Halloween Top Five Contemporary UK Horror DirectorsA column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
For my money, the best horror and fringe film making in the world over the last ten years has been coming out of the UK. Here are five of the most consistently entertaining UK directors to work almost exclusively in the horror genre – and when they branch out, they aren't shy about their roots.
Let's have a look, shall we?
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Neil Marshall launched himself onto the horror scene with a widely praised werewolf/action film, Dog Soldiers, starring Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd as members of a squad of British Army soldiers cornered in an abandoned house by werewolves. Marshall does a lot with very little money, creating an invigorating action adventure with some of the best werewolf effects in years. Don't look for a lot of emotions on display – this is a he-man manly action film.
The Descent (2005)
As if to offset all that testosterone, Marshall's follow-up is about a group of women who go caving and end up prey for mutant underground monsters. Although the film is mostly shot on soundstages with constructed caves, Marshall is able to create overwhelmingly claustrophobic scenes and genuinely thrilling horror sequences. This is probably the film that most people will associate with the director, but it's not my favorite.
Doomsday is my absolute favorite Neil Marshall film. It's a combination science fiction, horror, medieval action adventure with cannibals, knights, and day-after-tomorrow military experts. As with each of his films so far, this was written by Marshall, and with a budget three times larger than either of his previous films, he decided to throw everything he could into the mix with inspirations drawn from The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, Excalibur, The Omega Man, and more. It's a big, stupid, glorious mess that put a grin on my face from start to finish.
Centurion, on the other hand, is very entertaining to a point, but loses steam as it moves forward and shifts from a historical action adventure to what is essentially a chase film. It's still exciting and beautifully filmed as Michael Fassbender plays a Roman soldier trying to survive a guerrilla attack by Picts. It's not a bad film, but it lacks the sense of fun that Doomsday brought to the table.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is in pre-production now and on-schedule for a 2013 release. The film is inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula and follows the crew of the merchant ship Demeter, which is transporting Dracula's coffin from Transylvania to England. If you're familiar with the story, you should know that the ship arrives at port with no survivors on board. Spooky!
Bassett's first feature is a horror film set in the trenches of World War I, as a group of British soldiers stumble across a German encampment. Needless to say, scary, horrible things happen that cause everyone to doubt their sanity. As far as first films go, this is an ambitious and generally very successful attempt at crafting an original horror story. It's a little slow-moving at times, but the atmosphere and the imagination on display is well worth your time, especially if you're a fan of Andy Serkis.
Bassett's second feature follows Sean Pertwee as he takes a group of Young Offenders to an isolated island that once served as a British Army training area after the suicide of one of the inmates. Once away from civilization, the kids are brutally murdered one by one. It's a fairly low-key affair, but it's very realistic, suspenseful, and well done all around.
Solomon Kane (2009)
A labor of love, Solomon Kane was completed in 2009 and released in the UK, France, and Spain in 2010, but only made it stateside in 2012 (see our review here). James Purefoy stars as Robert E. Howard's Puritan supernatural adventurer and while the film gets off to a rollicking start, it eventually gets bogged down in CGI effects and limps across the finish line. Still, fans of the character (or of Purefoy) should find something to enjoy.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012)
Released just this weekend, I haven't had a chance to see it, but it looks like Bassett's grab at the brass ring. The opening day numbers weren't good and the projections are abysmal, but I still feel like fans should take a look. Bassett's a solid director who's had bad luck with financing and with getting his work in front of audiences. This sequel to a semi-successful video game franchise-in-waiting may not have been the best career choice to make, but it would have been damned hard to pass up and hopefully will help secure funding for work to come. Early reviews have at least given props to the visual design if not to the coherence of the story.
At the moment, Bassett is wrapping up work directing a couple of episodes of a new television series written by David S. Goyer, called Da Vinci's Demons as well as having directed two episodes of Strikeback. Bassett is currently scripting, and planning to direct, a serial killer film with Jeffrey Dean Morgan called The Unblinking Eye, but scheduling difficulties have moved the film to the back burner.
Smith's first feature length film tells the tale of a woman locked overnight in the London Underground and stalked by a deformed killer. It's a bit light on development, but is actually pretty damned creepy when all's said and done. This is a brutal and gory opening salvo, but showed a lot of promise.
That promise was fulfilled by Severance – the story of a group of employees heading out to the woods for a team-building weekend who end up getting hunted and murdered by a mysterious stranger. There's an emphasis on humor in this one that works better than it should thanks to Smith's inventive script and direction. It's almost as though Creep was a trial run and this time he got it just right.
Triangle is crazy. As inventive as the script for Severance was, Triangle takes it to a whole other level. It follows a similar basic trajectory as Smith's previous scripts, with a group of people in unfamiliar surroundings (this time it's an abandoned cruise ship) being hunted and murdered. Sort of. I'm not saying anything else, because this is one you need to see as spoiler-free as humanly possible. I'll just say that I LOVED IT.
Black Death (2010)
This is the film that most people might be familiar with, since it starred Sean Bean as a medieval knight on a quest to hunt down a necromancer rumored to be able to bring the dead back to life. Smith didn't write the script for this one, his first time working from someone else's initial ideas, but he pulls it all together and crafts a very realistic and effective action film with a disturbing twist ending. It's good stuff.
As of early last year, Smith was developing a new script about "how one decision can carve two entirely separate destinies." It's a modern US-based road movie/film noir. In addition to that he's also been attached to a film adaptation of the UK young adult book series CHERUB, about young people recruited by a division of the British Secret Service as intelligence agents. According to a couple of interviews, he's also working on a practical-effects driven werewolf film.
This was a bit of a surprise, to be honest, but having Ray Stevenson and Michael Smiley as two of the leads, I should have expected nothing less than a damned fine piece of action and suspense. What we have here is the story of a group of mercenaries riding into the shittiest part of Eastern Europe to find a secret Nazi weapon, forgotten about since WWII. And once they find the old bunker where it is housed, Nazi Ghost Zombies start showing up. How can you go wrong with Ray Stevenson vs. Nazi Ghost Zombies? Answer: You can't.
Outpost: Black Sun (2012)
Barker returns to the well for this one, and goddammit, he draws water. It's hard to mess up Nazi monsters attacking a heroic physicist and a cute twentysomething Nazi-hunting lady and their UK military entourage and Barker doesn't. He ups the scale, escalates the threat, and gives us the possibility of a whole new angle on the Outpost franchise. Hell, he establishes a franchise of a cute Nazi-hunting twentysomething lady hunting Nazi zombie ghosts! This is a no-brainer. And not only is the concept gold, he makes a damn fine looking film to boot.
Barker has written and will be directing the vampire film Blood Makes Noise, which is in development from the financers of each of his films so far, production company Black Camel Pictures. According the synopsis, it's about a corrupt cop going up against Eastern European vampires. Sounds like fun!
Down Terrace (2009)
After years working making short films and working in TV, Ben Wheatley released his first feature film in 2009: Down Terrace. This is a dark, dark comedy following the bloody hunt for an informant inside a Brighton crime family. While it's not technically horror, the body count and bleak humor lay the perfect groundwork for films to come.
Kill List (2011)
Many viewers found this to be one of the most disturbing films they'd seen and they're not far off. If A Serbian Film had been about UK hit men instead of pornographers, and had thrown in a healthy dose of The Wicker Man (the original, you philistines!) then it would have been Kill List. The accents are a bit thick at times, but damn, what starts out seeming to be a gritty, ultra-realistic look at a British family falling apart turns into a nightmare of brutality and violence.
Sightseers is the tale of a couple (played by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, Boosh and Darkplace fans!!!) taking a holiday across the North of England to get to know one another, only to find a number of problems getting in the way of their enjoyment. This one is completed and due in UK theatres on November 30, 2012. By all accounts, this is a violent comedy and Wheatley goes places that are very wrong, but oh, so right.
Later this year, he will also have a segment in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death – "U is for Unearthed", and according to IMDB, his first American film will be a monster movie currently titled Freakshift. He also has another UK feature due in 2013 called A Field in England, set during the English civil war and following a group of deserters captured by an alchemist and forced to search for hidden treasure while tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms. What else do you need to know?
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.