Due to the countless classic horrors of times gone by, it has been a challenge in cinema to stand out from the crowd when delving into the fright genre. Let’s reflect on ten who avoided the cliché pitfalls and got it right…
10. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell’s indie chiller ‘It Follows’ took a trademark ‘pass it on’ theme of horror films and put a modern twist on it, with a terrifying curse moving from one victim to the next through intercourse. Sexy!
Acclaimed director James Wan created what is arguably the best known horror franchise of the century, the original dating back to 2004. It has spawned a whopping six sequels already with another due out next year. His other works in the field include Insidious and The Conjuring.
8. Paranormal Activity
The Blair Witch Project rejuvenated the found-footage style horror movie in 1999, so is slightly too early for this list but Paranormal Activity is the most notable film of its kind this century. The first, written and directed by Oran Peli, was a low-budget wonder but unfortunately the series has repeated itself ever since.
7. The Guest
Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens made the jump from telly to the silver screen last year in The Guest, directed by Adam Wingard. It implemented horror elements in a synth styled flick about a mysterious ex-soldier.
Scripted by the great Joss Whedon, this self-aware teen-comedy horror poked fun at the slasher stereotypes and had a lot of fun in the process. Chris Hemsworth featured in the leading role ahead of his Thor fame.
5. The Babadook
The Babadook is probably one of the more conventional choices on the list, but is a good example of solid execution. The debut feature for actress turned writer and director Jennifer Kent terrified audiences across the country last year.
4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The most recent addition to the list is black and white indie ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’. Set in a ghost town called Bad City and featuring a fantastic 80s soundtrack, this is the best thing to come out of Iran since…well since ever!
3. Shaun of the Dead
The team behind cult sitcom Spaced added their unique comedic twist to three types of film during their blood and ice-cream trilogy, the first and in my opinion the best of which was the zombie-horror Shaun of the Dead.
2. Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson terrorises the streets of Glasgow in bizarre sci-fi horror Under the Skin, directed by visionary filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. A haunting, pulsing score and a chilling performance makes a strange but frightening cinema experience.
Wright, Pegg and Frost are back with the last in their trio of British comedies jokingly known as the ‘Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy’, due to the playful ice cream references featured, but also in reference to Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s three colour trilogy where his political films were representative of the colours of the French flag. Like Edgar Wright’s loose trilogy, none of the films were strictly linked to one another, but had recurring themes throughout. All three in the Cornetto trilogy have acted in genre homage, firstly the ‘red’ zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, secondly the ‘blue’ buddy cop flick Hot Fuzz and finally the ‘green’ sci-fi adventure The World’s End. In this outing, a gang of school friends, led by Gary King (Simon Pegg) are brought back together, reuniting for the ‘Golden Mile’ pub crawl in their hometown Newton Haven. Reluctantly joining Gary in his quest to relive his youth are family man Andy (Nick Frost), high flying estate agent Oliver (Martin Freeman), fitness fanatic Steve (Paddy Considine) and car salesman Peter (Eddie Marsan), the latter three offering something new to the well established Pegg/Frost bromance that has been honed in previous works. Around five pubs in, the beer goggled eyes begin to spot strange differences in their old stomping ground and its inhabitants, and in typically find themselves in the midst of an apocalyptic body snatching invasion but attempt to carry on to the twelfth pub, The World’s End, against all odds.
On the surface, it serves as another quintessentially British gag fest but the underlying themes are more ominous than those present in the predecessors. Gary King is living in the past; a balding man nearing forty, donning a long leather jacket, DMs, still smoking and drinking with the carefree attitude of his younger self. He even amusingly still drives the same motor, known affectionately as ‘the Beast’, with the same mix tape in the deck, an art form that has since disintegrated in the modern digital age. Nostalgia is at the forefront throughout the opening two thirds, and this is where I feel the film is at its strongest, the chemistry between the pals notched up to the highest level. The brilliant soundtrack assists the sense of nostalgia suitably, tracks hand picked from old copies of NME, with anthems from Blur, Pulp and Primal Scream. Inevitably in the closing third when the robots, or aliens, or ‘blanks’ are brought in, the film gets silly and despite a few cracking fight sequences, it does outstay its welcome somewhat. The narrative delves into the ridiculous though it is still a lot of fun, more so than in Hot Fuzz, but perhaps less than in Shaun of the Dead, which is still for me the strongest of the set.
The timing of the release clashes with another end of the world bromantic comedy across the Atlantic, ‘This is the End’ featuring a host of the Apatow crew, and unfortunately, ‘The World’s End’ loses out in the battle of laughs, which is strange as I am usually much more fond of British comedy than American which I tend to find corny and difficult to relate to. As we seen with Paul in 2011, mixing the styles doesn’t seem to gel quite as it should, but in comparison of the recent efforts, TITE provides more laugh out loud moments than TWE, though I was admittedly chuckling throughout, particularly at the delivery from Eddie Marsan who I hadn’t previously associated with comedy so he was a very pleasant surprise. Of course both Pegg and Frost were on magnificent form, their real life friendship so evident in their work, both so likeable and easy to watch. I felt Freeman and Considine fell short of the mark and only made up the numbers at times, neither really offering anything special. Their characters also brought upon the introduction of Sam (Rosamund Pike) who is Oliver’s sister, one of Gary King’s old conquests, but also a love interest for Steve. She felt unnecessary, like when a mate’s girlfriend shows up at the pub unannounced and tarnishes an enjoyable session, and her ‘crumbs’ catchphrase got irritating quickly. A few cameos crop up as the tale progresses, surprising in their appearance, but failing to add much to the overall impact. Unarguably, it is all about Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and when it is just the two of them onscreen, it is always comical and at times touching, as if the camaraderie from SOTD and HF almost drips through, like ice cream sliding down a cone, the three flavours melting into one.
‘The World’s End’ is a fitting finale to the threesome, with Pegg and Frost showing off their commanding comedic prowess, and Edgar Wright on fine form, adding his directorial trademark pop culture nods and cinematic flicks and tricks, like the fast cutting pint pouring segments, reminiscent of his style in Spaced, the sitcom where it all began. Now that Wright has ventured to Hollywood, having added Scott Pilgrim and the Adventures of Tin-Tin to his ever impressive CV, it is comforting to see him return to his roots and as Brit-coms go, this is about as British as they come.