If you’re nasty

Pub date June 3, 2009
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

U.K. HORROR Once outrage settles over the current Parliamentary expense-account scandals, our former colonialist landlords will no doubt return to their concerns about "broken Britain," as the perceived general decline of moral rectitude in the United Kingdom is termed these days. Call ’em hoodies, chavs, yobs, or Neds, U.K. youth are seen as waaay out of control — albeit in ways that would seldom elicit more than a perfunctory shrug of disgust here — and their loutish, negligent, unemployed, or dole-collecting parents merit equal time in the sense-slappin’ machine.

Real or exaggerated, this trend of antisocial behaviors has inevitably crept into the entertainment realm, horror movies included. While the two Brit features (Blood River and 2008’s The Dead Outside) in this year’s Another Hole in the Head Festival only marginally deal with the phenomenon, three recent stateside DVD releases by first-time feature writer-directors find "Whatever happened to family values?!" terror placed front and center.

Not long ago especially gory or sadistic genre flicks were branded "video nasties," heavily cut or banned outright from distribution in Britain. That those days are gone, however, is made vividly clear by Steven Sheil’s Mum and Dad (2008). When Polish immigrant Lena (Olga Fedori) misses the last bus to central London, aggressively friendly fellow Heathrow cleaning staffer Birdie (Ainsley Howard) and her shy brother Elbie (Toby Alexander) invite her to spend the night at their nearby home.

Unfortunately Lena soon discovers she’s a permanent guest, kept on a very tight leash by "Mum" (Dido Miles) and "Dad" (Perry Benson). Covering familiar terrain, with particular debt to 1991’s The People Under the Stairs, Mum sports its own distinctive musk of grotesquerie, with an all-time-sickest Yuletide celebration providing craftsy homemakers with one hell of a Christmas wall-ornament idea.

Meanwhile, in rural Ireland, the least united part of the "kingdom," Plague Town (2008) again proves you really don’t want to miss that last transit run. Here, a dysfunctional American tourist family discovers one extra-large brood of horribly functional kiddies during an overnight stranding they’re unlikely to survive. Director David Gregory cut his teeth making DVD-extra tributes to Tobe Hooper, Jess Franco, Jim Van Bebber, and the "video nasty" era itself. His mentors would be proud.

More realistic, upsetting, and directly addressing "broken Britain" fears is James Watkins’ Eden Lake (2008). Another vacation-gone-horribly-wrong tale, it played one unnoticed week at the Lumiere last year. Yuppie couple Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender’s weekend Buckinghamshire idyll runs afoul of some ill-mannered local tweens, who unfortunately are led by a full-blown junior psychopath. After its routine setup this develops into a genuinely grueling spin on Deliverance (1972), Lord of the Flies (1954), and whatnot, with an ending that can be nitpicked for plausibility but that nonetheless leaves a real chill.