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Tag: British Film

Editorials

5 Classic British Horror Films

October 17, 2019
British Horror

The British are famed for their stiff upper lips, kitchen sink dramas, and movies that flaunt our Shakespearian heritage. But we’re also no strangers to scaring the world silly with horror films. 

So, today we’re celebrating our roots by recommending 5 classic British horror movies you should watch this October.

Anthology – Dead of Night (1945)

An Architect (Mervyn Johns) is heading to an old country house looking for work. But once he gets there, he has the uncomfortable feeling that he has been there before, in his dreams. He recognizes all the houseguests and fears his dream will come true if he stays. His talk of powers at work beyond his control causes the guests to begin recounting their own tales of experiences that are hard to explain logically.

Ealing Studios’ only horror film, Dead of Night is a fantastic showcase for the power of atmosphere. Each of the short stories and the wrap-around segments are fantastic at building an atmosphere in different ways. The use or lack of music, the set design, the bizarre lighting, the camerawork, and the acting all create a feeling that something is not quite right in the idyllic settings they present. Though some of the tales are more comedic than others the movie remains gripping all the way to the end.

Michael Redgrave as the disturbing ventriloquist in Dead of Night (Source: Deadentertainment)

Ghost Stories – The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents tells the story of a governess (Deborah Kerr) who moves into a country estate to look after 2 orphaned children. However, she soon begins to discover dark secrets about the seemingly angelic children and former employees of the estate. She also starts seeing apparitions wandering around the grounds and begins to believe that the children are possessed. But is this real or just in her head?

The Innocents is the classic British gothic chiller. Every element of the film is perfectly constructed to make you feel uneasy. From the use of haunting atmospheric sound to the pitch-perfect performances that make it hard to distinguish reality from fantasy. Then there’s the soundtrack that uses creepy instrumentals and singing children to create a very uncanny atmosphere. Lastly, there’s the cinematography, whose beautifully haunting images will remain with you for a long time, and the direction, that delivers effective scares that will leave your hair standing on end, without needing cheap music stings. Without a doubt, one of the finest ghost stories the UK has ever produced.

Peter Wyngarde “haunting” Deborah Kerr in The Innocents (Source: RedShark News)

Slasher – Peeping Tom (1961)

Peeping Tom concerns Mark (Carl Boehm), a shy, introverted man, obsessed with the power of films and fear. When his neighbour (Anna Massey) takes an interest in him, Mark must try to hide the darkest part of his obsession: his collection of films, recording people’s reactions to their own deaths.

A film that sparked much controversy upon release, effectively ending director Michael Powell’s career, Peeping Tom is now regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.

There are many reasons why Peeping Tom is so effective. Firstly, there’s the writing which constructs an interesting tale about the nature of voyeurism and the disturbing implications of the cinematic art form. Then there’s the inventive camerawork that’s used to implicate us in Mark’s crimes. And there are the fine performances from Anna Massey and Carl Boehm. Boehm is exceptional for turning what could have been a simple psychopathic villain, into a compelling tragic figure. Massey also brings a great tenderness to her performance that makes her instantly likeable, and their chemistry is so awkwardly charming that you route for the pair to overcome everything, despite the horrible things that happen.

Carl Boehm, alone, apart from his camera in Peeping Tom (Source: Mubi)

Hoodie Horror – Eden Lake (2008)

In the 2000s a bizarre British horror sub-genre emerged, hoodie horror. A genre that took the nation’s paranoia around teenage gang culture and turned their worst fears up to 11. Undoubtedly the best of these films was Eden Lake.

Middle-class couple Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) are heading to Eden Lake for a romantic weekend. Once there they run afoul of a teenage gang who proceed to torment the couple. When Steve goes a little too far, the kids begin a deadly game of cat and mouse as they hunt the couple through the woods.

Eden Lake isn’t exactly subtle regarding eliciting shocks, but it works because of its stripped-down rawness. Its ties to real-world subjects and the natural performances of the cast make everything feel authentic. The violence is especially hard to watch because it’s played seriously and doesn’t shy away from its grim effects on the characters. When Eden Lake’s credits roll you will feel shaken and its ending will stick with you long after you’ve turned off the TV.

Kelly Reilly hiding from monstrous teens in Eden Lake (Source: Motion Picture Blog)

Nuclear Horror – Threads (1984)

This 1984 BBC TV movie focuses on a young couple living in Sheffield at the height of Cold War tensions. Initially, the threat is just another news story, drowned out by the couple’s domestic issues. But things slowly escalate until all-out nuclear war is declared. And once the missiles stop, the survivors must continue on in a world devastated by radiation. 

Being raised near Sheffield I grew up on tales of my parents seeing Threads for the first time and how it left them terrified. It isn’t hard to see why.

Threads’ horror comes from the characters being normal people. They aren’t special, just regular, flawed humans you could meet anywhere. So, you easily sympathize and relate to the characters’ situation. And when the missiles start flying, we’re treated to some of the most harrowing sequences ever broadcast on British television. But the worst part is how matter of fact Threads is. While horrible things are happening, plain white text and narration informs us coldly about the consequences of nuclear war and the damages that will be wrought upon not just the survivors but those who come after. If that isn’t true horror, what is?

The army try to keep order in a world without it. Threads (Source: BBC)

So there are 5 great British horror films to watch this October. Of course, this article has barely scratched the surface of what British horror has to offer. So please share any of your recommendations in the comment section.

Also Read: Horrors On Horror Sets

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Editorials

Too Awkward For Love: Understanding the British Rom-Com

October 8, 2019

‘[R]om coms will never die THEY WILL JUST EVOLVE INTO NEW FORMS,’ one Twitter user wrote in response to series of Tik Tok videos playing out a queer romantic fantasy. It’s true, no other genre has endured the declaration it’s dead and born again as many times at the romantic comedy. It’s withered on the vine and flourished, it’s succeeded wildly and failed gloriously. It remains one of the most beloved and hated genres in cinema. Yet, when it gets it right it can soar to unimaginable heights. 

It may seem like the UK is not a perfect fit for the hopelessly romantic. Are we too worried about causing a fuss to perform grand-gestures? Do the words our grandmothers said, ‘you’ll catch your death’, stop us kissing in the rain? They didn’t use to. Once, there was a gleaming moment of splendour when the UK was a major exporter of meet-cutes, break-ups, and running to the airport. In the nineties and early noughties films like Four Weddings and a FuneralNotting HillBridget Jones’s Diaryand Love Actually enjoyed substantial box office returns and critical success. For around fifteen years the UK produced some of the most universally recognisable romantic comedies ever made. So, in a world governed by concerns around Brexit and what do we have to offer the world, have we forgotten that once we lucratively exported romantic comedies? 

To understand the British romantic comedy and its success you have to understand how the world sees Britain. The blundering brits who inhabit these films are too awkward and well-mannered for games of love, in stories that are riddled with etiquette. It’s no wonder that Hugh Grant, the angel-faced-bumble-machine, was the heartthrob of the period. Grant typified what the wider world wanted from a British man: received pronunciation, charm, and good looks. But what about British women? 

Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones (Credit: Working Title Films)

Bridget Jones offered that alternative, a woman to root for instead of a man to lust after. Renée Zellweger starred as the supposed British everywoman; awkward, clumsy, and chain-smoking. Prone to embarrassing encounters and passionate conundrums she resonated with a generation of women and so she returned in 2016, after a twelve-year hiatus. Bridget was, and still is, a symbol for the single woman; for better or worse. Some find comfort in Bridget’s fallibility, while others fling the name as an insult akin to ‘crazy-cat-lady’. There is no doubt, however, that the character is one of the most recognisable in British cinema and audiences want to see her return once more.

In Britain, we have a history of beloved female characters in romantic quandaries. The prolific writer (and star of the ten-pound note), Jane Austen revelled in tales of love won & lost (Bridget Jones herself was based on the quick-witted fan-favourite Elizabeth Bennet). Nevertheless, Austen is also famous for her male love interests. Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy, for example, has been co-opted by many as a slang term for the ‘perfect man’. Yet, the two most famous iterations of Darcy (both played by Colin Firth, in the BBC Mini-series and the Bridget Jones films) are sexualised ideals of the polite, if not substantially repressed, British man; someone who is brooding, quiet, and unable to open up. 

Billie Piper and Toby Wolf in Rare Beasts (2019) (Credit: Western Edge Pictures)

Where does that leave us in 2019? The Beatles infused Yesterday was, at its strongest moments, a fairly decent romantic comedy that saw Lily James and Himesh Patel as friends who might be more. The upcoming Rare Beasts, written and directed by Billie Piper, calls itself an ‘un-romantic comedy’ and casts Piper as a career-driven single mother who falls in love with a man who holds more traditional values. The film, which is screening at the London Film Festival in October, based on its description might be willing to bend those structures we’ve come to know. Then, of course, we have Last Christmaswhich sees a man and a woman fall in love in London during the festive period set to the music of George Michael and Wham… which may be the most ‘British’ sounding film ever. 

Henry Goulding and Emilia Clarke Last Christmas (2019) (Credit: Universal Pictures, Feigco Entertainment)

There are some glaring problems within the genre, of course. The characters, for example, are all so often white, without disabilities, and almost always straight – even if Last Christmas is inspired the music of a queer icon, the trailers include no suggestion of that. Britain in these films often avoids questions of sexuality along with issues like class, political unease, race, and wealth disparity that grip our country in real life. They’re made to appeal to anglophiles over-seas by presenting these beguiling men and relatable women, the idyllic countryside locations and the rainy London streets – not to represent how it actually is.

It is true that cinema can’t always reflect the times and the argument for it as escapism can be just as valid. Though, it’s sad to watch a genre continually avoid engaging with the world or represent all those who live in it. Maybe a change is due? Queer rom-coms are in the works in America and recent British films, like Animals, show a shift in perspective in the UK. Who knows who’ll be kissing in the rain in years to come…

Also Read: Is Queer Autobiographical Cinema Subtly Political?

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