Aside from the Hammer Horror films at their peak and the work of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the British have had a hard time making a big impact on American horror audiences. Whether it be the cultural divide, the differing sensibilities in both comedy and scares, or simply the secret truth that Americans don’t like much of anything from anywhere but America, British independent horror has had trouble gaining a foothold in the States. However, a new generation of filmmakers who were raised on American indie horror of the 1980’s have cropped up, paying homage to (and building upon) the low-budget shockers of the slasher decade. Names like Neil Marshall come to mind; and in this case, the focus falls on horror auteur Christopher Smith.
Though auteur might be a strong word to use so early in a career, it seems to fit with Smith, whose entire work output (with the exception of his upcoming “Get Santa”) has fallen nicely into the horror/fantasy arena. A self-professed film fan before he got behind the camera, Smith quickly rose to prominence in the horror genre with a series of universally liked and yet distinctly British horror films, each gaining scope and sophistication as he moved through his career.
His most recent film release, the Sean Bean medieval plague film “Black Death,” is a surprisingly mature rumination on religion and disease in the midst of one of the great horrors of Europe’s ancient past, with an excellent cast that supports Bean well, from Eddie Redmayne as the monk to two other recognizable genre faces, John Lynch and David Warner.
Though his upcoming films (“Get Santa” and “Cherub,” a film he is adapting from a children’s book series) would seem to be steering him out of the genre for which he gained his notoriety, Smith has made an indelible mark in horror on both sides of the ocean.
A woman trying to navigate her way through the London subway system at night finds herself trapped underground with some sort of mysterious assailant. This intense throwback to the classic Hammer film “Raw Meat” is a perfect example of the kinds of stories that work really well in a town like London. An international cast, including “Run Lola Run” star Franka Potente and future “The Crazies” and “The River” star Joe Anderson, are scattered through an intentionally sparse underground landscape which is as hauntingly beautiful as it is dangerous.
A brilliant blend of horror, comedy, and political commentary, “Severance” plays like John Rambo had to face off against the cast of “The Office.” With an eclectic cast of deadpan comedians perfectly playing the employees of a sales company, the action (which revolves around military atrocities tied to a location where the group mistakenly ends up for a team-building weekend) is always perfectly balanced between horrifying and hilarious.
Part science-fiction, part horror, part philosophical treatise on the idea of eternal punishment, “Triangle” is not an easy film to figure out, and that’s a good thing. Beginning with a young woman (played by “30 Days of Night” star Melissa George) joining her friends on a yacht cruise, the story takes a surprising left turn when they hit supernaturally bad weather and evacuate their boat for a giant, empty ocean liner. The mysteries become greater as someone begins killing them off one by one, with Jess surviving the death only to find… well, that would be telling.