Tuesday 28 August 2018


Of all the missed opportunities in the history of popular culture, all the overlooked chances to create something wonderful and special and uncanny, some are more glaring than others. Kraftwerk declining to produce Bowie in his heyday is one of them: what would the Düsseldorf Beatles have done with the cold, methodical chaos of the Thin White Duke? What stratospheric heights would the career of Patricia Morrison have reached if she had been cast in the Vampira reboot, rather than the gig being given to Elvira herself? How would Bela Lugosi's career have risen if he hadn't turned down the part in the original Universal vision of 'Frankenstein'? And what would have become of the creative partnership between Tim Burton and Vincent Price had it not been for the passing of the latter – would they have formed a trio of terror with Johnny Depp to rival that of any in the history of cinema?

These glimpses are even more frustrating when we note the opportunities that were taken, that never should have been. Instead, we got Tom Jones fronting New Model Army; street-punk darlings the Angelic Upstarts going synthpop; the abomination a glam-rock Celtic Frost; a whole movie of Kiss and their robot counterparts fighting a script even dumber than they are; and a Dracula-kung fu mash-up that took kitsch to whole new heights, and the Hammer legacy to new depths. Indeed, Hammer took more of these lamentably-unmissed opportunities than anyone else. Which makes one of the true overlooked creative collaborations even more disappointing...

Led Zeppelin, the undisputed behemoths of '70s rock and the one act on the planet with the most notorious and undisputed links to the occult, found one of the most ostentatious and horrific bases for their late-decade rehearsals – that of Bray Studios, long-time home of Hammer Productions and location for the shooting of an entire raft of Gothic horror classics. So for a brief, glorious period the fortunes of the bastions of heavy diabolic rock and the bastions of Gothic horror cinema overlapped.

This, my dear readers, is a synergy to relish. You can imagine 'Black Dog' blasting down the corridors as the ghosts of Dracula, Victor Frankenstein and Captain Kronos dance to the beat. What possible collaboration could have taken place? Well, one could imagine Bonzo as a grave-robbing extra, or a bearded Jimmy Page as the mysterious wanderer that he had always saw himself being, John Paul Jones as a creepy church organist in a Transylvanian hamlet, or even Robert Plant as the blonde bombshell lead in one of their raunchier sex-horror romps. But even better would have been an attempt to marry the genuine esoteric resources of the band – from Boleskin House to their rich repertoire of thrilling shockers – to the belated attempt by Hammer to update their material to meet the demands of the modern horror era. Could Zeppelin have soundtracked, or starred in, an Exorcist-inspired biopic of a fictional group of Satanic-inspired rockers? Could they have given much-needed credibility to the mid-'70s output of a studio desperately trying to meet the challenge of the new tastes of horror cinema?

We will, however, never know. By the time Led Zeppelin were having their last rehearsal at Bray in 1980 Hammer were already in receivership, and it was then that tragedy struck as John Bonham died following a day with Zeppelin at the former home of UK horror. Even this, though, suggests much else – what are we to make of the grim climax of the 'Zeppelin curse' arriving at such an auspicious location? What a rich potential seam of chills could be explored at the place where the cursed band and the cursed studio meet?

That is a place we have yet to visit, and a time that we have lost for good. Unless someone were to open a portal – to a time when 'No Quarter' echoed through the Berkshire night, and magic began to happen...

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