The value of bringing back classic old horror movies from the dead

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I WAS in Manchester a week or so ago to introduce a screening of the ’50s supernatural chiller Night of the Demon.

The film was being presented in the top room of a real ale pub to an audience of 30 or so, many of whom had never before seen it.

And the event was co-ordinated by a group of movie buffs seeking to recreate those classic horror double-bills that the BBC used to play in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

It was an enjoyable night. Night of the Demon kicked off the proceedings and Vampire Circus wrapped them up.

For the aficionados crammed into that tiny space it was all worthwhile, and for the organisers it was another opportunity to bang the drum for their campaign.

I admit I was surprised at the number of people who hadn’t seen the film and who were interested enough to give up their Saturday night to experience it for the first time.

And I was reminded of the need to resurrect old movies this week when I read a lament by the US writer Bill Mesce reminiscing about the long-lost programming schedules of American TV stations.

Back in the day (to coin an Americanism) US television stations ran their own mini retrospectives.

In the 1960s and ’70s it was all about monster movies, re-runs of Universal chillers and occasionally films that had sneaked out onto general release but had been overlooked.

The BBC picked up this formula in the 1970s. Most of my horror film education came via these inventive double-bills.

Sometimes they combined lurid Hammer shockers with schlock like The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant. On other occasions it was classy stuff like Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie or The Body Snatcher.

When the Lewton films were being paired up the Radio Times ran a chunky feature by Alan Frank on this most overlooked of movie producers.

Aged 14 or 15, I’d never heard of him. But I was sufficiently impressed to cut out the piece, stick it in a scrapbook and then watch all the films in the season. This is how film buffs are created. Today, 30 years later, he remains one of my faves: cult with a capital ‘C’.

Film programming is a skill and whoever was at the heart of the BBC during that period was a genius.

The team behind the online Classic Horror Campaign hopes to persuade Auntie Beeb to pick up the baton. Their argument is simple: show them on BBC4, the home of alternative programming, intelligent documentaries and off-kilter movies. They’d certainly find an audience.

I remember my initiation with great clarity. It was the summer of 1980, and the Radio Times carried a garish pulp movie poster cover advertising The Ghoul (with horror king Peter Cushing) and the tremendous fire demon from Night of the Demon. I was 14, and it appealed massively. Why wouldn’t it?

That weekend I stayed up and immersed myself in the horror tradition of Britain’s recent past. Three decades later I’m still looking for something to match it for its subversive magic.

Come on BBC, do the right thing and scare us half to death again.

If you need a programmer I know someone who might fit the bill...