JULY 3 ― While the UK may have a rich history of horror filmmaking, with famous studios like Hammer and Amicus at the forefront in the 1960s and 1970s, and classic films like The Innocents, The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Don’t Look Now and The Blood On Satan’s Claw still garnering new fans to this day, British horror films from the 1980s onwards have not really set the world alight as much as they did during this golden era.
Sure, there have been the occasional success stories like 28 Days Later, Dog Soldiers, Severance and Eden Lake, while some of the best horror flicks of the last few years have been British like His House, A Dark Song, The Borderlands and Berberian Sound Studio, but these are mere one-off breakthroughs rather than a sign that some sort of British horror film scene or movement is building up momentum, threatening to kick start a new golden era for British horror movies.
Enter 2021 and, in addition to the breakout success of Saint Maud, I’ve come across two more high quality British horror flicks in the space of just a few months, so perhaps now we’re beginning to see the grumblings of a new breed of British horror filmmakers (who also happen to be female in all three cases!) who might just make the world sit up and take notice.
With half the year still ahead of us, who knows there might even be more of these in store for us, which is a prospect that’s got me giddy with excitement.
In the meantime, check these two films out!
Set in mid-80s UK, a time when VHS ruled the world and the ruling class is in the middle of a standoff with the miners’ strike, debuting director Prano Bailey-Bond has cleverly set up her story around the UK press’ panic regarding the “video nasties”, a term they coined to group horror films deemed too extreme/violent for public consumption at the time, which included such notorious titles like Cannibal Holocaust, The Driller Killer, I Spit On Your Grave, Snuff, Cannibal Ferox, Faces Of Death and the likes.
Niamh Algar plays Enid who works as a film censor at the British Board of Film Classification, and who happens to be very good at her job, going about business in a very cool, calm and professional manner, not letting the unpleasant and violent visuals she has to go through every day get to her head, until she becomes spooked and obsessed with a film that seems to specifically re-enact a childhood trauma involving herself and her missing sister.
Thus begins a journey into the deepest and darkest depths of Enid’s psyche as she becomes convinced that Frederick North, the director of the movie she saw (called Don’t Go In The Church), is somehow involved with the tragedy of her missing sister, and that the actress in that movie is indeed her missing sister.
Visually paying tribute to the films that fell under the “video nasties” era, Bailey-Bond has concocted a grimly disturbing, oppressive and anxiety-inducing little gem that will live in your mind long after you’ve finished watching it.
Bringing it back a decade earlier, director Corinna Faith has set her film in mid-70s UK, specifically during the miners’ strike in January 1974, which resulted in enforced and scheduled power cuts by the government back then.
Our protagonist is Val (played by Rose Williams), a student nurse assigned to a hospital in London’s East End, who arrives on her first day to see that most of the patients are being transferred to another hospital due to the scheduled power cut, and who is being put on the “dark shift”, which means she has to stay at the hospital to cover the two wards that are kept going by a generator.
This being a horror film, of course Val has a hidden trauma of her own; in this case, it's a fear of the dark triggered by childhood abuse during her stint in a care home, but not wanting to get on the bad side of the hospital’s matron and possibly lose her job, she keeps quiet and agrees to do the “dark shift” anyway.
As the night progresses, Val (and the audience) gradually discover that there are sinister things at play in the hospital.
Val encounters a ghost and gets possessed by it, leading to plenty of fabulously suspenseful scare set-pieces, all of them impeccably staged by Faith and marvellously acted by the actors.
Where the mystery of the ghost and possession leads, I’ll leave it for you to discover, but I guess it suffices to say that the “power” in the film’s title surely does not just refer to electricity, but is also a nod to the abuse of power that occurs in the hospital, which makes this a surprisingly thoughtful and feminist possession flick.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.