We are thrilled to have Senior British Correspondent Craig Hunter of SCREENRELISH join us to look at some of our favorite British horror movies. From classics of Hammer to some of today’s most disturbing films, we count down the five best.
5. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)
In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.
Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but its Lee who carries the film.
Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.
Still the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.
Ribald stuff for 1958!
4. Kill List (2011)
Never has the line “Thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.
Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.
Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities.
As Kill List drifts toward its particular flavor of horror, Wheatley pulls deftly from some of the most memorable films of a similar taste. For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.
3. Eden Lake (2009)
The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.
James Watkins’s screenplay keeps you nervous and guessing with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.
The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Fassbender’s bravado strikes an honest note, and Reilly’s Jenny is capable, smart and compassionate. More than anything, though, the film owes its unsettling ability to stay with you to an unnerving performance from the up and coming Jack O’Connell.
It’s an upwardly mobile urbanite nightmare, well made and crafted to stay with you.
2. The Descent (2005)
A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of friends, who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.
This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.
Writer/director Neil Marshall makes excellent use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.
28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.
You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-really-a-zombie film. (They were not dead, you see. Just super pissed off.)
Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.
The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.