In the past 15 years, a combination of cheap equipment and online distribution has caused a huge increase in the number of feature films produced in the UK, especially in the ever-popular horror genre. This month, the total number of British horror films released since January 2000 reached 500 – as many as were made during the whole of the 20th century.
The survey was organised by film critic MJ Simpson, author of Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema and an acknowledged expert on the ‘British Horror Revival’. One hundred directors, screenwriters, producers, actors and effects artists each submitted their own top ten films, along with film critics, academics and horror fans. More than 130 movies received votes, reflecting the wide range of high quality horrors produced in the UK in recent years.
The other titles in the top ten were, in order: Dead Man’s Shoes (Shane Meadows, 2004), Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008), Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002), Kill List (Ben Wheatley, 2011), The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012), Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2010) and Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011).
“People may be surprised to hear that there have been 500 British horror films made in 15 years,” admits Simpson. “That’s because the media only acknowledge the tiny percentage of movies that play cinemas and ignore the vast body of great work being done by independent film-makers taking advantage of new technology to make and release their own films through DVD and VOD. For horror fans who take the trouble to look beyond the multiplex, this is truly a golden age.”
While Hollywood blockbusters routinely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, British horror films show that budget isn’t necessarily related to quality. Three of the top ten – Dead Man’s Shoes, Kill List and Monsters – each cost well under a million pounds and many of the other films cost a fraction of that. Steven Shiel’s Mum and Dad (34th) cost just £100,000 to make, Julian Richards’ The Last Horror Movie (38th) cost just £50,000, and the zombie film Colin, voted the 19th best British horror film of the past 15 years, had a total budget of just £45!
Marc Price, director of Colin, commented: “At a time where mainstream cinema is offering nothing but comic-book movies, remakes or literary adaptations, British horror appears to be one of the few genres offering original story through the medium of film.”
Of all the movies nominated, only eight were historical stories, of which only one (The Woman in Black) was a traditional ‘gothic horror’. All the other films were set in the present day, emphasising how the new wave of British film-makers use horror themes to address contemporary issues such as disenfranchised youth (Eden Lake, Cherry Tree Lane), society’s treatment of the elderly (The Living and the Dead, Harold’s Going Stiff), the power of social media (Backslasher, Panic Button), global corporate responsibility (Severance) and Scottish devolution (White Settlers).
Dr Johnny Walker, Lecturer in Media at Northumbria University and author of the forthcoming book Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society, commented: “For many people, British horror died when the old Hammer ceased making feature films in the late 1970s. The list revealed here points to an entirely different story. Not only does it demonstrate how British horror has broadly managed to outstep Hammer's 'period gothic' model with films that deal with a host of contemporary issues, it also testifies to the variety that recent British horror cinema has offered its audiences, whether the films were made for £5 million or 50p.”
MJ Simpson offered the following recommendations for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of modern British horror films:
- If you want to be… scared: try Before Dawn, in which a couple on the edge of separation are threatened by zombies.
- If you want to be… disturbed: try Mum and Dad, in which a young woman is forced to become part of her colleague’s dysfunctional family.
- If you want to be… questioned: try The Last Horror Movie, in which a serial killer videos his work and asks why people might want to watch it.
- If you want to be… entertained: try Stalled, in which a zombie outbreak leaves a man trapped in a toilet cubicle.