Thursday, 27 October 2011

Halloween Movie Finale - Best of British

The horror movie is to some extent an American creation, but there are plenty of fine examples from other countries. British horror cinema, at its best, draws on a rich heritage of literary ghost stories, an often bloody popular culture (Spring-Heeled Jack, Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper) and a solid tradition of 'serious' mainstream drama. At its best the Brit horror flick is original, disturbing and oddly exhilarating. It's also rather intimate - without a big budget, you can still get a very good actor talking to a dummy and sending shivers up/down/along your spine. Dead of Night (1945) is the first and arguably the best portmanteau spooky movie, and while it creaks in places it's climactic tale is still powerful.

We move on to a Hammer film that's firmly in the science fiction genre - except for the black magic, the demons, the poltergeist activity, and the contact with 'spiritual evil'. Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is arguably the best British sci-fi movie, but it's chock-full of supernatural ingredients that are more-or-less explained (but not made any less potent) by TV legend Nigel Kneale's rather Lovecraftian screenplay. (The film also poses what I like to think of as The Mystery of the Nonexistent Pentacle, but I'd better keep that to myself.)

No mention of supernatural horror in British cinema can omit the only feature film explicitly based on a story by M.R. James. 1957's Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon in the US edited version) is controversial because it breaks the golden rule, that you don't reveal your monster straight away. But even if you dislike that aspect of the movie, it's admirable in so many other ways that it's enduring status as a classic seems assured. It is also enlivened by Ealing comedy-style humour that - as in this scene - makes the dark central theme all the more powerful. I defy anyone not to smile during 'Cherry Ripe', but things go quickly from the absurd to the genuinely eerie.


Anonymous said...

This list gets better and better. I just watched Night of the Demon (I won't watch the U.S. version) for the fourth time. Not only does it hold up after so many viewings, it actually gets better.

The odd thing about it all is that the villian Karswell is actually a likeable person until he's crossed (unlike the character in M.R. James' story, where he's just evil and dispicable through and through). It also has a great seance scene. The ending is a real nail biter.

Your comment about British horror cinema is spot on. You're very fortunate. Here in the USA, horror comes down to awful remakes, teenagers being chased by slashers, found footage horror and an unending parade of "zombie" films which aren't really zombie stories in the classical Haiti/William Seabrook sense. Really good films in the supernatural sense are very, very rare.

valdemar said...

Well, a lot of British horror films try to emulate Hollywood, and fail to satisfy. I don't know why people bother with remakes of films like The Haunting when the originals are so good. It's very odd that the teen slasher and mad hobo cannibal stuff is still going, but I suppose it's like junk food - a lot of people like the same thing again and again. British horror at the moment is quite interesting, and the new film The Awakening seems to be garnering good reviews.