British Folk Horror on the Rise

‘The Wicker Man’ – Christopher Lee (1973)
According to this article from The Guardian, British “folk horror,” a term coined by British actor and screenwriter Mark Gatiss, seems to be on the rise in recent years. Back in the 1970’s, a wave of popular films were released fitting this genre, in which the British countryside is seen as a place of ancient, forgotten horrors that await discovery by modern people – to whom they are often deadly.

According to Gatiss, folk horror’s central trinity consists of three films from the late 1960s and early 70s: Michael Reeves’s ‘Witchfinder General,’ a brooding tale of sadism and revenge in East Anglia during the civil war; Piers Haggard’s ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw,’ in which a cult of adolescents hundreds of years ago commit a series of murders in order to incarnate Satan in the countryside; and Robin Hardy’s ‘The Wicker Man,’ about a policeman lured into being a human sacrifice for island-dwelling pagans.

However, a new wave has appeared in the last decade. It includes: Ben Wheatley’s ‘Kill List,’ which begins like ‘Get Carter,’ with hitmen out on a job, and ends with a terrifying twist; David Keating’s eerie, gory ‘Wake Wood,’ about a couple who move to a village after the death of their daughter; and, in print, Andrew Michael Hurley’s recent sombre masterpiece ‘The Loney,’ in which a family go on a pilgrimage to a shrine, seeking a cure for the elder brother.

Folk horror, which is the subject of a new season at the Barbican, presents the dark dreams Britain has of itself. The films pick up on folk’s association with the tribal and the rooted. And our tribe turns out to be a savage one: the countryside harbours forgotten cruelties, with the old ways untouched by modernity and marked by half-remembered rituals.

So if you’re British and find yourself wandering in one of the country’s remaining rural regions, keep an eye out for anything spooky or weird. Something twisted, demented, or evil might be hiding just beyond that next stand of trees, and if you aren’t careful it could cost you your life.

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