Streaming: Men and the best British folk horror films | Horror films

TThe Gloucestershire village where our heroine (Jessie Buckley) arrives just before the start men is far too pretty to be harmless: you just know there must be something rotten at heart, inches beneath all that lush greenery. Alex Garland’s chilling, goofy, already somewhat underrated film – streamable now on Amazon – may examine male toxicity and female vulnerability through a clear #MeToo-era lens, but it’s also rooted in a robust, trembling tradition of British folk horror, where the myths and traditions of the land become their own brand of threat.

They are embodied in the changing form of Rory Kinnear, who plays the many men of this village, but also a single, villainous spirit of manhood. Borrowing from the Green Man myth, Garland’s screenplay portrays gender-based violence as something ancient and ritualized at the heart of our culture, a curse that must somehow be broken. That makes it a delightfully postmodern, self-assured entry in the annals of folk horror cinema, a genre in which earthy violence and sexuality can be presented in a more exploitative way.

It’s certainly a far cry from the visceral shock of the three films that are widely regarded as cornerstones of British folk horror: The Wicker Man (multiple platforms) of course, with its disturbing missing person investigation turning into a full pagan springtime freakout on a remote Hebridean island. However, the tradition that drives Robin Hardy’s film – from its lore to its ominous imagery to its haunting folk songs – was largely self-invented and now so heavily copied that it feels culturally ingrained well after 1973.

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The Wicker Man.
“Visceral Shock”: The Wicker Man. Photo: RONALD GRANT

Michael Reeves General of the Witchfinders (1968; multiple platforms) has a slightly more historical foundation, loosely based on the exploits of real-life 17th-century witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (giving a rather un-English horror villain flair by Vincent Price). Still harrowingly brutal and unnerving, it centers on a man who falsely claims he murders women out of a specific duty, not personal misogyny – there’s a flicker of progressive consciousness beneath the grisly spectacle. (A shame Reeves, who died the year after its release aged 25, never matured with the genre.) Piers Haggard’s incorrigible title That Blood on Satan’s claw (1971; multiple platforms), meanwhile, really perfected the genre’s sense of evil planted in the literal soil of the landscape. His tale of demonic possession of a village is basically silly; What remains is how the film makes its rustic landscape charged and alien.

Other B movies of this era helped solidify the rules of folk horror without achieving equal status. scream of the banshee (1970; Amazon) was essentially a General of the Witchfinders imitation, in which Price plays another insane witch hunter and Edgar Allan Poe is quite mistakenly smuggled into the mix; it’s a deliciously lurid oddity. The Hammer Horror of 1967 Quartermass and the Pit (BFI Player), on the other hand, is most interesting for its innovative fusion of folk horror with alien sci-fi.

Barry Andrews and Wendy Padbury in The Blood on Satan's Claw.
Barry Andrews and Wendy Padbury in The Blood on Satan’s Claw with the incorrigible title. Ronald Grant

More recently, Ben Wheatley has been described as the steward of the 21st century genre before achieving more Hollywood exploits. kill list (2011; free on All 4) is a tight, mean update that blends a PTSD-stricken soldier’s darkest, worst-case scenario of nightmares with occult complexities A field in England (2013; multiple platforms) plunged more indulgently into the genre’s wildest medieval extremities. It’s more of an acquired taste and not scary at all, but it’s definitely folky.

Finally, Corin Hardy’s 2015 cooler The sanctuary (multiple platforms) proves the genre is no less at home in the Irish countryside, though there’s less rural tweeness in the film’s haunted forest – just age-old baby-stealing terror.

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Swamy Rotolo in A Chiara.
Swamy Rotolo in A Chiara. Alamy

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