The following was printed in Issue #1 of Golf Sale magazine, a punky, underground sort of thing that features articles on and interviews with promising British talent, including musicians, writers, artists and filmmakers. It's run by a very good friend of mine (Mister Impossible of Dan Impossible Must Be Destroyed!) and really is a jolly good read. It also features a column of my very own doing.
We Are What We Are: Danny Dyer, Pot Noodle and Modern British Horror.
For Issue #1, I was tasked to write a brief thing on the state of modern British horror. I'd much rather you bought the magazine itself (it's only three quid, stingy tart) but you may find it reprinted below. You can buy Golf Sale here, comforted in the knowledge that you're supporting the independent presses. Look out for more of me in Issue #2. I've written an article about murdering children, and will be interviewing the director of a cool new budget horror movie. The tone here is a bit more 'Horror 101' than readers here might be used to, but it contains at least one joke and even a swear word. Do read on*, please:
As the end credits rolled over We Are What We Are, the Mexican cannibal movie, I took a moment to reflect. Then, I stepped away from the mirror and did some thinking about horror movies. Mainstream Hollywood horror is all fine and well, but I'll usually go global if I'm looking for something a little more challenging or original. That, and subtitles make me feel clever.
While Hollywood is producing mostly sparkling vampires, repetitive torture nonsense and childish remakes, there's never been a better time to be a fan of horror, globally. Some of the best I've ever seen is emerging from around the world. France has brought us the likes of the incredible Martyrs, the divisive Irreversible and overrated Switchblade Romance. That movie's Alexandre Aja went on to bring us two of America's few good remakes – The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D. Japan, meanwhile, has Takashi Miike, whose oeuvre speaks for itself. There's also the likes of Grotesque, a silly torture movie that managed to get itself banned over here in the UK. Meanwhile, Korea produces some of my favourite movies, not limiting itself to torture like so many others seem to nowadays. Oldboy, The Host and The Chaser all come highly recommended. The less said about Ireland's Shrooms the better. It's the Jedward of horror movies (although its Isolation is reportedly a lot better). There's A Serbian Film that you might want to watch (or not, depending on your tolerance for, oh, baby rape) and Sweden's Let The Right One In is the best vampire movie of its century. Then what, I thought, has England brought to the table?
It was with no small amount of terror and disgust that I realised that the answer was Danny Dyer.
Pop into your local HMV (please, it needs the business) and you'll find the horror section populated with an overwhelming amount of Dyer movies. Only one of those movies is actually good. The only good things Dyer has ever done: Severance and that episode of Britain's Hardest Men where he gets repeatedly slapped in the chops. Severance is an above-average horror comedy at best. It succeeds in spite of Danny Dyer and in no way because of him. On the plus side, he gets a good kicking over the course of the movie. Doghouse, which also stars Dyer, initially promises quality. It has Stephen Graham and Noel Clarke, and is about a zombification virus which only affects women. Quickly one realises that Doghouse is quite the misogynist. Its big revelation is that Graham needs to 'man up' and 'kill anything in a dress'. Doghouse acknowledges the zombies as women (“zombirds”, yohoho), Danny Dyer uses the phrase “remote control women” and at that point I gave up. Doghouse is probably Jim Davidson's favourite movie of 2009.
Too much British cinema seems like it was written by a round table of Nuts readers. The nadir lies in gangster/vampire mashup Dead Cert, starring not only Dyer but some ex-Eastenders too. There are a ton of laddish Brit horror movies, and it shows no abating, with Cockneys vs Zombies being released soon.
This, thanks to Shaun Of The Dead, which helped revitalise British horror and unwittingly unleashed a horde of imitators. Never mind that Shaun was affectionate, genuinely funny and well-written; that it starred two slacker best mates was enough. What its imitators fail to recognise is that Shaun and Ed aren't supposed to be aspirational figures. Also, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are charismatic and likeable. Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan are not. Ever. Nevertheless, Shaun Of The Dead is one of the finest zombie movies ever made.
Going on Shaun Of The Dead, you'd be forgiven in thinking that British cinema is all jocular fun with a Queen soundtrack. But more prescient are scenes of traumatic violence, bleakness and cruelty. If you've ever seen a Ken Loach movie, you'll know how depressing British drama can be. Our horror is no different. Much of it is inspired by social issues and newspaper headlines. One recurring theme is a fear of our own children; F, The Children, Cherry Tree Lane and Eden Lake all pit downtrodden adults against feral yobs. They're depressing movies, depicting adults as ineffectual and weak, and children as little Deliverance bastards. The fear of children, by the way, is called paedophobia, which doesn't mean what I thought it did.
Consistently producing good work is the director Neil Marshall. His Descent is in my top five horror movies of all time. In fact, three of my top five movies of all time are British, and that's not just a misguided sense of patriotism: The Descent is a wonderful movie.
Amongst my favourite other b(r)its of UK horror lies The Cottage, which mixes black comedy with the gore and violence of a backwoods slasher movie. It stars Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith as a pair of bungling brothers who kidnap a foul-mouthed gangster's daughter and then fall afoul of a disfigured psycho farmer. It's funny without being laddish and violent without pointlessness. All that, and no Danny Dyer. Get offa my land indeed.
Director Paul Andrew Williams started out with the incredibly miserable but critically acclaimed London To Brighton. Many said he was slumming it with The Cottage, which goes to show the sustained snobbery and prejudice against horror. I prefer The Cottage because, thanks, watching a gangster try to rape a thirteen year old hooker is too depressing even for me.
Williams' peers - the likes of Shane Meadows and Danny Boyle - aren't directors of horror per se, but their movies nevertheless tend to be some of the best and most inventive out there. Boyle reinvigorated the zombie genre with his 28 Days Later, but I find moments of horror in most of his pictures.
And then there's Shane Meadows, who directed my third favourite movie of all time; Dead Man's Shoes. It's an extremely downbeat and depressing piece, featuring a powerhouse performance from Paddy Considine's beard as an ex-army man seeking revenge against those who wronged his learning-difficulties brother. Some of it plays like a thriller, others like a slasher movie and others comedic. It's inherently British, its gangsters drinking tea and eating Pot Noodle. You don't get much more English than tea and Pot Noodle. Dead Man's Shoes is an utterly heartbreaking movie though; the Oldboy of British cinema.
What we do do, if you care to take a look at some of our finest films, is realism. Like queuing and cups of tea and Pot Noodle and Cliff Richard, whingeing is a very British thing. And that's what we've contributed to world horror cinema – whingeing, grit and unhappy endings. Oh no, hoodies have killed my boyfriend. Oh noes, there's a tooth in this pie. Well, let's have a cup of tea, shall we? f you dig a little beneath the surface, you'll find some true gems buried amongst all of the crap. We no longer have Hammer as we knew it, but we do have a generation of simultaneously funny, depressing, versatile directors to rival any Takashi Miike, John Carpenter or Alexandre Aja.
On behalf of England, though, I am truly sorry about Danny Dyer.
*And buy a copy of this magazine. Please.