A very British Halloween: 10 classic UK horror films

Halloween chills from the home of horror – these 10 scary movies are all available for US audiences on BFI Player Classics.

29 October 2020

By David Parkinson

Dead of Night (1945)

Dead of Night (1945)

Released shortly after the war, Ealing’s revered anthology is a rare pre-Hammer example of British horror. There are teasing tonal shifts between the 5 tales, but the vignettes about the antique mirror shattering Ralph Michael and Googie Withers’s marital bliss and ventriloquist Michael Redgrave’s duel with his malevolent dummy are particularly chilling.

Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960)

Long before franchise slayers like Michael Myers were unleashed, disturbed cameraman Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Boehm) was prowling around London’s Soho finding victims to help him play out his sordid fantasies. Director Michael Powell was castigated for descending into depravity, but this cult classic caught the same 1960 vibe as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

This perturbing variation on the Jekyll and Hyde theme sees Roger Moore on peak form as conservative businessman Henry Pelham, who becomes convinced he’s being stalked by a lookalike after surviving a car crash. Tragically, director Basil Dearden would perish in a traffic accident shortly after the film’s release.

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Coming between The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil in Hammer’s lesbian-themed Karnstein trilogy, this tale of a sexually rapacious resurrected vampire menacing an elite finishing school has a reputation for campness, but that only enhances the enjoyment factor. Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt declined the roles taken by Ralph Bates and Yutte Stensgaard. 

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

A curse hung over Hammer’s take on Bram Stoker’s Jewel of the Seven Stars. Peter Cushing quit playing an Egyptologist obsessed with an evil queen when his wife fell ill, while director Seth Holt died mid-shoot. Nevertheless, Valerie Leon revels in her dual role right up to the hokey final image.

The Nightcomers (1971)

The Nightcomers (1971)

Marlon Brando played Peter Quint in Michael Winner’s prequel to Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’ to prove himself capable of headlining The Godfather (1972). Despite seeing the valet as a psychopath, he gives a deceptively vulnerable performance in this underrated study of love and death, innocence and corruption.

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Things begin to heat up when policeman Edward Woodward outstays his welcome with landowner Christopher Lee while investigating a girl’s disappearance on the Hebridean outcrop of Summerisle. This paean to Britain’s pagan past was clumsily re-edited on its initial release. But Cinefantastique magazine declared the restoration, “the Citizen Kane of horror”.

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Having started out with sexploitation fare like Her Private Hell (1968), Norman J. Warren moved into horror with this David McGillivray-scripted bid to rip devil worship out of the gentile settings favoured by Dennis Wheatley by investing Candace Glenenning’s encounter with necromantic uncle Michael Gough with some edgy social realism and sadistic disquiet.

Gothic (1986)

Gothic (1986)

Ken Russell delivers a masterclass in provocation in this boundary-pushing account of the 1816 gathering at the Villa Diodati that prompted Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. Delicately played by the debuting Natasha Richardson, she experiences laudanum-fuelled visions that contrast with the scabrous decadence relished by her host, Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne).

Paperhouse (1988)

Paperhouse (1988)

Echoes of legendary producer Val Lewton rumble through Bernard Rose’s debut, which brings Catherine Storr’s 1958 novel, Marianne Dreams, to thrillingly disconcerting life. Production designer Gemma Jackson deserves enormous credit for turning 11-year-old Charlotte Burke’s drawings into dream settings. But Rose deftly laces the reveries with palpable terrors emanating from the spectre of domestic dysfunction.


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