My latest piece for The Spectator:
As the lock down begins to ease and the Spring and early Summer weather beckons, many will be tempted to take a bucolic jaunt into the Great British Countryside.
But…on the evidence of these movies, you might not like what you find…
We’ve picked movies that show the darker side of rural life:
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Neil Marshall’s debut Dog Soldiers is a werewolf flick, where six squaddies on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands are forced to take shelter in a remote farmstead to withstand a lupine siege. The humour is more sledgehammer than in American Werewolf, but it’s a fun ride, with some great action sequences and surprisingly scary lycanthropes.
The cast is pretty good, with Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham and Marshall regular Sean Pertwee all game participants in the proceedings.
Black Death (2011)
Possibly too close to home at the moment, this plague-themed supernatural thriller was directed by the talented Christopher Smith, who was responsible for Creep (2004), Severance (2006) and Triangle (2009), all worth checking out.
He also directed Get Santa (2014), which wasn’t as half as bad as the title implies.
Unsurprisingly, Black Death concerns itself with the late medieval pandemic, as Sean Bean’s team of witch-hunters investigate a village untouched by the plague, apparently the result of necromancy. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.
The movie is notable for the number of cast members who shortly went on to join Game of Thrones, including Sean Bean, Clarice Van Houten, Emun Elliott and Tim McInnery.
The Witch (2015)
Another supernatural chiller, The Witch is the very assured debut of director Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse).
An atmospheric tale of an English Puritan family decamping to 1630s New England, where their already wretched lives are further complicated by ‘Black Phillip’ – the satanic goat and a witches’ coven.
Not the UK admittedly, but close enough to English Shires-set pictures such as Witchfinder General (1968) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) to slip through.
Two more GoT cast members star in the picture, Ralph Inneson and Kate Dickie, the post-weaning age breast-feeder Lysa Arrayn.
Eggers’ next picture will be the Viking revenge saga The Northman, which features a knockout cast including Nicole Kidman, the brothers Alexander and Bill Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe and Claes (Dracula) Bang.
Calibre (2018), Netflix
This bleak low budget thriller was the directorial debut for Matt Palmer, of whom we may well hear more in the years to come.
The movie follows a pre-ordained path, where the Highland hunting trip of two slick Edinburgh businessmen leads to tragedy and murder when they piss off the local inhabitants. Palmer works in a Ken Loachian angle as the villagers bemoan the contemporary clearance of the region.
Apostle (2018), Netflix
Set in 1905 on a remote Welsh island, Apostle follows a similar path to The Wicker Man, but with one crucial difference.
The Pagan Gods actually exist, which puts a new spin on the idea of blood sacrifice for the continuation of fertility – both human and crop.
Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen head the cast, with Welshman Gareth Evans directing.
Evans enjoyed success with the two Indonesian Raid action movies and is behind the current Sky Atlantic series Gangs of London.
If you enjoy the Apostle, you may want to take a look at The Ritual (2017) a Rafe Spall horror movie set in Northern Sweden which pursues a similar theme:
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Jon Landis’ movie is the best horror-comedy ever made, combining genuine chills with some extremely funny moments.
You may well remember the famous scene at The Slaughtered Lamb village pub, not the most welcoming of hostelries.
Two American backpackers find out why Yorkshire hospitality isn’t exactly the stuff of legend. Look out for a young Rik Mayall as one of the regulars.
The locals are not entirely bad, as they do try to warn the lads to stay off the moor, but since they let them depart to almost certain death, they didn’t exactly knock themselves out.
The Wicker Man (1973)
An all-time classic of the ‘Folk Horror’ genre, with Edward Woodward’s devoutly Christian police sergeant Howie lured to the pagan Hebridean Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a schoolgirl.
Despite numerous ominous warning signs and the chance of a literally life-saving roll in the hay with Britt Ekland, Woodward ploughs on to his inevitable meeting with the titular Wicker Man.
The recent Midsommar (2019) drew heavily on this classic for inspiration.
Eden Lake (2008)
This ‘hoodie horror’ picture can be seen as a contemporary spin on Straw Dogs, as middle-class couple Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender) are tormented by a gang of rural ‘chavs’ led by Jack O’Connell.
Eden Lake received some rave reviews, but there was understandable controversy in some quarters regarding the depiction of rustic youth as homicidal maniacs with a penchant for filming the torture of their victims.
The Last Great Wilderness (2002)
We return again to the Highlands of Scotland for my final choice, David Mackenzie’s little-seen The Last Great Wilderness.
Promoted as ‘The Wicker Man meets Straw Dogs’ the picture follows a familiar path, with Alistair Mackenzie (the director’s brother and star of Monarch of the Glen) on a revenge mission against his wife’s lover, accompanied by Johnny Phillips who he meets fleeing a mob castration contract.
As you do.
The pair are waylaid by David Hayman’s creepy innkeeper Ruaridh, who has his own plans for them. David Mackenzie has gone on to success with movies including Hell or High Water (2016) and Outlaw King (2018).