It’s become a bit of a cliché amongst fans of horror cinema to claim that the genre is way past its golden age.
Given the mainstream output of the genre – generic haunted house movies and lazy found footage – it’s easy to see where that sort of cynicism originates. However, when you scratch below the surface, the horror genre remains a rich and intriguing source of terror.
The United Kingdom is known for its horror films, with the Hammer studio iconic for its work with classic monsters and grisly thrills. Here are ten British horror films proving that, in the new millennium, the soggier side of the Atlantic continues to be the master of the macabre.
10. Stitches (2012)
Released a few years ago, Stitches is a thoroughly bizarre example of what British horror films do very well – dark comedy.
Surreal comedian Ross Noble stars as a clown who returns from the dead to get revenge on the kids who caused his death at an ill-fated birthday party. He dispatches the youngsters, now horny teens, at a party in increasingly gruesome fashion, complete with groanworthy one-liners.
Stitches is not a slick film by any stretch of the imagination, but its pitch-black humour and impressive practical effects make it a really enjoyable one.
9. In Fear (2013)
Made on a tiny budget, In Fear is a prime example of how to eke maximum scares from a premise.
Director Jeremy Lovering kept his cast in the dark as to what was going to happen, creating a realism that enhances the already intense atmosphere of the film’s claustrophobic country lanes.
Believable performances from the main characters and a real sense of creepy ambiguity create a hell of a setup for horror. Even as the credits roll, there’s a lot that is left unsaid and unexplained, but that does nothing to neuter the chills that the film masterfully conjures during its concise running time.
8. Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)
If ever a film was going to struggle to live up to its title, it was Cockneys vs. Zombies. However, with Doctor Who and Torchwood writer James Moran on scripting duties, the result is a delightfully silly British horror film.
The first masterstroke of the film is casting a selection of genuine acting royalty as the population of an old people’s home besieged by the undead. Anyone who isn’t excited by the spectacle of Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore and Snatch’s Brick Top duffing up zombies is probably emotionally dead already.
The film does exactly the right thing and places its tongue firmly in its cheek from the first scene to the last. Cockneys vs. Zombies is a joyful ride that shows just how funny Britain can make a horror film.
7. Tower Block (2012)
James Moran makes his second appearance on this list with tense horror-thriller Tower Block.
The film is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, starring surging young actor Jack O’Connell who recently stunned audiences with the blistering, brutal prison drama Starred Up. Alongside Sheridan Smith, he leads the residents of the titular structure in their battle to avoid a mysterious sniper who is experly picking them off.
Tower Block packs some excellent twists and turns. It gets a lot out of its simple premise, masterfully ratcheting up the tension even as the plot reaches its ludicrous conclusion.
6. The Borderlands (2013)
Deeply atmospheric and pant-wettingly scary, The Borderlands takes the tired gimmick of found footage and uses it to spin a terrifying yarn in a haunted church.
Speaking to me over the summer, producer Jennifer Handorf said involvement in the film was a “no-brainer” and it’s easy to see what persuaded her. The Borderlands builds its scares through sustained chills rather than gratuitous jump scares, leading to a finale that is utterly devastating.
It’s a film that deserves a much bigger audience than it got on its limited cinema run. As critic Mark Kermode said in his vlog review, it’s a British horror film that really gets under its audience’s skin.
5. The Woman in Black (2012)
Daniel Radcliffe did a great deal to move away from the career spectre of Harry Potter with Hammer horror movie The Woman in Black. Radcliffe played lawyer Arthur Kipps, who encountered increasingly macabre happenings as he dealt with the affairs of a deceased woman in her huge, empty house.
The film was criticised by some for simply presenting a litany of random jump scares. However, every jump was choreographed perfectly by director James Watkins to conjure a palpable sense of dread, which really helped the film work.
As has always been the way with Hammer, The Woman in Black already has a sequel in the pipeline. It remains to be seen whether it’s up to scratch, but the first film is an excellent example of modern British horror.
4. Kill List (2010)
Ben Wheatley is one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working in genre cinema. His psychedelic Civil War film A Field in England was considered a horror film by many, but his best work in the genre is the bizarre hitman film Kill List.
For most of its running time, Kill List plays out simply as a bizarre twist on the crime thriller. However, it takes a turn towards insanity in its third act that marks it out as something truly shocking and terrifying.
Wheatley has a real eye for the absurd and Neil Maskell’s central performance is nothing short of perfection.
3. Eden Lake (2008)
Covered from head to toe in grue and darkness, Eden Lake is an utterly brutal exploitation movie that marked James Watkins out as a real force in British horror films.
Before he polished his style for The Woman In Black, Watkins embraced dirt and gore for this tale of a suburban couple terrorised by a gang of increasingly violent youths. Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly are fantastic, with Jack O’Connell providing a charismatic viciousness as the ringleader of the violence.
Shocking and stunning in equal measure, Eden Lake is an excellent movie that combines brash visual scares with plenty of menace bubbling under the surface.
2. The Descent (2005)
Claustrophobia is an important part of the toolkit for any burgeoning horror filmmaker. Neil Marshall’s The Descent takes that tool and places it front and centre to create arguably the scariest film of the last two decades.
Marshall’s film takes a group of daredevil women and places them into a terrifying network of caves. Even before they are pursued by deformed beasties, there is an unsettling feeling to the film that creates real foreboding.
The film’s claustrophobic style has been imitated many times, including by recent found footage film As Above So Below, but The Descent remains the best example of claustro-horror.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead is, quite simply, a modern classic and one of the best British horror films of all time. The first, and best, film of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, it’s the perfect blend of horror, romance and comedy.
Simon Pegg gives the best performance of his career as everyman Shaun, who reasons his way through a zombie apocalypse in order to save the people that he loves. The jokes land, the script is enormously quotable and the nods to genre classics are perfectly pitched.
Everything about Shaun of the Dead screams Britishness, from its all-star cast to the glorious filth of its humour. It’s the perfect depiction of just how well the UK can manage horror cinema, with a streak of humour that pulses through its veins.
Do you agree with my list of the best recent British horror films? Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed out any of your favourites.