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History of British Horror

A brief overview of the history of British horror, from Hammer to the present day. As used with AS Film Studies. Some quotes taken from 'Beyond Hammer' by James Rose, an excellent book to accompany any study of this topic.

Nikki Simpkins

on 15 January 2016

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Transcript of History of British Horror

The History of British Horror
Hammer releases 'The Curse of Frankenstein' and initates the first truly successful period of British horror films.
In response to horror material from the US, such as Universal's 'Frankenstein', the advisory category 'H' (for horror) was agreed in 1932, to indicate the potential unsuitability for children of the horror theme.
Controversial subjects on film were accommodated in the UK under the new 'X' category, introduced in 1951. This limited audience to those over 16 years and incorporated the former advisory 'H' category given to horror films.
1970 saw major changes to the category system. The minimum age for 'X' certificate films rose from 16 to 18. The old 'A' was split to create a new advisory 'A' which warned parents that a film in this category would contain some material that parents might prefer their children under 14 not to see, and a new 'AA' certificate which essentially acted as a 14 rating.
In 1982 'A' was changed to 'PG', 'AA' was changed to '15' and 'X' became '18'. A new category 'R18' was introduced which permitted more explicit sex films to be shown in members-only clubs.
In 1989 the BBFC introduced the '12' certificate on film, to bridge the huge gap between 'PG' and '15'. The first film to be given a '12' rating was Batman.
In 2002, the new '12A' category replaced the '12' category for film only, and allows children under 12 to see a '12A' film, provided that they are accompanied throughout by an adult.
Hammer Studios were awarded the Queen's Award for Industry for their contribution in raising the profile of British Cinema.
Hammer's output was considered a unique body of film marked by the 'stamp' of the
studio's style
; gothic iconography in a historical, fog shrouded setting all linking back to literature. Although Hammer was often considered a '
' there were significant complexities in the content of the films that reflected the contextual '
' of contemporary society; predominantly the increasing sense of
male insecurity
rising out of a British (
) society where women were establishing themselves in the nation's workforce simultaneously
fragmenting the family 'order'
traditional ideologies of masculinity
. Male heroes and weak female victims of horror were ideal for manipulation to reflect these concerns and
relaxing censorship
elevated this effect.
Hammer's films established many of
conventions of British horror
but the use of the 'monster' is perhaps one of the most interesting. In the Hammer films the monsters (e.g. Baron Frankenstein's creature) is more
a construct of evil
rather than being fundamentally evil - it is outside powers, against his control that cause him to become what he does. The audience are made to
sympathise with the 'monster
' through his
and question the emotional value of this 'villain'. These sorts of human monsters replace the supernatural, pure evil monsters seen before in Hollywood horror.
The seventies saw the release of a number of provocative films overseas, for example Straw Dogs (1971), and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both of which contained controversial rape scenes. Also Ken Russell’s The Devils(1971), which was accused of blasphemy, Last Tango in Paris (1972), which was accused of being 'obscene' and The Exorcist (1973), which was accused of having a psychologically damaging effect on young people. In the case of each of these films, the decision of the BBFC to award an 'X' was overturned by a number of local authorities. Pressure groups such as The Festival of Light, and Lord Longford’s Committee on Pornography also placed immense pressure on the BBFC, in a backlash against what was perceived as liberalisation having gone too far.
'The Wickerman', now a cult classic, is released. Suceeding where Hammer could not 'The Wickerman' brings horror into contemporary society by subverting many of the established conventions to explore some of the important key issues of the time, especially the sexual liberation of youth culture versus the traditional values of the establishment.
With the increase in competition from television and the rise in popularity of other forms of entertainment US studios withdrew their much needed funding forcing Hammer to stand alone in their attempts to reinterest audiences.
After many years of declining figures Hammer Studios finally closed with their final production 'To the Devil... A Daughter'.
An American Werewolf in London is released. Often labelled as a comedy the film manipulates it's audience through the sudden changes between humour and horror.
With the release of VHS and rise in unemployment the 80s marked an obvious low in British cinema despite some highly successful films scattered throughout the decade. 1984 saw the worst year with the lowest cinema figures ever.
'Hellraiser', like 'The Wickerman' now a cult favourite, is released, bringing gothic into the midst of Thatcher's Britain and a stronger focus on the idea of humans at the route of the 'evil' that takes place rather than the monsters.
After his rendition of 'Dracula' in the US Francis Ford Coppola produced for Kenneth Branagh's retelling of 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein', taking British horror back to the gothic traditions of Hammer.
Unfortunately the film did not meet expectations, or live up to the trailer, and was not as successful as hoped.
Danny Boyle's post-apocolyptic '28 Days Later' is released reminding audiences that we have, through scientific advancement potentially brought about our own destruction.
Eden Lake
'Tormented', another zombie/comedy though this time with a distinctly teen feel is released, raising the profiles of many young new British actors.
Continuing in a vein of horror films with a comedy element, such as 'An American Werewolf...' 'Shaun of the Dead' is released. Rather then employing more traditional horror conventions, instead Edgar Wright attempts to make a typical British 'rom-com' in the style of Richard Curtis... but with zombies as a key part of the central conflict.
The trend for the haunted baronial castles and fog shrouded graveyards that once dominated the Hammer films has
long gone
and has instead been replaced with locations that are easily and
readily identifiable
by the contemporary audience. By allowing an audience to recognise a space as apposed to a set of generic tropes, the horror of the narrative
becomes more real
and, as a consequence,
. With films such as 'The Wickerman', 'Death Line' and 'An American Werewolf in London', it would seem then that horror is
no longer grounded safely in the past
but firmly and frighteningly in the present. This shift in location and timeframe has also meant a shift in the nature of monster. They are
not supernatural beings anymore
but are something 'other', for these creatures now have a
very human core
and haunt very human spaces.
'The Descent', distinctive in the fact that its only male cast memember dies in the opening 5 minutes leaving a purely female cast, is released. The film offers a prime example of many theories concerning female representation, particularly Creed and Clover.
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