Little arose to take the place of the defunct horror production houses, due in part to American investment in all genres of British film faded during the '80s. Fewer and fewer horror movies were made within Britain's borders, and many of the ones that were -- from The Awakening (1980) to Dream Demon (1988) to Proteus (1995) -- mimicked American hits (The Omen, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Alien, respectively) in hopes of gaining financial backing from the US. With the dearth of quality homegrown products, British horror fans turned to imports. However, many of the popular slashers from America and blood-soaked giallo and zombie flicks from Italy had been banned from theatrical distribution in the United Kingdom.
The loophole came with the explosion in popularity of VCRs during the early '80s. Along with the VCR came an influx of unregulated video tapes featuring all of the uncut, "horrific" content that had been deemed unsuitable for British theaters. In response, there arose a tidal wave of heavy censorship and the outright banning of these so-called "video nasties," reinforcing the tradition of horror cinema repression in the UK and discouraging British filmmakers from entering the genre.
Of course, there were a few notable exceptions. Palace Pictures produced several horror titles in the '80s: The Company of Wolves, Hardware, High Spirits and the aforementioned Dream Demon. The Company of Wolves, directed by Neil Jordan of The Crying Game fame, in particular received critical acclaim, lending to the theory that artsy, "serious" horror was not judged by the same censorship standards as the more popular horror fare. In that same vein, renowned director Ken Russell delivered a pair of erotic period pieces during this time: Gothic (1986) and The Lair of the White Worm (1988).
Despite dubious achievements like the alien-themed Inseminoid (1981) and Xtro (1983), the holiday slasher Don't Open Till Christmas (1984) and the demonic Rawhead Rex (1986), British horror showed some signs of life during the 1980s. Author Clive Barker, who wrote the story on which Rawhead Rex was based, decided to take matters into his own hands and direct his own tale with 1987's provocative Hellraiser. In doing so, he created one of the most enduring horror villains in modern history, Pinhead, and set the stage for more than a half-dozen sequels. In 1988, meanwhile, a quieter, more subtle film called Paperhouse struck a chord with critics around the world for its vision of childhood fear. Coincidentally, its director, Bernard Rose, would later bring Barker's tale Candyman to the screen in 1992.
Throughout the '90s, though, British horror struggled for an identity, with Barker providing the primary link to England in major horror releases like his directorial efforts Nightbreed (1990) and Lord of Illusions (1995), plus the series of Candyman and Hellraiser films. However, 1994's Shallow Grave hinted at a bold new direction. The feature debut of director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting), Shallow Grave combined classic storytelling with a dark humor that would come to characterize modern horror in the UK.
But Boyle would forgo the comedy route on his next horror outing, the apocalyptic zombie tale 28 Days Later. Released in 2002, it became a hit in the coveted American market, thanks to a gritty style utilizing digital video cameras that created a hyper-realistic point of view. It proved so successful that a big-budget sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was commissioned in 2007.
The same year that 28 Days Later came out, director Neil Marshall released the quirky werewolf film Dog Soldiers to a solid reception in Britain. Although it never made it to theaters in the US, it gained a cult following on video with its wry British sense of humor and makeup effects that harkened back to they heyday of '80s American horror. Marshall would cement his place in the British horror pantheon with 2005's The Descent, a movie about monstrous cave dwellers that received superb critical acclaim and performed well at the box office despite a limited release. Due to its success, he was able to secure a large budget for his 2008 apocalyptic sci-fi/horror tale Doomsday.
In 2004, one of the defining moments of British horror would come from...a comedy? Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic -- again, relative to its limited distribution. It established the term "zom com," short for zombie comedy, a hybrid genre that would gain popularity early in the 21st century.
The success of these films helped open the doors for smaller British productions, like Marcus Adams' Long Time Dead (2002) and Pulse (2003) and Christopher Smith's Creep and Severance, the latter of which earned a limited theatrical release in the US. Other well-received releases, like House of 9 (2003), Spirit Trap (2005) and Wilderness (2006) followed, and though they went straight to video in America, they helped to establish a new, higher standard for British horror exports.
A good portion of the 21st century horror rejuvenation, however, came from other parts of the UK and Ireland. Welsh director Julian Richards delivered the inventive The Last Horror Movie in 2003, which received extensive distribution in the US on video. Scotland delivered 2005's Wild Country, while also serving as the setting and filming locations for all of Neil Marshall's films. Ireland has been an especially active breeding ground for horror movies, with "zom coms" Dead Meat (2004) and Boy Eats Girl (2005), the rural horrors of Isolation (2005) and Shrooms (2006) (the latter receiving an American theatrical run in 2008) and even the urban horror tale Nailed -- with Ireland standing in for, of all places, Los Angeles.