Thursday 31 December 2015

83 British horror films released in 2015, Part I

For the past few years, my January Devil’s Porridge blog over on the Hemlock Books site has been a round-up of the previous year’s British horror releases. Now that Devil’s Porridge has come to a natural end, it makes sense for me to continue the tradition on my British Horror Revival blog. 2015 was a busy year. In fact so busy that I probably couldn’t have fitted it into my Hemlock word limit anyway…

The list I’m about to present to you (in two parts) tallies no fewer than 83(!) feature-length British horror films given their first commercial release - through a range of distribution channels - in 2015. (Just to be clear: festivals and other one-off screenings don't count as a 'release', by my criteria.)

This is the biggest annual round-up I have ever compiled, easily topping last year’s 69-er. More to the point, each year normally has about 10-15 additional titles which only come to light after the annual round-up is published (e.g. the 2014 master-list now stands at 81). So it’s not unreasonable to assume that somewhere around 90-95 British horror features actually made their debut in 2015.

Mind. Blown.

Without further ado, let’s kick off – as indeed the year kicked off – with the Harry Potter-free The Woman in Black: Angel of Death which hit UK theatres on New Year’s Day. Directed by Tom Harper (The Borrowers, Demons), this only underscored how much of the first film’s success was down to stunt casting. Forgettable, but of historical note to Hammerphiles as the company’s first sequel since 1974.

Lance Patrick’s feature debut Exorcism was released on UK DVD in January, the first of (too) many found footage films this year. Darren Flaxstone’s Dark Vision was somewhat better, mixing POV shots from a supposed live TV broadcast with more conventional direction. The story doesn’t quite hang together and the film’s unsure when to end, but it’s watchable and kind of fun.

One-man film factory Andrew Jones makes the first of an incredible five appearances in this list with Valley of the Witch, retitled Conjuring the Dead for its January US disc (and subsequent VOD through TheHorrorShow.TV). It’s a fairly standard ‘revenge of executed 17th century witch’ tale but good performances and taut storytelling make it worth a watch. There were Stateside releases this month too for Jason MJ Brown’s chaotic killer-spook-monks debut A Date with Ghosts and Kent Sobey’s SOS: Save Our Skins which plays like a comedy version of I am Legend.

Proportion Productions offered copies of their haunted house feature Lucifer’s Night (directed by Scott Jeffrey and Henry W Smith) as a reward in the Indiegogo campaign for their killer mermaid feature Deadly Waters, which I guess has to count as a (self-)release. Rich Davis’ microbudget zombie feature Dead End hit VOD in February and there was a DVD release for Simon Black’s arty, fetishistic descent into madness A Girl through genre stalwarts Redemption.

February brought VOD releases for two black and white films directed by actors. Graham Fletcher-Cook’s brilliant Blood and Carpet, set in a perfectly recreated 1960s East End, pulled a rug out from viewers with a twist ending and featured a cracking Mod soundtrack. Andrew Tiernan’s dark thriller Dragonfly was contemporary but also very effective.

Anyone looking for a creepy ghost story could do worse than Iain Ross McNamee’s atmospheric The Singing Bird Will Come, which also hit VOD this month. And they could do a lot better than Ghost of Myself, the latest collaboration between actress Melanie Denholme and self-styled ‘cult director’ Philip Gardiner (under his nom-de-disc ‘The Aquinas’). La Denholme also starred in A Killer Conversation (on US DVD this month), a three-hander about a guy torn between a ghastly ex-girlfriend and a violent intruder. David VG Davies (Animal Soup) helmed this one which also stars British horror regular Rudy Barrow.

Tom Sands’ Backtrack was released as Nazi Vengeance in the UK in February and as Backtrack: Nazi Regression in the States in May. Julian Glover is the name value in this tale of a young man recalling a past life as a WW2 German soldier on a secret mission in southern England. And Andrew Jones was back again with The Last House on Cemetery Lane (on US disc and VOD), in which a screenwriter moves into a haunted house with predictable results.

World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen, which hit UK DVD in March, is a zombie film from Bart Ruspoli and Freddie Hutton-Mills who previously brought us Devil’s Playground. A documentary crew visiting the site of the Somme 100 years on unleashes an army of undead soldiers. The war/horror crossover schtick is almost as generic and dull as the found footage format.

John Mackie’s The Coven is – guess what? – another freaking found footage picture. Not only that, it was written by his wife and stars his three kids, making it effectively a self-indulgent home video that people are expected to pay £5.99 to watch. Seriously, unless your surname is Barrymore, cast your movie from further afield than your own living room. This is some rubbish about teenage wannabe witches which doesn’t actually rip off The Craft quite as much as the sleeve implies.

Filmed as The Expedition but retitled for its UK disc, Extinction: Jurassic Predators is a Lost World-lite dinosaur picture which inclu– Jesus fucking Christ, it’s another found footage movie! Found footage zombie soldiers, found footage teen witches, and a found footage T rex, all released in one month! What is wrong with you people? Stop it. Stop it now. It was a bad idea when it started and it has just got worse. From now on, any found footage film in this list gets the title and the phrase “more found footage crap” and nothing else, okay? Because I have had it with you lot, I really have.

Fucking fuckshit crap bollocks shitty found footage arsewank shitballs…

Moving on. Johnny Johnson’s film Shadows of Bedlam is a literal interpretation of the famous comment originally applied to the foundation of United Artists: “The lunatics have taken over the asylum.” Lots of running around, a weird little girl in the basement, an unexplained machine that makes a crazy guy even crazier. Lots of fun. Released as Psychotic in the States in March and as Psychotic Asylum over here in July. It Never Sleeps, the latest feature from Matt Mitchell (Gangsters, Guns and Zombies) hasn't been released on either side of the (North) Atlantic but did appear on DVD in South Africa in March. The protagonist of this one has to deal with the double whammy of a psychopath and the ghosts of previous victims.

Two belters to end with this month, both of which come laden with festival awards. The Blaine Brothers’ ‘fucked-up fairy tale’ Nina Forever is a comedy about a man haunted by his dead ex-girlfriend. Limited theatrical releases in the USA (March) and UK (October) for that one. And March saw the DVD debut (in Germany) of Brian O’Malley’s Let Us Prey. Pollyana McIntosh and Liam Cunningham star in this gripping and clever tale of a Scottish backwater falling under the evil influence of a mysterious stranger.

Those lucky Krauts also got first dibs on The Redwood Massacre, a superior slasher directed by David Ryan Keith (Attack of the Herbals). The German disc was available in April, three months ahead of the UK and US releases. Carol Morley’s classy The Falling meanwhile is one of the few horror films I actually saw in a cinema this year. Like Blood and Carpet it’s set in the 1960s (but in colour and in the countryside) as a strange fainting sickness affects a girls’ school. Shades of The Crucible, but subtle (unfulfilled) references to the occult give a Blood on Satan’s Claw sheen to the rural horror. The brilliant Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones and Doctor Who stars.

Sc-fi/fantasy novelist Andy Remic wrote and directed Impurity, a torture porn tale of three killers locked up in a cellar; self-released on DVD in April and on VOD two months later. Simon Pearce’s Judas Ghost, released in the States on DVD/VOD, was also written by a sci-fi novelist - in this case, Simon R Green, whom I used to know back in my SFX days. Initially conceived as a stage play, Judas Ghost is five ghost hunters with some video equipment in a haunted village hall but – pay attention, film-makers – it’s not found footage. That alone is enough to recommend it.

I’d like to recommend Hungerford, if only because this VOD release was directed by talented teenager Drew Casson, but by my own self-imposed rules all I can do is tell you it’s more found footage crap. On the other hand, I can recommend Richard Anthony Dunford’s P.O.V., which hit VOD through TheHorrorShow.TV in April. It could be lumped in with found footage but it’s not really because no-one runs around with a camera. Instead this tale of drug-induced demonic possession is seen through the eyes of the main character, an original conceit which works so much better than any amount of who-actually-edited-this? Go-Pro footage.

Chris Butler’s The Scopia Effect (on VOD in April, DVD coming soon) is a stylish and powerful descent into madness caused by hypnotic regression unlocking past lives which should really have stayed locked. On the other hand Keith R Robinson’s Silverhide (filmed as Pounce, released on UK DVD) is utter tosh about teenage journalists investigating military development of an invisible wolf-monster. Just awful.

Because nothing is ever simple, Amityville Legacy, Amityville Theatre and Amityville Playhouse are all the same film. And it’s British even though the IMDB lists it as Canadian. Filmed as Legacy, this had a limited UK theatrical release as Theatre in April before hitting DVD as Playhouse (here) and Theater (across the Pond). Director John R Walker is a busy film extra with hundreds of (non-)credits and a day job on the fish counter in the Dudley branch of Tesco!

Finally this month, two simultaneous titles from Richard Mansfield, one of the most fascinating film-makers currently working in Britain. Originally titled Who is Coming, The Mothman Curse is a tale of spooky dread among the shelves and filing cabinets of London’s Cinema Museum. Shot on a ten-pound CCTV camera, the grainy monochrome image is as disturbing as the MR James subtext. On the other hand, Drink Me (on US disc) is a seriously sexy gay vampire feature that gives David DeCoteau a run for his money.

May brought us a VOD release for Stag Hunt, the long-awaited second feature from James Shanks (The Devil’s Harvest): four friends spend a weekend on the moors where they encounter something big and fierce (but real – it’s not a werewolf). A great mixture of horror, action and darkly comic characterisation, this comes heartily recommended. As does Dan Rickard’s zombie epic Darkest Day, shot for tuppence ha’penny over several years. Incredible special effects and masterful use of digital composition create a film that looks a million times what it cost. That had a limited UK theatrical release in May just ahead of the DVD from Left Films.

James Crow’s Curse of the Witching Tree hit UK shelves this month. There’s a tree. It was cursed by a witch. Sounds a tad generic but it’s actually rather good and worth tracking down. After several false starts, Monsters: Dark Continent finally hit UK theatres in May. Like the first film it’s really sci-fi but it received enough interest from the horror press to tip it over the borderline (in my view). And the other – somewhat unlikely – British horror film playing cinemas this month was Up All Night, a spin-off from CBBC entertainment series Friday Download, about some kids staging a pop concert to save a haunted mansion from developers.

That was the first five months of 2015. Join me later today for the second half of the year and an alphabetical checklist of all 83 movies,

[Also see Part 2 for addenda.]

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