The British horror renaissance

by Mighty_Emperor | created - 26 Aug 2012 | updated - 2 days ago | Public

Inspired by this piece from the Garudian:

Interest in homegrown horror was rekindled by Danny Boyle's film 28 Days Later in 2002 and grew with the success of Shaun of the Dead, Neil Marshall's The Descent and Christopher Smith's two films Creep and Severance.

So this list deals with the last decade (and counting) revival in the fortunes of the British horror movie (you can monitor new releases here, and there is one for short films), I'm sure the creative people were out there but it was 28 Days Later than got the purse strings loosened. Defining "British" is always going to be subjective, Hammer, for example, made a return in 2007 but some of the films they've produced have been co-productions filmed abroad (like Let Me In), but we'll include them as this this list is partly to show the strength of the British film industry when it comes to horror films. For that reason I will also include movies filmed in the UK as it all helps bolster the home-grown efforts (like World War Z).

Of course, that isn't to say that all these films are great, some of them are awful, but the level of quality is higher than I've found on most of my other lists.

Also making 2002 a cut-off is pretty arbitrary as it includes Dog Soldiers and Deathwatch that can't have benefited much from the 28 Days Later effect, and it excludes many interesting films that pre-date it, like The Bunker and Lighthouse, but it is still a good line in the sand if we want to look at recent British horror films and it does seem to be a genuine phenomena.

See also: Contagious violence, it shouldn't be a surprise, given the film that kickstarted everything that a lot of the films here also feature over there but the sub-genre (and zombie films) are easy to do with simple make-up and effects, and there is also an explosion in them in general. Also hoodie horror films feature strongly as a reflection of modern concerns. In addition there are quite a few films that fit into the backwoods horror and folk horror, both of which are undergoing a resurgence too (both of which can also be done on a limited budget). In fact, in most sub-genres I've been tracking, a big hit film has combined with improved distribution and cheaper technology to give a spike in the number of films produced.

Links: British horror revival blog from MJ Simpson, the co-founder of SFX magazine and the author of the upcoming book Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008, a guide to the 114 key films of that period. I only found it part-way through making the list but it has proved invaluable for filling in the gaps here (it also helped confirm I was on the right lines with the list name), so if you like this list follow his blog and be sure to pick up his book (if it goes well there is chance of a sequel - there are clearly going to be more films in the few years after 2008 than in the decade before). He has also provided round-ups of the releases in 2010 and 2011, noting that in 2001 there were 3 British horror films but in 2010 there were 48 (the 2010 round-up only includes 32 because he discovered more afterwards) and in 2011 there were 41 (not counting further revisions), my count below is different but the proportions are similar. There were more again in 2012, 14 of them zombie films, more than one a month and more than the annual total for most years (in fact so many I made a list for British zombie films). Which does flag up that something is going on here. Frightfest is also worth keeping an eye on, it is the UK's leading horror film festival (I have yet to attend but I will one day) with a strong focus on British movies and, even if you can't make it, because it is run in conjunction Film4, they run a week's worth of films and interviews on their TV channel (it is where I first heard about Kill List, for example).

The count: I have gone through and counted all the full length British horror films and put them into a spreadsheet and graph.

Which really does show an upwards trend, from less than one a month to one ever 3 days, just in the noughties - rapidly passing the levels of the boom period for British horror: the 60s and 70s. If you look back further you'll see that horror film production in the 90s were often down to similar levels to the early 50s when we were shaking off the effects of a world war (the chilling effect of the video nasty era? after all hardline BBFC chief James Ferman retired in 1999 and it was only then that a lot of the banned movies started to be passed uncut). A really impressive upswing , although it makes it impossible to keep up with all of them even if you wanted to. However, the number do suggest the renaissance was under way before 28DL, even if the success of films like it (Shaun of the Dead, etc.) have inspired film-makers and made financiers take British horror films seriously, helping to build momentum. I'd also flag up my comments above, as the growth in some horror sub-genres parallels what we see here, suggesting that the ease of film-making and distribution now means there will be more films but there is also clear evidence for successful films have an important effect on the types of films being made (the best example of zombie films - the first 3 Romero films created a spike in zombie movies with a lag of a year or two - I have rather a fine graph to prove my point).

I did also stumble across this piece about horror fiction and Tory governments:

A cursory glance at the points where horror fiction did enjoy periods of resurgence do tend to follow an upward graph with Tory fortunes.


Now, after two years of government by coalition of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, horror is on the rise again.

So we can see a big spike in British horror films after 2010 (a jump of 50%) but there is usually a lag of a few years between inspiration and realisation, plus the Thatcher/Major years (1979-1997) saw a real dip in output between high points of the 60s/70s and the current upswing. So I'm not buying this when it comes to films, and if we are talking about fiction then... show me your numbers - I've shown you mine after all.

Caveats: There could be a recentist bias to an internet movie data base but IMDB has been going since 1990, so you'd imagine that'd be smoothed out by now and the British horror film industry isn't that large, but does attract a lot of rabid fans, so you'd imagine it'd be difficult for too many films to fall through the gaps. The opposite might also be a problem - there might be a bias against more recent movies as it can take a while for information to trickle through. However, this seems to largely apply to tagging and working out what sub-genres films fit into which are user added features and can be a bit arbitrary and subjective, while the location of production company is going to be a well-defined fact and much more likely to be properly registered here when the film is added (I have found a couple of examples so far when compiling this list, but not many). So I suspect neither is so serious to make a mockery of the numbers, as is a big enough sample that a few films won't make any difference (famous last words, I'm sure). One factor I do think might have an impact on the current year peak is that I've already seen some unreleased films shifted back to the following year or just whenever. So I expect the patter of each year is the peak will grow, as the full slate of films in production becomes clear, and then it will drop a bit as some get rescheduled or disappear into development hell, never to be seen again. Which means the current year is always going to be provisional until we reach the end and perhaps do a little tidy up too, so there might be a drop off of a dozen or so, but that might be compensated for after the inclusion of some films that might not get listed here until they're released.

Other films: There are some adult films that I'm wary of listing as they seem to cause problems for the list: Cathula 2: Vampires of Sex.

Length: Sorry it is a long list and this might be a little off-putting but you can use the filters to break it down if you don't want to browse through all the pages (even if I recommend you do it at least once). So you can, for example, rank only the feature films by quality if you were perhaps looking some of the better movies on the list to watch (even then you should do your homework, because some obscure films don't have many votes which can lead to people gaming the system).

Videos: I've tried to provide links to online videos of films where they appear to be official, if you want me to add a video or remove/swap a link then leave a note in the comments.

Comments: As I don't have a Facebook account I cannot interact with the new comments system, so have switched it off and replaced it with a thread on the message board.

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1. 28 Days Later... (2002)

R | 113 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

73 Metascore

Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

Director: Danny Boyle | Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Alex Palmer

Votes: 380,030 | Gross: $45.06M

The film that kicked everything up a notch. Not only did it help generally boost the British horror industry and really boost the profile of the fast "zombie", it is on of the first British contagious violence films (beaten to the punch by 1986's Nightmare Weekend and 2001's Dead Creatures, but it wouldn't be the last as similar British films are now in double figures.

2. Dog Soldiers (2002)

R | 105 min | Action, Horror, Thriller

A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland wilderness.

Director: Neil Marshall | Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham

Votes: 55,986

3. Resident Evil (2002)

R | 100 min | Action, Horror, Sci-Fi

33 Metascore

A special military unit fights a powerful, out-of-control supercomputer and hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures after a laboratory accident.

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson | Stars: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Ryan McCluskey, Oscar Pearce

Votes: 249,771 | Gross: $40.12M

Not an obvious one but it is a a British/French/American/German co-production mainly filmed in Germany, so it gets in on a technicality.

4. Deathwatch (2002)

R | 94 min | Drama, Horror, War

In the middle of World War I, nine British soldiers caught behind enemy lines seek refuge in a complex network of German trenches. What they soon discover is that they aren't alone - and it isn't a German soldier that's hunting them down.

Director: M.J. Bassett | Stars: Jamie Bell, Rúaidhrí Conroy, Mike Downey, Laurence Fox

Votes: 10,732

5. Close Your Eyes (2002)

R | 108 min | Crime, Horror, Mystery

45 Metascore

A hypnotherapist is caught up in the pursuit of a serial killer.

Director: Nick Willing | Stars: Goran Visnjic, Paddy Considine, Shirley Henderson, Miranda Otto

Votes: 2,998 | Gross: $0.04M

6. Black Plague (2002 Video)

R | 115 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

When a group of medieval knights return home from abroad with loot and hostages in tow, their sleepy village erupts into celebration. But the celebration turns into frenzied panic when the black plague strikes the township.

Director: Alberto Sciamma | Stars: Lena Headey, David La Haye, Jason Flemyng, Christopher Fairbank

Votes: 778

7. Fallen Angels (2002)

R | 97 min | Horror, Thriller

Abandoned and filled with a mysterious past, Holy Angel School for Girls is about to reveal its secrets of betrayal, jealousy, and vengeance. Rumours of haunting, paired with the desire to ... See full summary »

Director: Ian David Diaz | Stars: Michael Ironside, Jeff Fahey, Kai Wiesinger, Esme Eliot

Votes: 275

8. Alone (2002)

R | 88 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Experience the fear as you're sucked into the disturbed mind of Alex. Tormented by harrowing voices of the past Alex searches for the one girl who can silence the horror of a tortured soul.... See full summary »

Director: Phil Claydon | Stars: Miriam Margolyes, John Shrapnel, Laurel Holloman, Isabel Brook

Votes: 612

9. The Barber (2002)

R | 94 min | Crime, Horror, Mystery

Town barber Dexter Miles is surprised to overhear, while cutting the hair of police chief Vance Corgan, that the body of a woman he murdered a few days before has been recovered. He had hope that the body would not be found until spring.

Director: Micheal Bafaro | Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Jeremy Ratchford, Garwin Sanford, Brenda James

Votes: 1,227

10. The Fall of the Louse of Usher: A Gothic Tale for the 21st Century (2002)

83 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Rock star Roddy Usher's wife is murdered and Rod is sent to a lunatic asylum in this gothic-comedy-horror-musical.

Director: Ken Russell | Stars: James Johnston, Lisi Tribble, Marie Findley, Ken Russell

Votes: 304

11. The Last Great Wilderness (2002)

Not Rated | 95 min | Comedy, Drama

Two men meet while travelling north on separate missions. Charlie wants to catch up with the man who has stolen his wife, while Vicente is trying to escape a contract castration. After ... See full summary »

Director: David Mackenzie | Stars: Alastair Mackenzie, Jonny Phillips, Ewan Stewart, David Hayman

Votes: 463

Not listed as a horror film here but there are spooky overtones and some violence - it threatens to go all Kill List on our asses but never does. Worth a watch though.

12. My Little Eye (2002)

R | 95 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Five people are offered one million dollars to spend six months together in an isolated mansion, with cameras watching their every move.

Director: Marc Evans | Stars: Sean Cw Johnson, Kris Lemche, Stephen O'Reilly, Laura Regan

Votes: 11,693

13. Feardotcom (2002)

R | 101 min | Crime, Horror, Thriller

16 Metascore

A New York City detective investigates mysterious deaths occurring 48 hours after users log onto a site named feardotcom.

Director: William Malone | Stars: Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea, Udo Kier

Votes: 20,371 | Gross: $13.21M

14. Long Time Dead (2002)

R | 94 min | Horror, Thriller

A young college student and his friends use an Ouija board to hold a seance, triggering a chain of mysterious deaths that may be caused by an otherworldly force.

Director: Marcus Adams | Stars: Joe Absolom, Tom Bell, Lara Belmont, Melanie Gutteridge

Votes: 5,555

15. Nine Lives (2002 Video)

R | 85 min | Horror, Thriller

Nine friends are stranded in an isolated Scottish manor house when a centuries-old spirit is unleashed. Only one will survive.

Director: Andrew Green | Stars: Rosie Fellner, Vivienne Harvey, Paris Hilton, Patrick Kennedy

Votes: 3,351

16. The Forgotten Ground (2002)

50 min | Horror

In 1878 a whole township were murdered by a neighboring town. Their bodies were buried in what's known as 'The Forgotten Ground'. Only the spilt blood of a virgin could bring them back to seek revenge on those who took their lives.

Director: Shaun Robert Smith | Stars: Daniel Dolby, Nicola Creasey, Shaun Robert Smith, Andy Monaghan

18. Revenge of the Unhappy Campers (2002)

R | 102 min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller

At an anger management camp for teenagers, someone is getting rid of the counselors and campers using very sharp instruments. By nighttime only a few are left, but who can they trust when they know one of them is the killer?

Director: Shawnee Mercer | Stars: Suzanne Hart, Jill Meyers, Candice Sharp, Lynne West

Votes: 76

19. Until Death (2002)

R | 80 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

Young artist is torn between her male best friend, who's secretly obsessed with her, and her jealous abusive ex who died in a car crash and now apparently haunts her.

Director: Charles Buchanan | Stars: Clemency Burton-Hill, Jamie Bower, Gyuri Sarossy, Margaret Tyzack

Votes: 47

The vengeful dead

20. Zombie Ferox Zero (2002)

61 min | Horror

After escaping from the police, Doctor Fogger finds a new building belonging to the Toliman Corps and returns to bring the dead back to life.

Director: Jonathon Ash | Stars: Kimberly Kensington, Steven Ash, Jonathon Ash

21. Zombie Ferox (2002 Video)

70 min | Horror

From deep inside Hell house, Doctor Fogger Medical Deviate has his staff on the look out for fresh corpses for his new zombie army.

Director: Jonathon Ash | Stars: Jimmy Alder, Gavin Ash, Jonathon Ash, Steven Ash

22. Sentinels of Darkness (2002 Video)

73 min | Horror

Some vampire clans chase other vampire clans and in between they have erotic fights, jealousy and intrigue.

Director: Manos Kalaitzakis | Stars: Charly Barber, Dani Biernat, Donna Chiappini, Nena Chronopoulou

Votes: 49

Anglo-Greek vampire anthology.

23. The Incredibly Strange People Show (2002 Video)

60 min | Comedy, Horror, Music

An unrelenting, psychotronic rollercoaster ride, revolving around the sedentary existence of Max and Moritz, two oddball males in their late-20's whose lifestyle is a rabid telethon of epic proportions.

Director: Jason Delorme | Stars: Max Day, Kevin Neil, Nick Ewans, Haruka Kuroda

25. The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002 TV Movie)

100 min | Adventure, Drama, Mystery

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate after an heir claims his estate is plagued by a ghostly dog.

Director: David Attwood | Stars: Richard Roxburgh, Ian Hart, Richard E. Grant, Matt Day

Votes: 2,268

26. Strange (2002–2003)
Episode: Pilot (2002)

60 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

John Strange (Demon hunter and defrocked priest) and Canon Black investigate the mysterious happenings in a hospital ward.

Director: Joe Ahearne | Stars: Richard Coyle, Samantha Womack, Ian Richardson, Timmy Lang

Votes: 163

Pilot for the 2002 series.

27. Red Lines (2002)

7 min | Horror, Short

Doug Bradley (PINHEAD from HELLRAISER) stars in a chilling horror short about a school dentention gone horribly wrong.

Director: Frazer Lee | Stars: Doug Bradley, Kirsty Levett, Leone Hanman

Votes: 90

Watch here on IMDB

28. The Visitor (II) (2002)

11 min | Drama, Short, Fantasy

Gail has seen a ghost in her house on the same date, at the same time, in the same room, for three years in a row. She is certain it is counting down to something terrible. To ease her fears, her husband organises a midnight drinks party for the night the ghost is due to appear again. What happens is more disturbing than anyone could've imagined.

Director: Steve Hughes | Stars: Lena Rae, Madeleine Collins, Alexis Conran, Barry Cooper

Votes: 13

29. My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002)

12 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Disaster after disaster, an already frail man descends into madness after his talking dog announces that he is actually his defence lawyer.

Director: Christopher Morris | Stars: Paddy Considine, Miranda Pleasence, Simon Greenall, Richard Lumsden

Votes: 1,140

Expanded from a segment on Brass Eye.

30. Pandora (I) (2002)

Unrated | 4 min | Animation, Drama, Comedy

Add a Plot

Director: Antonio Campos | Stars: Andrew Keegan, Stephen H. Bogart, Antonio Campos, Mario Cantone

Votes: 31

31. Overture (2002)

43 min | Short, Horror