Friday, 28 December 2012

The Observer's Book of Desecrated Churches 1: Living Dead At Hathersage




I remember at primary school doing a project called "Churches and Cathedrals". I mainly used  two of the Observer series of books for my junior investigation - one called The Observer's book of old English Churches. It strikes me that I need to revisit this project. An interesting feature of 60s/70s horror is the misuse of churches - from the vandalised altar of Brandeston (relocated near Thetford) in Witchfinder General to the ruined ritual scenes at Bix in Blood on Satan's Claw - the profaning of hallowed ground offers rich sketches of observation for the deviant imagination. 

Hannah Gilbert recently pointed us in the direction of Winnat's Pass, in the Peak district which she told me was  bizarrely the setting for the creepy and hardcore Spanish/Italian Zombie flick The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue. Winnat's Pass is an incredible ravine cut through what was once a coral reef. In the film, the entrance to a fictional "Southgate church" is superimposed over the valley. Much of the action takes place in the fictional church, though the actual church used in the film is a few miles down the road at Hathersage. Hannah and I made a visit there over Christmas, making film and field recordings for what I hope will be a psychogeographic soundtrack: Goblin goes native...

Hathersage churchyard is also the supposed resting place of Robin Hood's merry man Little John. His tomb resides between two yew trees and the headstone intriguingly features what looks like the Masonic "Eye of Providence".

There's a local legend surrounding Winnat's Pass that two runaway lovers on route to be married were mugged and murdered in the valley by five miners.The crime went unsolved but the perpetrators were all eventually punished by providence - one broke his neck at the pass; one committed suicide; one was crushed by a stone fall, and one died insane. The final accomplice inevitably made a death bed confession. The perfect slasher film combination - one can easily imagine a wild folkloric mash up of mingled histories brewing in the vales.

The churchyard is the setting for The Living Dead's most profane moment - the disemboweling and cannibal feast on the entrails of the local bobby, which the numb skull detective inspector misconstrues to be a Satanic rite carried out by the film's hero - a chap that looks like he could have been in a power electronics band circa 1980 - leather bomber jacket, Jesus beard, Yorkshire Ripper flares. 

As I said, the visit to Hathersage and Winnat's Pass feels like an opening to a particularly juicy gateway where waits an infernal collage of English rural and Italian horror... coming to an Inner Cinema near you...