This is an article I have written for Buzz Magazine which was featured in the October Halloween 2016 issue. 

Even to those outside of the horror fan community Bram Stoker and Stephen King are recognisable names. Yet, peer below the surface of the genre and you will find many who are hiding in the shadows waiting to be discovered and deserving of equal praise. Among them is the influential Welsh writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947).

Machen was born in the small Welsh community of Caerleon. Such was the beauty of the welsh landscape where he was born, from the looming mass of Wentwood and other mountain ridges, that he wrote within own autobiography, Far Off Things;

“the older I grow the more firmly am I convinced that anything which I may have accomplished in literature is due to the fact that when my eyes were first opened in earliest childhood they had before them the vision of an enchanted land.”

In a society gripped by Christian Zeal Machen drew on pagan and occult ideology to conjure the themes within his writing. His ambition was to write novels that would emulate the same joys, terrors and awe he had experienced in his walks along the hillside pathways of Gwent as a child. This was a period when scientific rationalism was coming more and more influential, yet Machen firmly believed mystical experience was essential to society in the modern world.

 

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The Great God Pan is perhaps, his most important work, a tale of strange experiments and unholy communion in the Welsh hills. Unsurprisingly, as demonstrated by mainstream society’s reaction to the genre throughout its history, most recently the ‘Video Nasty’ scandal of the 1980’s, such themes were met with fear and misunderstanding by critics. The Manchester Guardian called it ‘the most acutely and intentionally disagreeable book … yet seen in English’ In comparison the great Oscar Wilde described it as ‘Un succés fou! Un succés fou!’ – a raving success. HP Lovecraft, particularly his signature Cthulhu mythos, was also heavily influenced by Machen’s acclaimed masterpiece The Hill of Dreams and his own words praised Machen as a creator of ‘cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch’.

Today such revered and respected authors as the aforementioned Stephen King and Clive Barker also cite Machen as an inspiration.

Machen’s admirers are not only found in literature. Guillermo Del Toro is one director who counts himself as a fan. Take a closer look at his own most acclaimed work, Pans Labyrinth and you will find some notable similarities between aspects of its own story and Machen’s tale of The White People. These include both their focus on a young girl’s escape from a dark forest into a fantastical but dangerous otherworld and their symbolism surrounding maternalism and magic. As such, both hark back to the dark origins behind the contemporary versions of classic fairytales, such as those originally published by the Grimm Brothers in the early 18th century.

The Welsh landscape has not only provided writers with inspiration but has appeared in some notable examples within cinema too, including some of this writer’s very own favourites.

The rugged hills of North Wales provide a suitably foreboding setting for James Whales’s excellent The Old Dark House (1932). The director’s unique streak of black humour combines here with such a backdrop to create a quintessential gothic atmosphere, setting the blueprint for many of the creepy-old-house movies that have followed but that has rarely been emulated since. Its tale concerns the Femm family who reluctantly take in a stranded group of strangers unaware of the their dangerous secrets and features the genre icon Boris Karloff in a small but significant role as the family butler Morgan.

 

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Another classic Universal horror picture set in Wales, specifically in the fictional village of Llanwelly, is George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941). As Bela Lugosi will always be remembered by horror fans for Dracula this is the role that will always define Lon Chaney Jr for most horror fans. Though Chaney never reached the genre heights of his father, the infamous man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney Sr, he gives a powerhouse performance as Larry Talbot, tortured by his transformations into the creature. As in The Old Dark House the setting is key to creating a gothic atmosphere as the Wolf Man creeps through beautiful mist strewn forest sets.

One of my favourite actor’s of any genre was born in the Welsh capital itself. Ray Milland’s first venture into the genre after leaving Wales for America in 1930 was the 1944 Paramount picture The Uninvited, a horror tale in the classic ghost story template. One of his best performances came with his collaboration with the ‘king of the b-movies’, Roger Corman, on the director’s science fiction tale The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963). Here he plays a scientist who in his desire to create a serum to improve human vision experiments on himself with catastrophic results; the title gives a clue. Just a year before he also appeared in Corman’s The Premature Burial in place of Vincent Price. This film was one of Corman’s many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, including The Fall of The House of Usher in 1960. Around the same period Welsh-born Jimmy Sangster penned the scripts to the hugely successful Hammer Film adaptions of Dracula and Frankenstein, Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958). Both films were key in changing the studios fortunes and ushered in its heyday as the premier British horror and science fiction film studio and exporter to international audiences until it’s demise in the mid 70’s.

In 1981 Wales saw another werewolf stalk the countryside when the opening scenes to John Landis’s genre classic An American Werewolf in London were filmed near Hay in the Brecon Beacons. The small hamlet of Crickadarn also doubled as the fictional village where the film’s travellers, David and Jack, visit the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub.

 

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More recently, the Brecon Beacons provided the locations for 2014’s Soulmate, directed by Hollywood-based, Belgium-born director Axelle Carolyn. Other notable recent genre entries from Wales include the Bafta award-winning sc-fi story The Machine (2013) from Caradog James and the Neil Marshall produced Dark Signal (2016).

To finish this story, however, let me leave you with a fun fact to chew your brains over; Hannibal Lector actor Anthony Hopkins also came from Wales. Just make sure you have some Welsh cakes ready to if he comes round for something to eat.

I always knew I was a bit different from the other kids at school. I often felt misunderstood and isolated. In many ways I still do. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have an extraordinary obsession and passion for horror films, despite frequent pleas from my mum to watch something a bit more pleasant like the Sound of Music. I also have a deep interest in current affairs, politics and social issues. This is partly drawn from my own experience of mental health issues and the curiosity and interest in the world around me that comes from my autism.

Often I enjoy using my knowledge to bemuse my friends and family by talking about my love for obscure films such Female Prisoner Scorpion and Zombie Flesh Eaters, yet I see my imagination and spontaneity as probably one of my biggest qualities. To me it is just a sign of my creative imagination. I can easily go from watching the Lion King to an obscure Italian horror any day of the week. You just have to have a look at my film collection to get a flavour of my eclectic cinematic taste. Below is a poster of my favourite film of all time, the 1963 gothic chiller from the Italian master of the macabre, the late Mario Bava.

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Perhaps my favourite scene to be found in cinema is that within James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) when a lonely blind old man takes in Frankenstein’s creation and gives him refuge from a misunderstanding world, a world which is blind to his humanity.

 

 

In a way this both describes how I sometimes feel or sometimes, the exact opposite. I have heard many people call autism a hidden disability and I would very much agree with this. Indeed, it is very likely one of the reasons why I have gotten a diagnosis at the age of 25. At the same time, I find it hard to express myself when meeting new people and this can be extremely frustrating, especially in job interviews, when you have to sell yourself to strangers within 30 minutes. I often have so many things to say and opinions but can’t get it out due to my anxiety and so am unable to show the talents I know I have. It is when I settle in somewhere where I am really able to show what I can do. I just wish that more people could see past my initial shyness but will always be grateful to those who have.

When I eventually got my diagnosis this July it was an equal mixture of relief and anxiety for both myself and my parents.

I am not ashamed to admit I may have some bad days, where I doubt myself and wish autism wasn’t part of who I am, that I could be a bit more ‘normal’.

I need to learn to recognise my unique quirks are not weaknesses, they just make me a bit different. Being normal isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Who would want to live in a box packaged by society anyway?