Weird British Horror Films
Some British horrors may inspire a raised eyebrow but they’re so stylistic, innovative, creepy and utterly puzzling they’ll blow your tiffin-loving mind… from The Company of Wolves to the Wicker Man.
A good horror film can send chills down your spine, force you to sleep with the light on, and generally make you a nervous wreck. Other horror films, namely older ones, are more likely to inspire a raised eyebrow, a few laughs at its tackiness, possibly discomfort at the outdated notions and representations of gender, and a general feeling of confusion as to what exactly is going on.
The British might not be as well-known for horror films as film giants like America, but we’ve got a few cult classics tucked under our belts, and not just from the Hammer Horror stable. These are the sort of films which might make you laugh, cringe or flinch at their outdatedness, but also have the ability to be sinister and beautiful, comedic but creepy. Here are four of the (in my opinion) weirdest British horror films. No high-school slashers here…
This film is worth watching for Vincent Price’s ‘English’ accent alone. In some ways out of his comfort zone, he takes a turn as a truly nasty character in this period horror drama. From first glance, you could mistake Witchfinder General for a historical biopic of the sinister witchfinder Matthew Price; not your conventional horror villain, but as repulsive as any bad guy you’ve witnessed on celluloid. The film follows him travelling across the 17th century countryside on a mission to put to death as many ‘witches’ as he can find; all, supposedly, in the name of God.
The film is deeply unsettling in its bloody approach, relentlessly presenting the torture of the accused witches in a way that requires a trigger warning for rape. The end will leave you rooting for the good guys to overcome Hopkins as well as leave you with a heightened awareness that horror hasn’t always been fictional.
Creepy woodland setting? Done. Werewolves? You got it. Latent sexual symbolism and Angela Lansbury? Umm, sure.
If you’ve read Angela Carter‘s The Bloody Chamber you’ll know where this film derived its influence from. The storyline takes the classic Red Riding Hood tale and weaves it into an adult fairy tale on sexuality and gender roles. Men, in short, are the wolves who prey on Red Riding Hood and seek to steal her obvious virginity.
The Company of Wolves comes with some decent scares, though you can tell the special effects people had fun trying to demonstrate the transition of man to monster with gory if outdated effects. The other imagery of the film is something you could only associate with Angela Carter: a wedding party of wolves, the devil in a chauffeured Rolls Royce… This film is incredibly imaginative in its visuals and imagery, and will leave you with a disturbing new appreciation of the original tale.
Don’t write this film off because of its bad wigs and slightly dodgy acting. Pier’s Haggard’s 70’s period horror drama is easily one of the most unique and gruesome horror films made to date.
It is the story of a 17th century rural village whose child inhabitants have become possessed by the devil. Pretty standard so far, but the film crosses all known taboos of children in horror and is probably one of the creepiest horror movies ever made. The film opens as a farmer finds the detached eye of a demon under the soil, unleashing terror across the village.
Visually beautiful, every aesthetic detail is accounted for, including the terrifying countryside rituals of the devil children right down to devil’s daughter Angel Blake’s weird eyebrows (this is the first film where eyebrows could ever be described as ‘unsettling’).
The rural countryside setting makes this film extra creepy, though a large trigger warning is needed, as there are some truly nasty scenes. It’s worth watching for its originality, sheer creepiness and the ability to get under your skin. It won’t make you want to sleep with the light on, but it might make you want to avoid isolated woodlands for a long while.
The Wicker Man is essentially a musical. Yes, a musical, and no, it isn’t anything like Rocky Horror. It’s as warped as all the above horror films put together, and – truly innovative in style – still blessed with the ability to shock, disgust, and amuse.
Intertwining elements of both traditional horror and dark comedy, the plot sees a bemused policeman sent to a Scottish island full of sexually-driven and downright weird inhabitants to find a missing girl. There he encounters the islanders having sex on gravestones, children’s sweets in the shape of women’s sexual organs and naked girls jumping over fires in fertility rituals.
Oh yes, did I mention this was the film where Britt Ekland as the pagan temptress Willow tries to seduce the police protagonist by beating her hands up against his bedroom wall whilst completely butt naked? Because that happens.
Just when you start to think the whole film is some sort of outdated but funny joke, the real, terrifying secret of the islanders is introduced in the form of the Wicker man, creating one of the most sickening and creepy endings in British horror history. For any self-respecting horror movie fan it is a must – see it not only for its sheer stylistic brilliance, but also to spot veteran horror actor Christopher Lee in a less conventional role as the master of the island, Lord Summerisle.
The next time you and your friends decide to watch a horror movie, suggest one of these for a unconventional night in of paganism, sexual symbolism and musical numbers. You know it mocks sense.
And let’s not forget the modern psychedelic masterpiece A Field in England…