21st Century British Horror Films
Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses
Dean Newman reviews MJ Simpson's exhaustive study of 21st Century British horror films, from the celebrated to the obscure...
MJ Simpson’s 21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is an incredibly immersive nostalgia trip through the good, bad and the ugly of the 11 years (2000-2011) of British horror.
Between January 2000 and December 2019, an astonishing one thousand feature-length horror films were produced and released in the UK. 21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is the first in a unique series of books cataloguing this amazingly prolific and largely undocumented corner of cinema. Covering a 12-year period from 2000 to 2011, this book reviews 316 British horror movies. Cast and crew details, critical analysis, production history and release data are all wrapped up in an entertaining and informative review of every film, accompanied by a colour image.
Having worked in a video shop – twice – first in 2000 when VHS was still a living format and DVD was the delightfully polished new kid in town, this journey through British horror films of the early part of the century is a celebration of the hidden gems we could find at our local Blockbuster or independent video store (and many that we couldn’t). But author MJ Simpson doesn’t stop there – like a British horror Indiana Jones he’s covered films not only released on the big screen but direct-to-DVD, curios seen only fleetingly on the festival circuit or those rarest of artefacts, Internet uploads that pre-date YouTube.
It certainly took me on a nostalgia trip back those sadly-missed video shop shelves and the Blockbuster dropbox, awakening my consciousness once again to films and DVD covers long since forgotten but also showcasing the surge of horror film production in the UK during the last 20 years.
This first volume is a tremendously fun read. None of the reviews outstays its welcome and the reader takes something from even the most poorly reviewed of films. The biggest compliment I can pay Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is that it’s the equivalent of reading a horror version of Halliwell’s Film Guide meets F. Maurice Speed’s Film Review books of yore.
As well as the high profile likes of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Dog Soldiers (2002), Triangle (2009), even Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), it was also wonderful to be reminded of great British horror films I’d seen such a long time ago, I’d all but forgotten such as Hush (2009), The Children (2098), The Bunker (2001), the £45 budgeted zombie film Colin (2008) and My Little Eye (2002), the UK’s first found-footage horror.
As you wind your way through the book, you’ll find yourself jotting down titles of previously unheard of horror gems that MJ Simpson heaps praise upon, along with those that sound so bad that they must be good! Or, at least, experienced. My personal future watch list now includes Mum and Dad (2008) which Simpson describes as “The Royale Family meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Footsteps (2006) the debut of The Raid director Gareth Evans, The Last Horror Movie (2004), Harmony’s Requiem (2011), Resurrecting the Street Walker (2010), Blooded (2011), and The Caller (2011).
It’s great to read recommendations from an author of such authority, who is so incredibly passionate and erudite about UK horror and isn’t afraid to voice a strong opinion, including pronouncing The Awakening (2011) as “better in every respect than The Woman In Black“. As mentioned, the likes of major mainstream releases (Shaun of the Dead) rub shoulders with the less-heralded likes of Witch Home: The Legend of Petronal Haxley (2008), described as one of the most obscure films to be featured in the book. As further proof of his extensive knowledge, Simpson notes that the film, “played for a single week at a single cinema in Tyneside.” That’s some serious detective work and commitment to the horror cause.
From big-screen blockbusters to backyard obscurities, cinema screens to YouTube, with budgets ranging from £20 million+ to 45 quid (or less…), British horror has never been so diverse, experimental and downright daring. Horror filmmaking is no longer the preserve of the professionals – anyone with a script and a smartphone can make a film and send it out into the ether. This book and its forthcoming companions are a guide to some of those that have acted on their passion for horror. It’s a document of the true British horror film industry which remains almost entirely ignored by the mainstream film press. With this book, you’ll unearth some hidden horror gems (and calamities) you may have seen, missed, or indeed wished you had missed, the first time around.
And if that doesn’t convince you that 21st Century British Horror Films should command a place on your bookshelf, MJ Simpson’s extensive genre writing career also includes Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008 (Hemlock Books, 2012) and he was part of the original editorial team who launched SFX. He’s also contributed to Fangoria, The Dark Side, Video Watchdog, Psychotronic Video, Shivers, Scream, DeathRay, Infinity, MonsterScene, SciFi Now, Starburst, TV Zone, Cult TV, Film Review, Neo, Doctor Who Magazine and Total Film.
To reiterate an earlier point, 21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is an important document that no fan of British horror, with even a passing interest, should be without. The second volume can’t arrive soon enough.
21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is a limited edition publication available exclusively online for £20 plus postage*. The paperback book 176 pages and full colour throughout, with a foreword by horror expert Dr. Johnny Walker. To purchase a copy now, click the image below.
* In an unprecedented offer, postage is free for anyone who wrote, directed, produced or starred in any film in the book.