I’ve had the pleasure of watching 200 British horrors, though the latest, SCHIZO (1973) proved to be a formulaic bore with an ending you could see coming a mile away, regardless of how wonderful the cinematography and color. So be it.
What follows is my top ten UK productions, with a list of co-productions that follows. To
avoid what many might consider the usual suspects, I have avoided Hammer (save one that is rarely mentioned in such lists), which in many ways, I’m still catching up on, though I must say that I love Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – and probably every “Hammer Girl” ever to appear on screen.
The top ten movies are listed in chronological order.
Peeping Tom (1960) – 4. 5 stars
Michael Powell’s intense horror thriller involves a serial killer photographer that outshines Hitchcock’s PSYCHO of the same year. Due to the controversy of the subject matter, Powell found it difficult to work in England for several years. However, he left us with a strong and provocative film that continues to give us the chills.
Plague of the Zombies (1966) – 3. 5 stars
Sadly, this is Hammer’s only zombie film, but it brings great atmosphere together with one wonderfully macabre tale. An outbreak brings strong young men to their deaths in Cornwall, and Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) and his daughter (Diane Clare) travel to the village to resolve the mystery. This is one of zombiedom’s most over-looked features.
The Legend of Hell House (1973) – 4. 5 stars
The great John Matheson adapted his own book for John Hough’s film, which delivers suspense and thrills in colorful style with one of horror’s best soundtracks. The story involves four souls visiting a haunting home to prove there is life after death, but will they survive to offer their evidence to the benefactor who sent them?
From Beyond the Grave (1974) – 4 stars
This anthology from Amicus features the great Peter Cushing as the Proprietor who always has what the patron needs. Think Charles Dickens’s “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop” combined with televisions ill-named “Friday the 13th – The Series”. A strong set of stories with one Hell of a great cast. This often over-looked horror should not be missed.
Possession (1981) – 4. 5 stars
Your nerves will shatter at the intense performances of Isabelle Adjani (who needed medical treatment after the film wrapped) and Sam Neill. The story centers on the break-up of a marriage and its psychological unraveling, which mirrors director Andrzej Zulawski’s own marital demise. Make certain to have your therapist on speed dial.
Hellraiser (1987) – 4. 5 stars
Clive Barker’s fantasy/horror of Cenobite induced chaos, is feast for any gorehound who loves a great story to boot. If curiosity killed the cat, it certainly killed many a human along the way, and no one can seem to resist the fascinating puzzle box that opens up a world where the Cenobites are angels to some, and demons to others – though most likely the latter.
Lair of the White Worm (1988) – 4. 5 stars
Bram Stoker’s novel must have bored Ken Russell to tears, who seemingly captured what some might consider drug-induced surreality to create one Hell of a trippy film. A small group of souls battles the D’Ampton Worm once more, and the enticing woman (Amanda Donohoe) who caters to the beast. Enjoy the romp, and be amazed at what Stoker couldn’t do with words.
Dust Devil (1992) – 4. 5 stars
An intriguing mystery/thriller from Richard Stanley, the film follows shattered souls put out of their misery by a bottom-feeding entity. The cinematography mirrors the hopelessness of the people who unwilling wait for the Dust Devil, and the ending brings satisfaction as few horrors do. If you like something heady and psychologically engaging, this is one to watch.
Dog Soldiers (2002) – 4. 5 stars
Writer and director Neil Marshall must have been disappointed in the werewolf subgenre when he created this action thriller feast. In the film, a squad of British soldiers training in the Scottish Highlands comes face to hairy face with a werewolf pack. Using a house as their Alamo, they make their last stand. Definitely a go-to horror for any fan.
Triangle (2009) – 5 stars
In this head-trip of a mystery, we follow a woman (Melissa George) as she indulges in her own sort of GROUNDHOG DAY to right a wrong in her life. But the film is not as simple as that especially when supernatural terror comes into play. Feel free to create your own map between past, present, and future to determine a way out – if you can. Sorely under-appreciated.
Excellent UK co-productions:
The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963), Alien (USA/UK, 1979), The Shining (UK/USA, 1980), Lifeforce (UK/USA, 1985), eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999), and The Lords of Salem (USA/UK/Canada, 2012).
(DOG SOLDIERS still from Gaming Trend.)