EXTREME HORROR: Tea and Blood – Ultra-violent British movies

Listening to BBC News, you’d think England is one of the politest countries in the world and that their cinema industry would never release brutal horror films. Heck, in the early 80s the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of 72 films (the infamous Video Nasty list) the office believed to violate the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Times have changed, though, and now the British film industry’s becoming progressively more infamous for releasing some of the most extreme modern horror movies. In this article, we’ll speak about six of these disturbing films, all of them released in the 2000s – so people stop saying I recommend only older and obscure movies!

Without further ado, let’s check them out in chronological order.

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The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (2005) – I have to give a big shout-out to my friend Michael, who suggested this movie as a great fit for the EXTREME HORROR series! This is, in fact, the most controversial title in the entire article. What a great start! The movie follows Robert Carmichael (who could’ve guessed it?), a talented cello player in the sea-town of Newhaven. He becomes associated with several other unsavoury teenagers and he is soon tempted into the use of hard drugs like cocaine and ecstasy. Obviously, the situation spirals down into a nightmare fuelled with drug abuse, sex, extreme violence and disturbing content.

The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael has received many negative reviews upon release, due to its extremely distasteful and unflinching content. Two scenes in particular – two rape sequences – have caused uproars against the movie and Thomas Clay, the director. Some people claim this film is just shocking for the sake of being shocking; others say it draws parallels between toxic masculinity in British youths and Iraqi soldiers need for acceptance in their country (the movie is filled with images of war intertwined with shocking scenes in the main storyline); a third group of viewers consider it as a metaphor for lack of communication inside families, disillusion, failed integration, lack of father-figures and Oedipus-complex, puberty and virility, etc.

What’s that? What do I think? I don’t know, honestly. I’ve seen this movie only once and I’m not sure whether it’s a poignant but disturbing story or just an ultra-violent shocker. However, this is a very well-made film: acting and setting (the movie is shot near Brighton, a place I love) feel very realistic in a gritty way; the cinematography is minimalistic but breath-taking; the sound-track (with the use of the Cello Concerto by Jonathan Henry Harvey) is a joy to listen to. Simply put, I will watch The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael again in the future to get a clearer opinion on it. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a raw, extremely disturbing and violent film, don’t look any further!

Straightheads (AKA Closure, 2007) – Starring Gillian Anderson (X-Files) and Danny Dyer (Football Factories), this movie centres around a middle-aged businesswoman (Anderson) and her 23-year-old boyfriend (Dyer) who, after surviving gang rape and mugging, plot to murder their attackers, but find themselves conflicted about carrying out their plans.

Directed by Dan Reed – who’s now a famous TV documentarist – Straightheads features very brutal scenes, that feel raw and realistic. However, most of the movie is presented as a thought-provoking drama where the two leads, basically, reflect upon the meaning of revenge and whether that’s the way to pursue or not. On paper, this sounds like a film I would love, but the execution feels rather dull and unevenly paced.

While fans of extreme horror might want to check it out anyway – again, some scenes are truly hard to watch – I, personally, found myself enthralled for half of the movie, whereas the other half felt quite boring and uneventful, which is mostly due to the lack of any interesting visuals paired with a general lack of action.

Eden Lake (2008) In this film, probably the most popular on this list, we follow a couple (Steve – Michael Fassbender; Jenny – Kelly Reilly) on a romantic weekend break by the lake. Soon, their holiday is ruined by a group of psychotic teenagers that destroys the couple’s car and steals their belongings. Steve decides to confront them to scare them off, but things escalate in a spiral of violence and horror.

Raw and gritty, Eden Lake benefits from great performances and the correct amount of brutal violence. The kids look like genuine British teenagers – a bit more psychopathic than you’d expect in real life, though – Michael Fassbender is great as usual and Kelly Reilly sneaks in the best performance in her career (after watching Eli I almost forgot she was capable of acting…). The film is very intense and filled with tension throughout, which is due to the performances, the great camera-work and sound-design, the fascinating setting and locations. Then, you get a very cool twist that, aside from being unpredictable, speaks volumes in terms of how one’s family and upbringing can turn a teenage kid into a violent psycho.

I find Eden Like to be more entertaining (in a twisted, violent way) than actually disturbing, so I would definitely recommend it even if you’re not too familiar with extreme horror cinema.

Tony (2009)Here, I have to thank my good friend Kieron for the recommendation: Tony is a great addition to this list and a very good movie in general. Funded by the British Council Film – how times have changed since the 80s! – Tony is a simple character-study-type story about a socially-awkward, unemployed man who lives in a rundown London suburb. Completely alienated from society, Tony also kills people he invites to his apartment, for no apparent reason.

Although it’s brutal, gory and violent in a few scenes, Tony isn’t really a gore-fest or your typical disturbing movie. It’s a raw, depressing and melancholic tale of isolation set at the beginning of the economic recession. It’s a very relatable story that benefits from great acting – Peter Ferdinando is great as the titular character, all the extras feel like real people – fantastic camera-work, great use of music and sound-design. Tony is shot on 16-mm film, which gives the movie a gritty, almost-retro look that truly embodies the reality these characters are experiencing.

Again, if you want a truly shocking film filled with guts and gore, maybe Tony will disappoint you. Yet, if you love bleak and depressing character studies like I do, this movie is a gem you don’t want to miss out.

Kill List (2011)Jay (Neil Maskell) is a former hitman who’s running out of money and has a troubled relationship with his wife and kid. When the opportunity for a big payoff arises, Jay and his partner Gal (Michael Smiley) accept the assignment to kill three people: however, as they’re completing their mission, something strange and devilishly seems to be happening around them…

Kill List combines brutal thriller with folklore horror to a very effective degree. This movie is extremely action-packed and violent, but it also builds up a creepy mystery and develops two characters (Jay and Gal) in a very complex and rich way. Many horror fans hated the ending of Kill List, which I didn’t particularly like either, but you can’t deny how well-acted, enthralling and visually unique this film is. Kill List is the perfect mix of extreme violence, kitchen-sink drama and cult-related mystery.

If you want to watch a priest’s head being hammered to pieces like a watermelon, Kill List is the movie you need to watch!

The Seasoning House (2012)This is the most disturbing and extreme film featured in this article, together with The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael. Written and directed by Paul Hyett, who was the director of photography in Eden Lake (more on this later), The Seasoning House follows Angel, a helpless deaf girl sold at a brothel in the Balkans, where other under-aged girls are constantly abused and raped by clients and people who run the business alike. After one of the girls gets beaten up to death, Angel avenges her and, thus, needs to start fighting for her own life.

The Seasoning House is unflinching, it doesn’t sugar-coat one bit: it’s an extremely gory and sexually-explicit film, one that benefits from fantastic practical effects and great editing that’s used to make the sexually violent scenes feel realistic. This film is also extremely tense due to the cat-and-mouse logic, which is largely carried by the performances and the purposefully claustrophobic camera-work.

Most of the issues with this movie come from the characterisation of the villains, which are just one-note Eastern European bad guys. Also, you have to really suspend your disbelief in order to believe a deaf-mute teenage girl could manage to run away from trained assassins and former-soldiers… finally, the twists in this movie are exactly the same as the one in Eden Lake: I guess Paul Hyett just wanted to reuse the same script for Eden Lake at the end of his movie. That said, The Seasoning House a movie I thoroughly enjoy (in a twisted way) and one I’d strongly recommend to all die-hard fans of this kind of extreme horror.

What do you guys think of this list and the six extreme British horror movies featured in the article? What’s a British horror film that deeply shocked or disturbed you? Let me know in the comments!

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