Best of British: Our List of Homegrown Horror Films
Readers of The MALESTROM will know by now us guys like our movies, quite a lot. In fact obsessively love might be more accurate, but we digress, you get the point. We got to daydreaming about our favourite horror flicks, chiefly those that were British made. Cue an outbreak of office arguments, with strong cases being made for some good and some downright bad that would make an all-time list. Here’s what came out in the wash, just so you know no comedy-horrors were included, despite the desperate sobs of many that Sean Of The Dead should be top of any list.
So in no particular order (apart from maybe the end) we offer up some of the greatest homegrown horror films to ever come from our shores. Some with bigger budgets than others, some psychological, some supernatural, and pretty much all down right terrifying. We start with a zombie flick that took the walking out of the dead.
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle ripped up the how-to-make-a-zombie-film manual when he created the genre-busting 28 Days Later. The primary rule break being he transformed your traditional, lumbering walking dead into hyper-charged, sprinting, crazed nightmares, making their threat an altogether more terrifying one. The plot sees a man wake up in a deserted Central London hospital to discover he seems to be the only person left on the planet, that man being a then unknown Cillian Murphy, in what was to become a star making turn. That opening scene saw Murphy make his way past landmarks through an empty, ghostly city. Boyle managed these iconic shots in the early hours of the morning by hiring attractive women to ask drivers to either wait while they filmed or find another route. It certainly worked.
Murphy soon finds the big smoke isn’t deserted, it’s infected, in fact the country has been taken over by the ‘Rage’ virus thanks to the release of an infected chimp by animal rights activists, thanks guys. Along with a crew of other survivors he has to attempt out manoeuvre the blood thirsty horde and find safety, but it turns out the most dangerous thing out there might not be the infected, but rather desperate humans led by the magnificently bad Christopher Eccleston. Since it’s release it’s become the blueprint for zombie flicks, much copied, rarely bettered.
Anyone who’s ever lived in London has probably lived the nightmare that is… missing the last tube! But thankfully the vast majority haven’t been fully trapped underground in a station, after having a doze on the platform. That happens here to modelling agency booker Kate (Franka Potente), who probably wouldn’t be too panicked if she’d have just waited by the exit for the day staff to arrive rather than stepping onto a mysterious empty train that takes her into the middle of a dark tunnel, which again wouldn’t have been too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that lurking in the shadows of this labyrinth is a rather unsavoury character.
Shot on a micro budget by Brit director Christopher Smith this is a claustrophobic, nasty piece of work that although may feel by-the-numbers at times delivers on plenty of frights. Bonus points for Potente being a female lead hell bent on survival rather than a typical scream queen.
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Any British horror list wouldn’t be complete without a film from Hammer. Slightly lesser know than any of the famed Dracula and Frankenstein pictures is The Abominable Snowman, starring Hammer staple Peter Cushing and Forest Tucker as a scientist and adventurer who come together to search for the mythical beast. The pair have been warned anyone seeking the Yeti is doomed, but that doesn’t stop this pair from hunting it down. Which is unfortunate for the rest of their team, who one-by-one are picked off in the icy tundra.
Yes it’s slightly hokey, in resplendent low-budget Hammer fashion, and as ever when the monster is finally revealed it’s never as scary as a footprint or a claw through a tent, but it stands as one of the studios most effective creature features.
The Woman In Black (2011)
Some may disagree with the inclusion of this creepy Victorian ghost story, but there’s more genuine jumps here than on the National course at Aintree, so in terms of scares and ever lurking dread we found it hard not to include. Here an all grown up Daniel Radcliffe sheds his wizards robes to play young solicitor Arthur, haunted long before he arrives at the creaky Eel Marsh House to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman, due to the death of his own wife in childbirth.
The people of the village are far from welcoming of this stranger in their midst, chiefly due to an epidemic of children dying as a result of a curse associated with the mysterious, cloaked woman in black. But Arthur duly gets down to the paperwork despite his reception from the locals. Residing in the dark hallways of the house is a darker presence and it’s not long before there’s some bumps in the day and the night, and we won’t even mention the rocking chair! The litmus test of a good horror is one that lingers in the mind, and there’ll be a few nights with lights left on after the first watch of The Woman In Black.
Kill List (2011)
Unconventional is the initial word that springs to mind with British director Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. It’s hard to pigeon hole the film as horror as it has so many elements of other genres to it, that being said it’s very unsettling indeed. Neil Maskell plays Jay, an ex-soldier struggling to make ends meet and support his family who ends up lured back into the world of contract killing when linking up with old pal Gal, played by the ever brilliant Michael Smiley.
The first half slowly builds the tension in the form of a family drama as the impact of Jay’s murky job on his mental state and that of his child and partner begins to become more and more apparent. Then we descend into a slightly surreal second part of the film, with a more jarring narrative structure which escalates into a violent occult conclusion. With the semi-improvised script being delivered by a top draw cast and a director who Hollywood recently snapped up for themselves, Kill List has to make our list.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
A best of British horror list without Don’t Look Now would be like Jayne Torvill suddenly deciding she wants to skate on her own rather than with Christopher Dean, it simply aint happening. This masterful, Nicholas Roeg directed film begins with tragedy befalling couple Donald Pleasance and Julie Christie when their red raincoat wearing daughter accidentally loses her life, drowning in the garden pond.
Their grief and heavy sadness permeates the film when we meet them again an unspecified time later having re-located to the magnificent yet here quite murky city of Venice. Here they hope a change of scenery can provide the couple with a chance to put their great loss behind them, but seemingly around every corner there are colourful reminders of their pain. It has one of the most shattering and effecting final sequences in movie history, once seen, never forgotten. Truly one of the all-time greats and not just within the genre it flies in the face of.
The Omen (1976)
There’s nothing plodding about this slick slice of satanic cinema, one that is home to some of the most memorable and often shocking deaths in movie history. The basic plot sees Gregory Peck play Robert Thorn, a US Ambassador to the UK who unknown to his wife agrees to swap an orphaned baby for their stillborn child so as to avoid her grief. It turns out that was a very bad idea. The formative years of their child, Damien, go without major mishap, but when his nanny hangs herself at his fifth birthday party it seems things might not be quite right with the couple’s little ray of sunshine.
More warning bells go off with Damien’s severe aversion to churches and the violent reaction of animals that greet him, apart from the new nanny’s large rottweiler that is. Thorn is given plenty of warnings about what his son might actually be, but anyone trying to help him is struck down with great vengeance, like poor, unstable priest Father Brennan (Doctor Who #2 Patrick Troughton). These deaths only fuel the diplomat to discover the truth behind this very bad lad.
The real horror around The Omen is that a child, which by nature we perceive as innocent, can be evil. The film offers plenty of genuine chills, and not to again mention the murderous kills. And remember if you have a new baby, especially one you’ve swapped for your own, do check it’s scalp for any obviously strange markings. We’ve got enough people making trouble in this world without the Antichrist pitching up.
Event Horizon (1997)
Naysayers might question the validity of cult sci-fi horror classic Event Horizon on a best of British list, but given Paul W.S. Anderson took the reins, and production saw the majority of Pinewood studios taken over, added to the endearing presence of Sean Pertwee not sounding like a Masterchef the Professionals voiceover guy, it gets a pass from us. Even with a rock solid cast the movie tanked at the box office, before finding a vast and enthusiastic audience in the home rental market.
Set in the now not too distant future, the spaceship Event Horizon having been out of contact for seven years suddenly starts sending distress signals back to HQ from somewhere in the proximity of Neptune, and given that it’s a prototype capable of travelling faster than the speed of light, by means of creating an artificial black hole and merging two points in spacetime, a salvage crew is immediately dispatched on the premise to rescue any survivors. On arrival our team of saviours discovers what can only be described as a bloodbath. There’s horrifying footage of it’s previous incumbents, and it quickly becomes clear that their demise was a truly terrifying experience.
Sam Neill steals the show as the obsessive genius who created the ship and ultimately is only concerned with his precious vessel. However with the ship now possessed by some ungodly force, it’s only a matter of time before our protagonists suffer the same outcome as the original crew. In many ways it’s a straightforward psychological horror, wherever this ship has been it has brought something back, and all who enter the portal will have their worst nightmares, fears and regrets realised. Can anyone on board maintain their sanity? Or will they succumb to the hallucinations? And will the ship find a willing accomplice and captain?
The setting of the Event Horizon is truly memorable, described by Anderson himself as ‘techno medieval’, it really feels like a dungeon with it’s long dark corridors, there’s also an eerie vastness that feels in equal parts claustrophobic. The sense of being so far removed from civilisation is expertly crafted and adds weight to the sense of impending doom. An absolute must see, despite it’s modest critical acclaim. Set to grow in cultishness in the years to come.
The Wicker Man (1973)
It’s hard not to place The Wicker Man at the top or at least very close to the top of any horror list, yet alone a British one. This cult flick has a warm place in the hearts of those that first discovered its disturbing, yet entrancing beauty. Summerisle where the film is set sounds like such a lovely place but it’s inhabitants are, shall we say, slightly off key. This is the remote, and it turns out heavily pagan, Scottish isle where christian copper Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) turns up to investigate the disappearance of schoolgirl Rowan Morrison after recieving an anonymous letter.
The community here is led by Lord Summerisle, played by a fantastically fiendish and extremely charismatic Christopher Lee, and they’re all a bit suspicious of this snooping police man, who in turn is suspicious of the odd islanders that deny the missing girl’s existence. We won’t expand further into where his search ends for those lucky few yet to watch the film, but even they are unlikely to envisage a happy ending here. Psychological rather than supernatural this British classic is a true one-off and should be celebrated as such.