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The Ghosts of Empire

Speculative fiction in Great Britain has a long and rich tradition of the imperial horror story. At the very start of the detective fiction era, Londoner Wilkie Collins placed a haunted Indian gem at the heart of 1868’s “The Moonstone.” Similarly, many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales involve deadly rivalries or murderous intrigues that have their origins in the many colonies of the British Empire. The second Holmes novel, 1890’s “The Sign of the Four,” features a stolen treasure purloined during the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857. Short stories like “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” feature Anglo-Saxon men warped (both mentally and physically) by their long stays in India.

More horrifying still, many of these mystery and horror tales feature the frightening prospect of what happens when the colonies come to the home islands. In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Holmes goes undercover in a London opium den run by Chinese immigrants. Richard Marsh’s potboiler “The Beetle” details the story of an Ancient Egyptian entity come back to life in order to attack a Member of Parliament.

“The Beetle” was published in 1897. Something truly ghastly most have been in the air in Britain at the time, for an Anglo-Irish journalist named Bram Stoker published “Dracula” in that same year. “Dracula” has been upheld by left-wing critics as a xenophobic tale about British purity being attacked by an “Oriental” menace. Indeed, the undead Count Dracula can be taken to represent many things—the supposed sexual decadence of the Turcofied Balkans, disease, anti-Semitism. For the latter charge, many point out that Stoker depicts his vampire as a hook-nosed lover of gold.

University of Virginia professor Stephen D. Arata has summed up “Dracula” and “The Beetle” as texts promoting the idea of “reverse colonization.” The British, who managed to conquer most of the world’s landmass, were terrified of the prospect of being conquered by “inferior” peoples, whether they be lily white Irish Catholics or the type of swarthy Eastern European Jews who provided a majority of the rouge’s gallery during the Jack the Ripper investigations. Fears of “reverse colonization” would later reach an apex during the Edwardian era thanks to the growth of the “Yellow Peril” story. Made most famous by a working-class scribe from Birmingham named Sax Rohmer, “Yellow Peril” stories essentially argued that the future belonged to the races of Asia. The white man’s decline meant a new world was for the taking, as Boris Karloff’s Dr. Fu Manchu says in “The Mask of Fu Manchu.”

Fortunately for Victorian imperialists, the dreaded wave of non-European immigration to the United Kingdom did not happen during most of their lifetimes. The deluge only came after World War II, when the ascendant Labour Party and the new program of socialist planning decided to get rid of the empire. Nominally conservative turncoats continued the trend. Harold Macmillan summed up Tory defeatism in 1960 when he claimed that the “Winds of Change” were blowing through British Africa. Despite maintaining British power in Kenya with blood during the Mau Mau Uprising, London gave her colonies away and abandoned white Rhodesia to its fate.

On the home islands, a large wave of immigrants from India and Pakistan began resettling in the U.K. They were joined by black immigrants from the Caribbean. Initially, the ever-brilliant politicians expected that these new immigrants would provide a highly motivated workforce that would breathe new life into the decaying mill and heavy industry towns of England’s north and Midlands. By 1972, the British government had gone whole hog and the weak-willed Conservative PM Edward Heath declared that any British passport holder born overseas could come to the country for work or for life.

Well, you know that old jaw-jaw about the best laid plans of mice and men, right? By the 1970s, Pakistani Muslim immigrants had not revitalized the dying industrial towns of Yorkshire. Rather, they had turned these towns into Pakistani enclaves where Sharia was dominant and the English language secondary. By the 1990s and 2000s, thousands of native-born white girls found out the hard way that Pakistani Muslims have different views on what constitutes sexual assault and rape, especially for non-Muslims.

As for Jamaican or Barbadian blacks, their children and grandchildren have become Yardies and drug-dealing gangsters who sometimes use obeah, or Jamaican voodoo, in order to protect themselves from death. The Daily Mail reported way back in 2010 that the vast majority of violent crimes in London and other British cities were committed by black men.

Such radical demographic changes did not occur without violent resistance from England indigenous peoples. The white working-class proved exceptionally capable of rioting, such as the 1958 Notting Hill riots, which saw “teddy boys” and members of the White Defence League targeting West Indian immigrants in that section of London. Their rallying cry was “Keep Britain White.”

In 1968, white British anxiety reached such a fevered pitch that an arch-elitist and a proud supporter of the lost British Empire finally took notice. A classics scholar and former military intelligence officer, Enoch Powell was just an MP when he delivered his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech before Birmingham’s Conservative Political Centre. Although Powell’s speech never actually used the phrase “rivers of blood,” his invocation of Virgil’s “Aeneid,” along with his many anecdotes of ordinary British citizens losing their neighborhoods to black and brown strangers, sent shock waves through the political establishment. Prime Minister Harold Wilson castigated Powell as a filthy racist for merely pointing out that there is indeed such a thing as a unique English people. His fellow Conservatives completely abandoned him. Such political consensus only helped the Labour Party, for Powell’s speech not only won the support of the white working-class, but a full seventy-four-percent of the British public told Gallup that they agreed with Powell. The ancestors of the SJWs and “cuckservatives” won a victory to spite the British public that they supposedly serve.

Underneath this politics, British popular culture was experiencing a new flirtation with imperialism. Ian Fleming’s James Bond character injected sex into the tried and true genre of the imperial adventure tale, even despite Britain’s loss of empire. Elsewhere, Hammer Studios was churning out gory horror films from their headquarters at Bray Studios in Berkshire. During the late 1950s, Hammer reproduced classic horror films that had first struck gold at the box office way back in the early 1930s. Their renditions of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy” made what had become cartoonish characters scary again. Thanks to Technicolor, Christopher Lee became a much more vivid villain for a new generation of fright film fans.

By the mid-1960s, Hammer began quietly making short, sensationalist horror films that nevertheless hearkened back to the days of popular Victorian xenophobia. Two years before Powell’s career-defining speech, Hammer made two very unique films—“The Reptile” and “The Plague of the Zombies.” Both films are set in a rural Cornish village in the 19th century, and both deal with the horrifying specter of British civilization corrupted by foreign practices and peoples.

“The Reptile” concerns a British theology professor named Dr. Franklyn. A reticent man who lives in a large mansion with his daughter (played by Jacqueline Pearce) and a Malay servant (played by Marne Maitland), Dr. Franklyn (Noel William) hides an awful secret. When two newcomers move in, including an Indian Army veteran, Dr. Franklyn has to confess that the recent string of murders are being carried out by his vampiric daughter. She is no ordinary bloodsucker, however. During a research trip in Borneo, Dr. Franklyn stumbled upon a snake cult that practiced black magic. While writing up his notes in Singapore, his daughter was captured by Chinese bandits who turned her over to the angry snake cult. In revenge, the cult punished the white outsider by making his daughter a living snake woman.

The titular monster is ultimately undone by the very same thing that kills off the Martians in H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” Cold, pure English air is the kryptonite to this foreign devil.

“The Plague of the Zombies” tells a very similar tale. This time however, the village’s squire, Clive Hamilton (played by John Carson), is a debauched tyrant who cares nothing for the people entrusted to him. His main concern is furthering his own skills as a high priest of voodoo. He learned such black magic while living in Haiti. Now, with plenty of money made from a haunted tin mine, Squire Hamilton uses his army of black worshipers, white thugs, and local zombies in order to increase his power and bank account.

These films are far from the last Hammer productions to dabble in neo-colonial horror tales. Even in America, Rod Serling, the genius behind “The Twilight Zone,” explored this genre in the early 1970s. The most infamous example is “The Caterpillar” episode of “Night Gallery.” Based on the short story by Oscar Cook, who had served as a civil servant in British North Borneo, “The Caterpillar” once again sees a British man using bizarre witchcraft learned in the colonies in order to take revenge on a rival suitor.

However, despite these later productions, Hammer’s two Cornish films contain a sort of immediacy that is easy to recognize. The threat of foreign occupation of the British body politick was already becoming a hot topic, and a few brave voices had already put the discussion into horrific terms. Before embracing the debauchery of Swinging London, Hammer Studios created a few paeans to an older British model of fiction—a model that essentially agreed that British culture, British society, and British morals are worth defending in the face of imported religions and folkways.

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