By my reckoning, 2010 has been a bumper year for British horror with no fewer than 32 UK horror features given a commercial release, exactly twice the number in 2009. However, judging something like this is an inexact science and I fully expect that almost everyone will disagree with me on some inclusion or exclusion on my list.
There are three things that need to be addressed when compiling a checklist of British horror films from 2010: what constitutes 'horror', what constitutes 'British' and what constitutes a 2010 release? Actually, one also needs to address what constitutes 'a feature film'. To deal with the last point first, a feature film has to be a minimum of 70 minutes long, allegedly because Blockbuster will not stock anything shorter than that. I think we also have to use the criterion that a film is something which has been made with the specific intention of distribution by some means other than television. Defining 'horror' is also a no-win situation because one person's horror movie is another person's thriller. For example, there was quite a lot of publicity, on both sides of the Atlantic, around The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which pushed the film as a horror movie - yet nothing I could find in that publicity suggested it was anything except a thriller about a kidnapping. Still, I suppose we'll have to include it. Lord knows that much of the time publicists are desperate to play down the horror aspects of a film ('Yes, it's got vampires, werewolves, zombies and giant scorpions who all attack a small town as part of a curse cast by a 16th century witch - but it's really more of a psychological thriller'), so let's embrace this atypical reversal of the trend.
I didn't see Alice Creed, despite all the publicity I was sent. In fact I can only claim to have seen eight of the 32 films on my list. I'd love to be a UK horror completist but who has the time when the average is one new film every 11 days? One picture I did catch was Surviving Evil, which popped up on DVD in October, establishing a brand new sub-genre as the first ever British aswang movie (it's a type of traditional Filipino monster). This is one of those borderline British features: set in the Philippines, shot in South Africa, with a significant amount of US funding (and an American star - one Billy Zane). But the corporate financial malarkey means that it counts as a British film because it meets certain funding criteria like having a British director and a mostly British cast and crew. Unfortunately, Surviving Evil is a bit of a dud, good on characterisation (director Terence Daw mostly works on TV soaps) but falling apart when the world's least scary aswangs turn up.
Still it was something different, I suppose.
Identifying a film with a specific year is also problematic. For a start, on the independent scene there is often a big lag between shooting and release. Darren Ward's extremely nasty A Day of Violence was shot in the summer of 2007 but didn't make it onto DVD until August last year. Okay, let's call that a 2010 film. But a lot of the films which were made generally available last year played festival dates in 2009: titles like Tony, Salvage and The Reeds. If we also call those 2010 films it means we're ignoring the calendar year when they actually played on cinema screens, including their nominal premieres.
For a jobbing film reviewer who is in the fortunate position of being sent screeners fresh from the Avid and occasional invites to cast-and-crew shows, this creates additional problems (oh, my life is so hard!). So I've got to include John Rackham's cheap-but-gripping psycho-in-the-woods feature Bloodmyth on my list (even though I first reviewed it back in April 2009) because it was released, in the USA, in May 2010. But one of the favourite films that I watched in 2010, the hugely entertaining multi-director anthology Bordello Death Tales (which, curiously, shares a character with the completely different A Day of Violence) will have to wait and be counted as a 2011 picture. And that's before we consider the increasingly popular area of online distribution, which was how the first British horror release of 2010, Louis Melville's dreamlike Man Who Sold the World, debuted in January. Full of ghostly schoolboys, secret cults, time travel and Nazis, the film plays like a particularly weird Avengers episode. The other January release, which likewise almost certainly passed under your radar, was horror comedy The Vampires of Bloody Island, self-distributed by the makers through their website (with a BBFC certificate so it's all legit). I haven't seen this one, and maybe it is indeed as hilarious as they claim, but the lack of objective reviews anywhere makes me somewhat wary.
February saw a DVD release for Cut, directed by Dominic Burns and starring no less than Zach Galligan (Gremlins! Gremlins 2! Waxwork! Er, Waxwork 2!) who came over to the UK to introduce a couple of theatrical screenings. The unique angle of this one was that the whole thing was done in one continuous take, like Hitchcock's Rope but without the need to disguise a reel-change every 20 minutes. Gerard Johnson's serial killer character study Tony was also released after a nominal theatrical release and festival acclaim.
Gareth Jones's creature feature Salvage, which hit cinemas (briefly) and DVD shelves in March, was inspired by wrecked container ship Napoli and filmed in the Liverpool close where they used to make 'Brookside'. That same month saw the release of Catherine Taylor's vampire film Temptation, a movie which passed me by so completely that I was surprised to see it on my list and had to look it up on IMDb to find out what it was. Then there was Anthony DiBlasi's Dread (an Anglo-American adaptation of Clive Barker's only completely non-supernatural story) and Nick Cohen's stay-off-the-Broads scarefest The Reeds. Both were released Stateside as part of the 'After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For' package but only the former has so far made it to Region 2.
April was quiet except for the aforementioned shoehorn-it-in Alice Creed thriller but May brought another quartet of UK horrors including the also aforementioned Bloodmyth. John Rackham, normally in front of the camera in actioners like Ten Dead Men, made this one-man-band don't-go-in-the-woods indie and compensated for the low production values with a smart script and empathetic characters. I was annoyed to miss Heartless, Philip Ridley's entry in the 'hoodie horror' sub-genre, a mere 14 years after The Passion of Darkly Noon. On the other hand, I did manage to catch Christopher Smith's medieval horror knockout Black Death (see July's Blog). The fourth film this month was Jonathan Glendening's zombie picture SNUB (= Secret Nuclear Underground Bunker) which I don't think was caught by anyone at all. Set the day after a nuclear attack, it must surely qualify as the most immediately post-apocalyptic film in all of post-apocalypse cinema. Between 2000 and 2006, Adam Mason directed five features, culminating in the grizzly, bleak survivalist-psycho tale Broken. But his latest film, Blood River, seems to have slipped out barely noticed. It was released in the UK in July but I'm including it here because it actually made its DVD debut in May - in Japan.
June brought us Zombie Women of Satan (I've not heard great things, to be honest) but also one of my favourite films of the year, Ozgur Uyanik's Resurrecting 'The Street Walker'. A gripping study in ruinous obsession, this smart and original picture tells of how an office dogsbody in a tuppenny-ha'penny film company tries to complete an unfinished video nasty. Aside from its qualities as a horror movie, this is also a very accurate look at the shoddier side of Wardour Street in the 21st century. I don't really know anything about Reg Traviss's ghost story Vivid or Brad Watson's supernatural techno-thriller Beacon77 that you couldn't find out for yourself from the IMDb but you'll need to look them up by the retitlings under which they were released in July - respectively Psychosis and The 7th Dimension. (Watson's film was actually announced in publicity as The Fourth Dimension - I'd love to know whether that was a last-minute change of mind or just a PR company secretary who couldn't read someone's handwriting.)
Everything was a bit grim in August, with A Day of Violence featuring one of the most stomach-churning castration effects I've ever done my best to avoid seeing. Although even that wasn't as frightening as the false beard sported by Italian guest star Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Darren Ward's film is a great step on from his 1997 giallo-esque Sudden Fury but it's definitely only for those who like their horror savage rather than spooky. Amazingly for a British gangster pic, it doesn't have Danny Dyer in it but he did turn up this month in cinemas, briefly, in Asham Kamboj's claustrophobic Basement. Dyer also found time for a cameo at the end of Steven Lawson's Dead Cert, which pitted voracious vampires against geezer gangsters in a sort of British From Dusk Till Dawn. Billy Murray gave a terrific performance as a character who would have been more explicity stated as Dracula himself if the director had managed to film the whole script. I discussed Johannes Roberts' terrific quasi-supernatural hoodie horror F in the October Blog but my Blog on werewolf movies didn't mention the two British films which popped up in a handful of UK cinemas the previous month. 13 Hours is the second film in our list from Jonathan Glendening and seems to have garnered generally better reviews than SNUB. The critics were less kind to Simeon Halligan's Splintered, but it shows that there's always a market for a good lycanthropesque creature feature.
Traditionally October is the busiest month for horror movie releases and November the quietest. That's because anything which might have been planned to go out in November gets pulled forward a month when distributors check their calendars and spot that Halloween is on the same date as last year. Again. In 2010, you had a two-for-one deal on films with 'Devil' in the title but no actual Satanism. The second feature from Steven Lawson for producer Jonathan Sothcott, Devil's Playground, was an enjoyable zombie romp (once it eventually got going). Young Daniel Dyer starred alongside other folks from Sothcott's stock company including debonair Colin Salmon, career-revival hard man Craig Fairbrass and elegantly rising star Lisa McAllister. Or you could try The Devil's Music, Pat Higgins's hugely impressive mock-rock-shock-doc which took a clever and subtle angle on spooky goings-on in the pop music biz. Higgins is now working with Sothcott, writing the screenplay for - I kid you not - Strippers vs Werewolves.
Probably the two highest profile releases of the year were Let Me In, the revived Hammer Swedish-vampire-remake which surprised everyone by completely failing to be a massive disappointment, and Gareth Edwards's Monsters. Shot cheaply in central America with a cast and crew totalling four people, Edwards's sci-fi road movie boasts amazing effects, marvellously impressive use of existing locations and powerful central performances. Film of the year for me. October also saw the previously discussed Surviving Evil and an American limited theatrical release for Red, White and Blue, the latest disturbing feature from Simon Rumley whose work has always been defiantly different.
And then it all goes quiet, pretty much. Neil Jones's eagerly-awaited comedy-horror Stag Night of the Dead was made available online in November and Colm McCarthy's Outcast - witchcraft on a Scottish council estate starring her off Doctor Who - made it to DVD in December. Which I believe makes 32.
How many did you watch? Come to that, how many were you even aware of?
British horror films are booming like they've never done before but you have to stay alert to catch them..
Happy new year, and here's to the horrors to come in 2011!
MJ Simpson has been writing since he found out which end of a pencil makes a mark. After editing sci-fi fan club mags he spent three years on the staff of SFX and helped to launch Total Film before switching to freelance work for Fangoria, Shivers, Video Watchdog, DeathRay and numerous other cult movie magazines. He has a number of scripts in development and has been working on his third book, a biography of Elsa Lanchester, for a very long time but promises to have it finished very soon (-ish). Mike lives in Leicester with his wife, Mrs S, and his young son, TF Simpson. By day he edits the university's website and in the evenings he edits MJSimpson.co.uk. He should probably get out more.