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    From its very inception, Great Britain audiences had a tendency to treat cinema in general as “low brow” entertainment.  In a nation schooled in the works of the Bard, middle class theatre lovers looked down upon the new cultural medium as little more than a mindless distraction for the “lesser educated” working class and as a result, Britain was often prone to some of the most draconian film censorship in western civilization.  Although they had many great exports, such as Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Charles Laughton and of course Alfred Hitchcock, its own horror output during the 1920s through the 1940s was somewhat minimalist and limited.
 
    In the post WWII era however, this slowly began to change and from the 1950s into the early 1970s, Britain entered its “golden era” of horror cinema that could rival the output of any other country around the globe.  With a rich tradition of literary horror, sci-fi and fantasy, such as Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, M.R. James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or H.G. Wells, it is maybe inevitable that much of the early British horror cinema was within this traditional, supernatural or often gothic vein.
 
    Although not unique to British horror, it is maybe the influence of this literary heritage that plays a large part in what gives the golden age of British horror its identity; a quite, dark, creeping menace portrayed by the “gentlemen of horror”, such as Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, following in the footsteps of Karloff from over two decades earlier.
 
    In an age of American atomic monsters, schlock shocks and communist paranoia, this British onslaught, led primarily by Hammer studios, would see a revival of the gothic styled horrors of Universal’s glory years of the early 1930s, that would create a tremor of influence and imitators, not only within their own country, but around the globe that lasted through most of the 1960s.  High-class horror on a low budget would become another key factor in the British film horror identity, giving films a more stylish appearance than most American genre output of the period.
 
    With Hammer’s decline in the 1970s, British horror moved away from the traditional, further into an age of modern exploitation cinema where audiences had become more demanding; wanting more sex and violence on screen than the golden era had provided.  While in terms of plot these films could be set anywhere on the planet and certainly they took many influences from American or European cinema, they retained a certain look and feel that was unmistakably British…they were swingin’ London in the 60s or mohawked punks of the 70s or holding a stiff upper lip while talking about the Empire and taking cream tea with the vicar in the 1930s!
 
    By the early 1980s, British horror and the independent British film industry as a whole was in decline, so that only a handful of notable horror titles surfaced throughout the entire decade.  By the early 1990s Brit-horror was painfully thin on the ground.  In more recent years there has seen somewhat of a resurgence in horror cinema, and while maybe the cultural identity isn’t quite so strong as it once was, many films from this reborn horror cannon have received a strong reception in foreign markets, showing that British horror maybe isn’t dead… it’s just been taking a well deserved nap!

Introduction written by Matt Black,
Creator of Where Shadows Fall


 

 

 

MISC. BRITISH HORROR