Mystery & Imagination: A gothic double bill at the BFI
As part of the BFI’s enthralling Gothic: The Dark Heart of Cinema season, a pair of very different Bram Stoker related features were screened. The first was the 1970 Thames Television feature The Curse of the Mummy, based on Bram Stoker’s lesser known 1903 horror novel The Jewel of the Seven Stars.
The intelligent adaptation was preceded by an absorbing introduction from its acclaimed writer John Russell Taylor. After a slightly dated opening, the tale of archaeologist Abel Trelawny’s dangerous plot to resurrect powerful Queen Tara of Egypt (who bears an uncanny resemblance to his daughter Margaret) unfolds with pace and charisma. The talented cast is persuasive, including Patrick Mower (now known to millions as Emmerdale’s Rodney Blackstock). The late renowned Scottish actor Graham Crowden gives a particularly compelling performance as archaeologist Abel.
Following a brief round of applause to acknowledge the tremendous work of Russell Taylor, Nightmare: The Birth of Horror by Professor Christopher Frayling was shown – a rivetingly revealing episode from the BBC’s 1996 documentary series exploring the life and inner worlds of legendary Dracula creator Bram Stoker.
Frayling’s engaging style is both incredibly informative and hugely enjoyable as he traces Stoker’s fascinating mental and physical footsteps, from a recurring sexually charged nightmare that would become a bedrock chapter in his blood-soaked novel, to his avid interest in extraordinary European folklore discovered in obscure library books. Even Stoker’s family vacations to places like the ancient northern seaside town of Whitby, where he was told strange tales by the sailors, became drops of inspiration and vital plot points in later works. He kept meticulous notes of his seemingly random ideas, so it is possible to see the fragments falling into place over the six years as he began to weave those obscure elements, ideas and myths into his classic horror masterpiece published in 1897.
Stoker’s impact on popular culture is unprecedented: he sired an entire industry, his cloak-wearing fanged Count laying down the rules for a whole genre of un-dead still thriving today. Without Stoker there would be no Twilight or a need for any of his immortal “children of the night” to keep a diary.
BFI’s marvellously macabre season features re-released classic screenings and many enthralling events, with plenty to sink your teeth into.
The BFI’s series Gothic: The Dark Heart of Cinema is on at various venues nationwide over the coming months, for further information or to book visit here.