The best British horror films of all time

‘Ey up, horror lovers! It's the Best British horror films of all time, just because. And as it's proms season, let's have a sing: "Land of hope and GORY..."

The Wicker Man (1973)

Edward Woodward (if you can read that without thinking ‘ee-wah woo-wah’, you didn’t listen to your dad’s jokes closely enough) plays a puritanical policeman sent to investigate disappearances on the remote Summerisle, which turns out have a sort of Royston Vasey-meets-Burning Man vibe.

What it says about Britain: Yeah, the Romans came over here, building their baths, making their roads, but we’re all just pagans at heart aren’t we. Put a Brit on a remote island for long enough and we’ll be nailing crows to trees with the best of them.

Best bit: So many. The beetle on a string in a school desk. Britt Ekland’s body double’s bum. The sheer beauty of ‘Willow’s Song’. But it has to be the madness of the Maypole scene for sheer British eccentricity.


An American Werewolf In London (1981)

We Brits love it when fellas from over the pond come and cock a skewed eye on our damp, triangular nation. Bill Bryson made a career out of it, and we lost out cos we sent Louis Theroux in return. Here, director John Landis plays on Hammer horror tropes of foggy moors and dark alleyways for a post-modern werewolf yarn that’s not been bettered since.

What it says about Britain: We’ll take your werewolves in, sure mate. This is why Brexit happened, probably.

Best bit: When the tourists go to The Slaughtered Lamb. The pub’s clientele are scarier than the wolf.

Eden Lake (2008)

An early Michael Fassbender role, this overlooked modern classic concerns two middle class city slickers who voyage out to the country and meet the locals. Not bumpkins but then-very-of-the-moment ‘chavs’ (to use the period term), whose moral code is seriously off-whack. Some of the scenes in here are so shocking you’ll lose your picnic lunch.


What it says about Britain: The country was in the grip of a tabloid-sponsored moral panic about ‘hoodies’ at the time. This film made that fear into pitch-black satire.

Best bit: Every moment Jack O’Connell is on screen being a total, total, bastard.

The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

A classic of the early ‘70s British horror boom, the singular Vincent Price plays a concert organist out to wreak revenge on the medical team who let his wife die four years earlier. The twist? His methods are inspired by the Ten Plagues Of Egypt. Oh, and he keeps his embalmed wife at home in a sarcophagus. Abominable indeed!

What it says about Britain: In the era of Carry On films, this camp-as-the-Kardashians, art deco-themed, madly inventive horror had a quintessentially British feel. The moments where Phibes plays his organ make hims something approaching the Phantom of Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

Best bit: Phibes pumping a plague of locusts into one of his victim’s rooms.

Straw Dogs (1971)

Deeply controversial on its release, this brutal thriller saw an American academic (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife (Susan George) retreat to the Cornish countryside, where the locals take against them. Modern day viewers will balk at the cat left hanging in the bedroom wardrobe, but the film’s notoriety stems from a brutal rape scene that’s still difficult to watch.

What it says about Britain: More fear of the rural, a recurring theme in many British films.

Best bit: The inevitable revenge.

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s films date faster than a salad in the sun, but his whizzy take on the zombie movie is a classic of the genre and, arguably – along with The Walking Dead, the reason for its latter-day revival. His best innovation? Fast zombies.

What it says about Britain: If in trouble and in London, head to Manchester. Hell, that’s what a generation of priced-out Millennials are doing, right?

Best bit: The scenes in central London where bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) is eerily alone.

Calibre (2018)

A recent addition to Netflix, this film sees, yes, two city slickers go to, yeees, the countryside where, yeeeees, the locals take against them. Seriously, have any directors actually been to the countryside? It’s just full of people reading The Telegraph, old men in lame motorbike gangs and delightful tea shops. Anyway, these two go hunting, shoot a deer and – whoops – something else by accident, too.

What it says about Britain: Even in 2018, the countryside is apparently still very, very scary. Careful on the drive to your next festival, kids.

Best bit: The escalating terror for the two protagonists as the chances of escaping their plight get slimmer and slimmer.

Sightseers (2012)

A couple go on a caravan tour around some of Britain’s oddest tourist attractions (including the world famous Derwent Pencil Museum, always worth a look) but soon get distracted by an all-too-tempting killing spree.

What it says about Britain: We rule the world in the crap tourist attraction stakes. And killers Chris and Tina have echoes of Fred and Rose West.

Best bit: The petty reasons for their kills. One man dies because he refuses to pick his litter up after himself. Fair play.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

This classic cerebral thriller finds a couple in Venice mourning the death of their daughter. But is she really dead? Not according to the creepy AF psychics they meet.

What it says about Britain: Well, this one is actually British-Italian co-production, but what could be more British than working with our European cousins to create wonderful art? Yeah, you get me.

Best bit: Creepy, half-glimpses of the girl in the red coat.

The Vault Of Horror (1973)

Produced by Amicus, a rival of Hammer Horror, this is a prime example of the portmanteau horror – a series of tales with a linking plot, which in this case – and pretty much all others – is that the tale tellers are dead and in some sort of purgatory. Yes that’s a spoiler but you’ve had 45 years to watch it.

What it says about Britain: We used to make amazing films with a budget of about five and six.

Best bit: Former Doctor Who Tom Baker’s turn in Drawn & Quartered, the final story, in which he plays artist Moore, who gets an Haiitian priest to give his painting hand special voodoo power. He performs it like a Carnaby Street dandy auditioning for Rada and it’s brilliant.


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