A cracking article (is there any other kind?!) in today's Film Guardian got me thinking again about how British horror might tie into your exam topic, an idea that initially took hold from watching Eden Lake (superb; very, very well crafted, with an utterly modern, mature final girl) some weeks ago.
The article - given a different title on the website for some reason - is worth reading in full; its rammed with quotes that could have been picked out by someone sitting your exam!
See http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/jun/10/horror-films-british-realism-gritty by Ryan Gilbey (11.6.10) [its copied in at the end of this post]
So, how does the contemporary resurgence of British horror, now achieving success on a scale not seen since the halcyon [successful!] days of Hammer Horror, tie into your exam you may ask?
Lets start with the future!
Budgetary constraints obviously have an effect on the look of UK horror movies: they simply can't compete with the good-looking US model populated by, well, good-looking US models. "We do gritty and realistic better than anyone else," says Kevorkian. "I don't think we have the budgets to do big elaborate horror films here, so we turn to a more reality-based horror, which is a hell of a lot more frightening."I'm surprised there's no mention in this article of two features that show that low-budget, digital film-making doesn't have to mean the £750k spent on Donkey Punch (£600k of which paid for the boat rental!) with government funding through the UKFC (as I blogged yesterday, a new report, coming as expectations rise of severe cuts in government funding/tax breaks for UK film, makes the argument that UK film is economically very important and should retain special funding).
"Money definitely has something to do with it," says Lawrence Gough, who financed Salvage with £250,000 from Northwest Vision and Media. "A big budget production here can mean £10m-£15m, whereas $40m (£28m) in the US would be considered cheap. There's also a tendency in British film-making toward realism, which I don't think the Americans share." [quoted from Gilbey's article]
What does Colin, the £45 Brit-zombie flick that managed to find a distributor and funding for a cinema release [see this post for more info], suggest about the future direction of UK film-making? [Its not horror, but the £25k Born of Hope and of course Shane Meadows' £48k, 5-day-shoot, Le Donk and Scor-Say-Zee, also tie into this]
It suggests that as production costs tumble with digitisation (Colin wasn't even shot on especially good cameras), not to mention the virtual eradication of distribution costs and opportunities to control exhibition yourself through a website or by using online giants such as YouTube and ignoring the cinema route, we should see many more British movies produced. And, on such low budgets, the traditional pressures to cast Americans and/or use a S.Eng setting/characters, is very much undermined.
Which brings me, briefly, to Alex Chandon's forthcoming Inbred (2011). As you tackle a paragraph or two discussing the debates around passive v active audience consider the Mayor of Thirsk. He's appalled that the film will give life to an old, negative stereotype of inbred rural Yorkshire folk, and is hoping to push the production out of Thirsk. He has no truck with the active audience theories. The film's basic narrative also highlights the strength of crude stereotypes amongst the UK population; it is not just for US audiences that our film-makers employ easily recognisable stereotypes. [The producers are looking for trainees and extras - see http://www.inbredmovie.com/getinvolved.php]
With you lot due in a few mins, I'll quickly jot down a few bullet points and come back to this if time permits
- PM David Cameron made much of 'broken Britain' during the election (and since)
- look at the descriptions of the horrors in the Gilbey article; aren't they at risk of reflecting and reinforcing this hegemonic view, which centres above all on the fecklessness of and immorality of youth?
- this ties into the moral panic concept
- Eden Lake is a good example; a bunch of amoral chavs terrorise some nice middle-class folk (the guy has a ring, ready to propose - more hegemony, painting marriage positively, another Tory focus as it happens
- the link to moral panic is quite explicit: they use their mobies to video some of their violence (an extreme version of happy slapping)
- in short, horror by its very nature explores the dark side, the negatives, of a society (as, generally, do social realist films), in stark contrast to the sweet, lovely (lets not forget monocultural: the black and Asian central protagonists of London-set films such as Bullet Boy and Kidulthood scarcely exist in...) Curtisland
The new wave of British horror films
Low-key concepts and limited budgets have given British horror films a gritty realism that is the envy of the industry – but can they ever really compete with their US rivals?
Unlike the western or the musical, the horror movie never seems to be under threat of extinction. The occasional phenomenon – a Blair Witch Project or a Paranormal Activity – helps to fortify its commercial appeal, as do hits like Scream or Hostel, which refresh the familiar conventions. But horror remains in perpetually good nick, not least in its UK outpost, from which some of the most inventive shockers of the last 10 years have emerged. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later kicked off a new wave of Brit horror in 2002, but it fell to emerging film-makers to properly paint the town blood-red, from Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) to Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), Michael J Bassett (Deathwatch, Wilderness) and Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance).In 2008, Johnny Kevorkian set his creepy debut The Disappeared on a Nil By Mouth-style housing estate, where hoodies stalk the concrete walkways like delinquent Grim Reapers, while Steven Sheil's Mum & Dad was a brilliantly grubby scare story about the sort of depraved family who might have enjoyed wine-and-cheese evenings with Fred and Rosemary West. Paul Andrew Williams didn't skimp on the gore in his rural monster movie The Cottage. And this year brought the release of Lawrence Gough's Salvage, which relocated the zombies and political commentary of Night of the Living Dead to the Merseyside cul-de-sac formerly known as Brookside Close. Then there are those titles that may have fallen below the radar of all but the most dedicated horror nut, such as Wild Country (werewolves in Scotland) or Gnaw (cannibals in Eastbourne)."It didn't feel like a new wave at the time," says Christopher Smith. "I was always just trying to get the next film going. But with hindsight, it's clear something was happening. It's extraordinary to think that Shaun of the Dead, The Descent and Creep all opened within a year."With the UK release schedule and production calendar spattered with horror movies, that momentum shows no sign of abating. The producers of Shaun of the Dead are behind Attack the Block, the directorial debut of Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe). A resurgent Hammer Films (which has co-produced Let Me In, the US remake of Let the Right One In) has announced it will turn Susan Hill's modern gothic novel, The Woman in Black, into a 3D extravaganza directed by James Watkins (writer of My Little Eye, Eden Lake and The Descent Part 2).Then there is Monsters, about infected creatures on the rampage in Mexico, and the bizarre Devil's Playground, which will sidestep the age-old horror-nerd question of "can zombies run?" by portraying a species of the undead who dabble in parkour, no less. Even non-UK talent is moving in for the kill, with J-horror pioneer Hideo Nakata directing a largely British cast in Chatroom, scripted by Hunger writer Enda Walsh, which premiered at Cannes this year.The UK film industry is understandably anxious to produce internationally appealing products, but one of the key qualities of the best British horror is the skill with which it turns cultural specificity to its advantage. Simon Sprackling, who co-wrote and co-produced The Reeds, a Norfolk Broads-set chiller pitched as "The Shining on a boat", believes this our trump card. "We're very different from the US because we have a proper gothic tradition," he says. "And we have a fatalism to our view of the world, knowing that things can't possibly work out well in the end."One of the inspirations for The Reeds was the case of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who was imprisoned for shooting dead a teenage burglar. "Part of what informs British horror is the old adage of 'write what you know'. Those things on the news or in the papers that scare us tend to reverberate through our films, which is how you get a lot of horror now that is urban-based."Kevorkian agrees. "With The Disappeared, I had the idea of taking something many of us pass every day — a council estate — and turning it into a haunted-house setting. Despite the fact that these estates are in central, built-up locations, I wanted to create a sense of isolation and abandonment."Smith also highlights cultural idiosyncrasies in much of his work, from Creep, set in the tunnels of the London Underground, to Severance, about a team-building exercise gone wrong, and his gory new medieval thriller Black Death, which is in the grungy spirit of Witchfinder General. "Contemporary British horror automatically feels grotty, but in a good way," he says. "Look at Mum & Dad, which is such a horrible film, but also really great."Budgetary constraints obviously have an effect on the look of UK horror movies: they simply can't compete with the good-looking US model populated by, well, good-looking US models. "We do gritty and realistic better than anyone else," says Kevorkian. "I don't think we have the budgets to do big elaborate horror films here, so we turn to a more reality-based horror, which is a hell of a lot more frightening.""Money definitely has something to do with it," says Lawrence Gough, who financed Salvage with £250,000 from Northwest Vision and Media. "A big budget production here can mean £10m-£15m, whereas $40m (£28m) in the US would be considered cheap. There's also a tendency in British film-making toward realism, which I don't think the Americans share."In common with TV counterparts such as Being Human and Psychoville, much of the new wave of horror celebrates uniquely British elements. You can practically hear the glottal stops in a concept like Dead Cert, a low-budget, gangsters-v-vampires movie shot in Dagenham with Guy Ritchie regular Jason Flemyng, and the smell of livestock and ale hangs around Alex Chandon's horror-comedy Inbred, in which Yorkshire teenagers on community service are preyed on by sinister villagers.More unsettling to financiers and distributors than anything supernatural is the matter of whether such films will travel beyond UK borders. "The US is a consideration when you're putting a film together," says Sprackling. "You don't want it to be, but it is. It's much easier to sell a film internationally if you have American characters in it. It's a simple fact. The value of your movie is reduced without that." He cites the model of Adrift, a thriller released in some territories as Open Water 2. With its English-language script, highly marketable stranded-at-sea premise and US cast, most audiences didn't even realise it was German. Sprackling's next script, he tells me, will feature two American characters. "If you can get someone from Glee in it, you can make the film at a level where you can pay the crew properly.""If your characters are British, there is already a subtle problem for some US audiences," says Smith. "We should remember that films which we consider classics, like The Wicker Man, didn't travel well. The exceptions are usually US horror films made here — The Omen or An American Werewolf in London. They can come here with their stars, but somehow we're not able to export it."Smith moved away from straight horror with his last film, Triangle, while he describes Black Death as "more of a horror story than a horror movie – it doesn't set out to scare you, but it's about a scary world". Still, he is already planning a return to the genre in which he made his name. In the scale of his vision, there might just be a way for British horror to compete commercially with its Hollywood equivalent."It's about the brand," he says. "You need a great costume, a great monster, a Freddy Krueger. To make one of those is an ambition of mine. I feel now like I imagine Wes Craven felt before A Nightmare on Elm Street: he'd proved what he could do, so it became all about moving up a gear. The way we'd have to do it would be to get one of our English brands and put that into a polished kind of product. How Richard Curtis and Guy Ritchie have done so well is to give a polish to something very British. Without the polish it doesn't travel, and you don't get the breakout franchise. Get Jack the Ripper, say, with the right stars and budget level, and you could definitely sell that in America."But even among the film-makers responsible for the future of British horror, there is some disagreement over whether this country could ever produce a megahit on the scale of Paranormal Activity. "I think we could do it," says Kevorkian. "People are making horror films more easily with the smaller cameras that are out now. I really believe that one of those will become the next Blair Witch or Paranormal."Smith isn't so sure. "I was asking myself that question the other day. I came to the conclusion that it couldn't happen. One thing you need is that huge platform to release it on; it needs to come out in America first to have that degree of impact. And it wouldn't work somehow. Nicole Kidman in a mansion in The Others felt right because she was posh. If you haven't got posh, then forget it. I don't think we could make a film with some Londoners in a house going, 'Oi, 'ang on, there's a ghost 'ere.'"The Disappeared is out now on DVD. The Reeds will be released later this year.