Friday, July 29, 2011

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

The British are an interesting bunch. Dead on the inside, sparkling wit on the outside... they are monsters unto themselves. Room-temperature-tea-drinking monsters.

Paul Revere, local show-off and tattle-tale
The rest of the world's perception of Britain is also interesting. Wherever possible they are a villain and their accent is the definition of snootiness (unless you're in a Mike Leigh film) because, gosh-darn it, have you truly forgiven them for colonization? I thought not.

But those bad-teeth, sausage-roll-loving bastards have had some truly awesome horror films. Obviously it's hard to generalize an entire nation's contribution to a genre, but hey, why not try?

The British have a rich history of literature, and with the emergence of the Gothic-horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein et al) the macabre is present in such classics as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and A Christmas Carol. As film became more popular it was natural that one of the giants in the early days of the film industry was Hammer Horror in the 1950s. Its famed versions of Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dracula among others would become the norm for horror films and, eventually, be endlessly parodied.

As the times changed so did audiences' taste. They no longer wanted the schlock and awe of the Hammer Horror film but rather something more sophisticated. With the emergence of psychological horror the monsters we feared were often and inextricably tied to ourselves. The Haunting (1963) is arguably one of the best haunted house flicks there has ever been and ever will be. A team of paranormal investigators take up residence at the haunted Hill House in hopes of discovering some kind of evidence of a ghostly presence. What follows is some of the most intense and chilling scenes ever committed to celluloid. Without blood or gore, The Haunting is a landmark for classy and sinister horror films.

Ten years later Don't Look Now (1973) was released and while it was initially known for its stunningly graphic sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, it is a creepy-ass movie about the aftermath of the death of a young child. Sutherland and Christie go to Venice to try and put their lives back together after the accidental death of their daughter only to be told the spirit of their daughter is trying to warn them. Beware the red coat.

Taking us into the 1980s we have John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981) about two friends, one who winds up dead and the other winds up with an annoying monthly habit of maiming people. A horror comedy, yes, but this is the first and few movies to be both equally horrifying and funny. Rick Baker is in his prime bringing to life the most awesome werewolf transformation to screen. But seriously, stay on the trails in Yorkshire.

The 90s were a mixed bag for horror the world over. Scream was the only film to stick a landing and make an impression. But there are several awesome films that still have loyal followings that also happened to come out in the 90s.Event Horizon (1997) was one such film. What I thought would be silly turned out to be freakishly terrifying. Paul W.S. Anderson (who would go on to make Resident Evil) went all out in this film which, though incoherent, remains terrifying. One of the big themes in sci-fi/horror films is a crew must investigate a ship that has stopped sending communication or has started sending an SOS signal with only evil things awaiting the crew going to help. Methinks some people are still smarting over smallpox.

The 2000s were a pretty great time for British horror. You've got Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, 28 Days Later and The Children just to name a few. Why the resurgence, you ask? Well, with the resurgence of the British independent cinema in the 1990s the infrastructure was set in place to produce more homegrown films and a decade later, some of those new filmmakers (and 'Old Guard' Danny Boyle) were still making films that reflected the Britain they saw around them. But with 9/11, the London bombings, the War in Iraq and many other things, horror is a great way to reflect the chaos and confusion around us. By circumventing the politics they can deal with the human factor.

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