When he’s not behind the drum kit with his black metal band Winterfylleth or behind a camera, Simon loves to explore the landscape and watch a good old tale of horror. Intrigued by his love for Hammer films, I caught up with him to find out a bit more!
Tell me, what is your earliest memory of discovering the wonderful world of horror?
I think I’ve always had an inherent interest in the subject matter, in the strange, the odd, the supernatural and the macabre. I remember being a young boy on holiday with my parents and siblings camping in Northumberland near one of the most haunted castles in the country, Chillingham, and I’d persuaded my parents to buy me a book about local ghost stories which I read cover to cover and scared myself silly finding out that the river we were camped next to was haunted by the ghost of a monk. I don’t think I slept much that night! Buying local ghost books has been a tradition that I’ve maintained ever since then, and have a variety from all over the country now amongst my library of books on the subject matter. My parents always used to take us on days out to visit manor houses, and castles in beautiful rural settings, and I certainly think that fueled my love of such locations and the stories that those beloved landscapes can hold.
One of my earliest memories of discovering vintage horror films was turning over to BBC 2 on a Friday night when I was probably in my teens and seeing Christopher Lee battle the dark forces of the black magician Mocata in Hammer’s adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s classic novel The Devil Rides Out. It instantly appealed to my fascination with the world of the occult and the supernatural. It truly is a wonderful film.
I hear you are a big fan of the Hammer films, tell me more about that. Please share some of your favourites for our readers to check out.
Yes I am definitely a huge Hammer films fan. I love most British horror in general, and Hammer are the iconic studio for the development of the genre in Britain, and also a specific style of horror, beloved by horror fans the world over. I’ve always been fascinated with history and I think the fact that most of Hammer’s classic gothic horror films, by their very nature involve period settings instantly appealed to me. There’s something about the spirit of British horror films that is different from films from elsewhere, and in the same way that music has a different feel from different nations, a national identity if you like, this is the same for horror films. For example it’s easy to spot an Italian zombie film or an American slasher film, and Hammer horrors are the archetypal British gothic horrors. My personal favourites from Hammer’s output include, as previously mentioned The Devil Rides Out, Twins of Evil starring Peter Cushing, The Plague of the Zombies, Countess Dracula starring the lovely Ingrid Pitt, the hard to find Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures in the USA). Incidentally, it looks as though Captain Clegg is finally getting a UK Blu-ray/DVD release this year. I love pretty much all of the eight Hammer Dracula films, even Dracula AD1972 with the lovely Caroline Munro getting covered in blood on the altar during the ritual scene! I have to say, with Hammer’s new resurgence into filmmaking again, their new adaptation of The Woman in Black is fantastic and very scary indeed. It features all the elements of a good British gothic horror film; a period setting, a bleak manor house, a slow building tension and a truly chilling environment which was best described by Nick the bass player from Winterfylleth as “total gothic misery”! The fact the film is genuinely terrifying was evident when I went to see the film on its release in the cinema with my friend Matthew Chance, who I’d worked with for years on the television show Most Haunted, we were both very used to wandering around old, dark, allegedly haunted manor houses due to the nature of our work on the show, but there was a specific scene in The Woman in Black that made Matt actually scream in the cinema! Maybe it was a chilling reminder of the occasion when the apparent ghost of one of the executed Pendle Witches physically assaulted Matt during a séance for a live episode of Most Haunted. He was knocked unconscious and seemingly taken-over by the entity, resulting in a trip to A&E.
As such a big horror fan, do you find that it influences your music and any other creative endeavors?
Definitely. With Winterfylleth there are elements of that influence although for the most part we have a defined subject matter that we focus on which is based on ancient history and manuscripts of historical significance from the tenth century. However in our early material there is the occasional crossover of influences. For example there is a track based on the short ghost story Casting the Runes written by M. R. James from his More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary book first published in 1911.
Through the record label that Winterfylleth is currently signed to (Candlelight Records), I have been central in orchestrating a range of clothing inspired by illustrated cinema poster artwork from vintage horror, b-movie, sci-fi and exploitation films. One of the aspects of horror films from pre-1979 that I really love is the beautifully illustrated and wonderfully designed artwork that adorns the promotional material such as cinema posters. I collect vintage cinema posters, personally so it seemed a perfect idea for a range of clothing. There are some fantastic titles and designs in the range including some official Hammer Films designs such as Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb, Scars of Dracula, Lust for a Vampire, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde plus a whole host of films from other studios such as Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and Amicus Films The Beast Must Die. The range comes under the title Plan 9 (after the sci-fi b-movie film Plan 9 From Outer Space), and can be browsed if you go to http://www.plastichead.com and search in the merchandise section for “Plan 9”.
I’ve never been a massive fan of modern horror films at all to be completely honest. For me they lack the atmosphere and antiquated feeling that makes vintage horror films so special. Modern horror films rarely build tension as well as older horror films. I definitely agree that many go out for gore and shock value, which has never really interested me at all. For me I like a horror film to have some form of supernatural essence or an occult theme. Give me a ghost story or a misty satanic ritual in a forest in rural England any day over an endless series of bad American teenage gore sequels.
I must say though that recently there have been a few really good atmospheric modern horror films, for example; The Woman in Black and The Conjuring.
If you could make your own horror film and could ask anyone, alive or dead, to star in it who would be your horror dream team?
Sir Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price as my 3 favourite actors of all time. Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro and Yvonne Romain as 3 of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace any film ever. Peter Vaughn for his tense performance in A Warning to the Curious, Klaus Kinski for his maniacal portrayal of The Count in Werner Herzog’s incredible 1979 remake of Nosferatu Phantom Der Nacht, the enigmatic Charles Grey for his wonderful performance as Mocata the “Ipsissimus” from The Devil Rides Out and also Clive Swift from Keeping Up Appearances! Swift was fantastic in Lawrence Gordon Clark’s BBC adaptations of M. R. James The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and A Warning to the Curious.
As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I used to work on the television show Most Haunted as a camera operator and that I suppose in modern terms would be called “reality-horror television”! Although that term to me, sounds nauseating! However it was a wonderful production to work on, whether you believe in ghosts or not. It was a great privilege to make and be a part of. To get to spend a great deal of time in such wonderful locations from derelict theatres in Northern Lancashire to half-timbered English Tudor manor houses and even huge gothic medieval castles in the Czech Republic in search of the ghost of Dr. John Dee (where he was imprisoned by the Bohemian Prince and occultist Rudolf II).
If I were to make an actual film though I think the subject would still have to involve ghosts and aspects of the occult, in a period setting in rural England. I have always dearly loved the ghost stories of M. R. James and I absolutely love the adaptations made by the BBC from 1968 and throughout the 1970’s such as The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, A Warning to the Curious and Lost Hearts. I know that obviously they are television episodes rather than “feature-films” strictly speaking, however they were actually shot on film. I always wanted to continue the tradition and make new adaptations of M. R. James ghost stories however Mark Gatiss from The League of Gentlemen has just revived the concept and has made a brilliant new version of The Tractate Middoth which was broadcast on BBC 2 on Christmas day followed by a wonderful documentary about M. R. James presented by Gatiss himself. I am glad that Gatiss has started to make new episodes of the Ghost Stories for Christmas, because he really deeply understands the form of the series and the nature of the stories, being an avid fan of such things himself. Anyone that’s seen anything he’s ever made can appreciate that I think.
The hardest questions for all horror fans but I have to ask it: which is your favourite horror film?
The Wicker Man is definitely my favourite film ever made. It is so unique and whilst being vastly different to many British horror films, it maintains such a wonderful spirit of British storytelling. It is incredibly atmospheric, it’s traditional and it involves a uniquely British form of pagan, even occult belief system leading to a horrifying sacrificial conclusion. What more can be said that hasn’t been said about this film before. It is absolu