8. The Awakening (2011)
Set in 1921 England, a time in which the country was overcoming the devastating effects of the First World War, a young woman, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), is sent to a boarding school to investigate paranormal activity in an attempt to uncover the truth behind the assumed hoax.
The antiquated setting of the English countryside, along with the unyielding and stern backdrop of the boarding school, add to a unique production design that results in an unnerving scene by candle light, which was a likely influence during the adaption of “The Woman in Black” a year later.
Rebecca Hall carries the film beyond the typical ghost films of recent years, adding charisma and profundity to the story. With a high calibre of supporting actors including Dominic West, most notably of “The Wire,” and British acting royalty Imelda Staunton, “The Awakening” is a dark gothic tale of the supernatural with more substance and depth than a number of recent entries in the sub-genre.
7. Eden Lake (2008)
British Horror films involving so-called ‘hoodies’ have continued to grow in recent years, debatably beginning in 2006 with the terrifying social commentary drama “Kidulthood” and the criminally underrated French Horror “Ils/ Them.” “Eden Lake” was one of the first British films to use hoodies as a Horror concept, later followed by the likes of “F” and “The Citadel.”
The film tells the story of a young couple, played by pre-fame Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, as they escape from the city to a quiet country retreat on the lake. Upon confronting some local adolescents, things quickly turn to horror, as they are tormented and tortured at the hands of the youths.
The leader of the violent youths is Brett, played by the mesmerising Jack O’ Connell in one of his earliest film roles, acting without remorse and displaying an overpowering need for violence. The film showcased his ability as a huge onscreen presence, which was later cemented in films such as “Starred Up” and “‘71.”
Directed by James Watkins, who proficiently engineers stunning visuals and moods, the film’s atmosphere is dark and gloomy. “Eden Lake” is a thought-provoking nightmare that doesn’t flinch at its own brutality, taking pleasure in producing such dark and horrifying imagery, and sending a haunting message that is all too real.
6. Sightseers (2012)
“Sightseers” is written by its two co-stars, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, grounding their film in the most British way imaginable by focusing on the coastal caravan holidays endured by thousands of Brits each year. Shepherded by director Ben Wheatley, the story centres on a psychopathic couple, Tina and Chris (Lowe and Oram, respectively), as they rampage through the United Kingdom’s museums and natural heritage sights, leaving a trail of corpses in their wake.
Orchestrated like a feature-length British sketch show, the film was produced by Edgar Wright, and it is full of British TV regulars. The film premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2012 where it was met by positive reactions, despite its very dark humour revolving around death, murder, and suicide.
Initially inspired by “Withnail and I,” the two writers had no limits as to where they would draw the line of good taste, which became an issue when production companies kept rejecting it due to the subject matter being too dark. Thank the Lord for Edgar Wright’s wisdom in eventually snatching up the film.
Along with stunning landscapes and behind the dark, twisted humour and grotesque violence, the film houses an endearing love letter to the English countryside, national traditions, and British heritage. Even the perverse and warped humour is an ode to the surreal works of British humourists such as Monty Python.
5. Black Death (2010)
Starring national treasure Sean Bean and a pre-Hollywood Eddie Redmayne, “Black Death” tells a tale of the Bubonic Plague that devastated the isles in the 14th century. The film focuses on a young monk, played by Redmayne, on an adventure to discover rumours of people being brought back from the dead in a small rural village.
Providing enough substance in several capacities to keep numerous genre fans happy, “Black Death” is a road movie full of sword wielding mercenaries, shrouded in mystery and despair. The film has an incredibly powerful aura of pessimism and hopelessness.
Helmed by Christopher Smith, again stretching his chops off the back of “Triangle” and “Severance,” this is a grisly film that makes ample time for a number of subjects, including paganism, witchcraft, and religion. What finally ties the film together, as if with entrails themselves, is the ample amount of bloodshed and the homage to British Horror classics such as “The Wicker Man.”
4. Under the Skin (2013)
“Under the Skin” was written and directed by infrequent film maker Jonathan Glazer, who is debatably most well-known for 2000’s crime Thriller “Sexy Beast.” He created a visually stunning art house drama piece with strong Science Fiction and Horror undertones.
Very loosely based on Dutch novelist Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, and set in Glasgow, Scotland, the film features the incredible Scarlett Johansson as an alien who drives around in a white van seducing the lonely native men and attempting to learn the ways of earth. But as she experiences humanity for the first time, she begins to have a crisis of identity and embarks on an adventure of self-discovery.
Engineered by Glazer over the space of an entire decade, using mostly non-actors and allowing unscripted improvisation with regards to some scenes, the film is an awe-inspiring masterclass in art house filmmaking.
Despite confusing audiences everywhere and not making a profit or even recuperating its budget, the film was highly praised by critics largely due to its striking visual atmosphere, superbly captured by cinematographer Daniel Landin, which combined effectively with Mica Levi’s powerful and haunting score. “Under the Skin” is an artistic body-Horror tale like no other.
3. Woman in Black (2012)
One of the first attempts of a post-“Harry Potter” Daniel Radcliffe to outgrow the scars left by the titular wizard, the film shows Radcliffe going against type as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer seeing to the affairs of a deceased homeowner, in the remote English countryside.
“The Woman In Black,” based on the Horror novella of the same name by English author Susan Hill, is a gothic ghost tale about a spectre foreshadows the deaths of young children in the rural area. The novella was also adapted as a haunting stage play in the 1980s and this, in turn, led to the cinematic released directed by James Watkins in 2012.
Taken on by crowned Horror royalty, Hammer Horror production studio during their revival of the late 2000’s, the film utilises a local coastal village as its remote setting, which allows for a dense, murky atmosphere that fills each scene with surreptitious mystery.
Keeping to the traditional Victorian setting of the novel, the end product is an eerie ghost tale that is both tasteful and full of suspense, using its atmosphere and character revelations to fuel to terror without relying on modern day Horror tropes such as excessive and unrealistic gore or strategically edited but ultimately hollow jump-scares. This film is a Horror throwback in the most rewarding sense of the term.
2. The Descent (2005)
Just about to drop out of the last decade, “The Descent” stands as one of the finest British Horrors of all time, a claustrophobic nightmare that builds suspense from the very beginning before unleashing blood-spattered carnage until the closing minutes. Set in the Scottish highlands, a group of spelunkers explore an unchartered collection of caves, and it doesn’t take long for them to realise they are not alone in the dark.
Starring a host of unknown actresses from around the globe, the film is full of depth and emotion, incredibly portrayed by all on screen. Neil Marshall’s script allows for all the female characters to have their own traits and characteristics, steering away from having a supporting cast that is merely faceless cannon fodder to be wiped out, one by one.
The dense, restricted setting of the caves provides an intense atmosphere that is achieved utilising masterful camera techniques that allow for diminutive lighting. Marshall’s expertly-paced script provides the bones for this stunning Horror gem, allowing for complexity and heart, while shying away from throwing buckets of gore against the cave walls.
1. Kill List (2011)
“Kill List” tells the story of two soldiers-turned-hitmen, one of whom (Neil Maskell) is in a financial predicament and is in need of pulling off one final job with his old partner (Michael Smiley). Filmed in Sheffield, England, the tale spirals and twists with provocative storytelling and hard-hitting brutality, eventually descending into mystery in the final act. It is a film you must see to appreciate.
Director Ben Wheatley, continuing to make a name for himself as a powerhouse of genre-blending filmmaking, followed “Kill List” with a number of exceptional films, including “A Field in England,” “Sightseers,” and a segment in the Horror anthology, “ABCs of Death,” not to mention his upcoming adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s “High-Rise” starring Tom Hiddleston. It is exciting to see where his work will take him next, as time and time again he has proven he is capable of creating inimitable, clever films, worthy of repeat viewings.
“Kill List” is a thought-provoking mystery feature that asks more questions than it answers, as Wheatley is a director comfortable with ambiguity and perplexity. A savage, violent film, “Kill List” is without a doubt one of the finest British Horror films of all time.
Author Bio: Dan Carmody, born and raised in Doncaster, England, an area with very little in the way of film connections (The Full Monty was filmed down the road). When not working full time as a Civil Engineer, his one true passion is cinema, relating back to the early 1990’s when his mum showed him a lot of horror films way before he should have been allowed. An avid follower of all genres, both classical and modern. Also enthusiastic about video games, making lists and cheese.