21st Century British Horror Films, Volume One: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses – book and review

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21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is a new book by genre expert MJ Simpson in which he reviews over three hundred British horror movies, many of them never before documented.

28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, The Descent, Eden Lake, Kill List – the tentpole titles of 21st century UK horror cinema are well known. But beyond those hits is a massive body of limited release and DTV titles which have received little attention from critics. Successful, independent movies such as Outpost, Freak Out, A Lonely Place to Die, Exam and Exhibit A constitute the bulk of the British horror film industry.

And beyond those is a further layer of ultra-obscurities, sold directly through Facebook, or available online via now-defunct VOD websites, or simply posted straight onto YouTube. Who has even heard of, let alone seen, the likes of Call Me a Psycho, Creep Killers, The Rise of Jengo or The Hell Experiment?

MJ Simpson, the doyen of British horror film writers, has seen them. The good, the bad and the extraordinary. For twenty years he has been scouring the web for these films and reviewing them on his blog British Horror Revival and in his previous book Urban Terrors.

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Between January 2000 and December 2019, an incredible one thousand feature-length horror films were produced and released in the UK. 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 twelve-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 half-page review, accompanied by a colour image.

From big-screen blockbusters to backyard obscurities, from cinema screens to YouTube, with budgets ranging from £20 million to 45 quid (or less…), British horror cinema has never been so diverse. This book and its forthcoming companions are a guide to the true, hidden ‘British film industry’ which remains almost entirely ignored by the mainstream film press.

21st Century British Horror Films, Volume 1: Dog Soldiers and Doghouses is a limited edition publication available exclusively online at https://mjsimpson.bigcartel.com for £20 plus postage*. It is 176 pages, A4, softback, and full colour throughout, with a foreword by horror expert Doctor Johnny Walker.

Review:

MJ Simpson’s new book, which is a companion piece to his essential Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema: 1997 – 2008, charts the first phase of what the author describes as the ‘British Horror Revival’ (also the name of his long-running blog). This book and a planned further three volumes will provide a massive overview of over a 1,000 films that were either produced in Britain or were British productions (or co-productions) filmed beyond Blighty. And it’s self-published because as he himself admits: “this is pretty bloody niche stuff!”

Using lengthier information from his aforementioned blog, Mr Simpson has distilled the essence of what each movie is about, who made it and what influence it had on UK filmmaking during the early 2000s whilst also provided a pithy review. There are 316 films covered here and each is given a roughly equal amount of words. This proves to be both a bonus (in terms of cutting to the chase) and a barrier (because some key entries such as the titular Dog Soldiers deserve more than a cursory overview, whilst most of the self-described “zero-budget amateur hour crap” could have been dismissed in a sentence or two), e.g, all the output by Twit Twoo Films.

This is a compact book that’s literally dripping with interesting facts and asides. If the critical assessments are somewhat short we can at least revel in the amount of information that the author has amassed while researching his chosen obsession. There can be no doubt, MJ Simpson is the absolute expert when it comes to modern British horror. And many of the movies covered here are the subject of his witty asides.

This isn’t a dry run through of movies. There are some hilarious write-ups. Oafish wannabe filmmakers such as Richard Driscoll (Kannibal; Evil Calls), Trevor Barley (the Fantom Kiler films and much more mindless misogyny) and Philip Gardiner (Cam Girls: The Movie; Paranormal Haunting: The Curse of the Blue Moon Inn) are rightfully given short shrift. Unfortunately, the amateur-hour antics of Jason Impey and Jonathan Ash are given equal space as genuine classics such as 28 Days Later, The Last Horror Movie and The Descent. Seminal Eden Lake is reviewed in one sentence, which seems a shame. That said, it is amusing that filthy flesh-frantic entries such as Cathula and its sequel are covered here. Who would have known about them otherwise?

Review comments are often spot on, such as describing the Attack the Block (2011) as being “ too busy being ‘yoof’ and ‘street’ to make any real comments about life”, overpraised Kill List (2011) as “the Emperor’s new clothes: a collection of horror tropes with no underlying meaning”, or the execrable Lesbian Vampire Killers (2008) as “sniggering lads-mag sexism.” However, in the same sentence, MJ references the “post-feminist outrageousness” of Warren Speed’s Zombie Women of Satan. The latter film is one of the most offensive misogynistic movies in this book. It uses sub-Troma level ‘humour” to debase and vilify every female character. And no, not in a clever self-referential manner such as infamous ‘70s sick flick Blood Sucking Freaks.

There are a few entries that are clearly not horror, such as Darren Ward’s A Day of Violence (2010) which is just a very nasty gangster film: “a repugnant tale of horrible people doing sickeningly awful things to each other.” Quite. But it’s not horror.

With regard to Britishness, entries such as My Little Eye may have Brit filmmakers at their core but being “Shot in British Columbia in March/April 2001 with a US-Canadian cast” makes them pretty much international rather than essentially British and isn’t that the point? Defining British filmmaking surely has to relate to the cultural identity of the UK?

Minor quibbles aside, this is a fascinating and absolutely essential guide to British horror from a period that has often been overlooked and we eagerly look forward to the next volume. This reviewer has already perused the entire book more than once – always a good sign that a reference work will prove invaluable – and interesting obscurities such as Resurrecting ‘The Street Walker’ have already been tracked down online and will be covered on this website soon. Now, what better recommendation can there be? Buy this.

Adrian J Smith, MOVIES and MANIA

  

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