as lovely as it sounds?

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks all!
And yes, I'd be lost without my Japanese spam...

Incidentally, Lolita, I don't know the book you mean, but the best book ever written on British horror was David Pirie's Heritage of Horror, which came out in the seventies and has been out of print since forever. He's just done a revised and updated version, which I've not read and can't vouch for, but assuming he's left the original parts more or less unaltered would be worth it for them alone:


Anthony Hogg said...

The likely reason why the tour guide didn't want to speak about the movie, is because of the vampire association.

The FoHC aren't keen on 'exploiting' that aspect of the cemetery's history, because of the vandals the Highgate Vampire media coverage attracted. Indeed, the FoHC was formed to clean up the mess they left behind.

Sam said...

Now now Anthony, don't speak for all of us ;) I mention 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' on every one of my tours, as well as 'The Abominable Dr Phibes' and 'Tales From The Crypt' because them being filmed there is part of the cemetery's history. I don't blame the films for the desecration, I blame the self-important egotists, sorry, vampire hunters for that. One of my fellow guides used to (as a boy) sneak into the cemetery with his mates to explore and smoke cigarettes. One day he'd crept in and was walking around and in the distance noticed a very tall man on one of the pathways. The man was wearing a long black coat and was looking down intently at the headstones while reading their inscriptions. As my colleague approached the man, he looked up. It was the mighty Sir Christopher Lee himself, in the flesh, who was in the cemetery filming something or another. My colleague turned around and ran like hell (well, you would, wouldn't you?) :D

Matthew Coniam said...

That's really good to hear, Sam, but my account, above, stands.
If only it had been you there when my sister came to visit, she wouldn't have been made to feel so unwelcome!

Sam said...

Matthew, I shall drop you a quick email and can only apologise for both you and your sister being made to feel unwelcome on your visit.

Matthew Coniam said...

That's really nice of you Sam, but we did see the funny side of it too, as I hope comes across above!

Sam said...

Oh it does :)