Ireland has given the world many useful things; the ejector seat, color photography, the Riverdance, hypodermic needles… and of course, Guinness.
It’s also a place with a rich, proud tradition of horror storytelling and mythology, from banshees, fairies and leprechauns all the way to author Bram Stoker’s iconic creation DRACULA.
Ireland has experienced something of a horror movie boom in recent times, with lots of exciting genre efforts popping up and shining a light on the many talented filmmakers the country has to offer.
Let’s take a look at some of the most creative and terrifying of these spooky cinematic offerings from the land of Éire… expect monsters, myths, ghosts and many, many cast members from GAME OF THRONES to make appearances!
Horror fans were understandably excited by the revival of Hammer Films, though the company’s most recent output has been something of a mixed bag. However, one undeniable gem they produced is WAKE WOOD — an eerie chiller about a bereaved couple who move to a small Irish village and learn of a ritual that will allow them to resurrect their late daughter for a few days. The ritual works… but the child that comes back isn’t the sweet girl they remember.
WAKE WOOD is a mournful horror story that’s thick with dread, evoking classic ’70s folk horror like THE WICKER MAN. It’s a got a great cast too, with Aidan Gillen and Timothy Spall classing up the joint — and it commits to one hell of a downer ending.
It’s hard to make a scary horror movie, and it’s hard to make a funny comedy — so it stands to reason it’s really hard to make a great horror comedy. Only a handful have managed it — think TREMORS, or AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON — but Ireland added another entry to that fabled list with Jon Wright’s GRABBERS in 2012.
The story finds a group of people trapped on a remote island by nasty, bloodsucking sea monsters. On the plus side, the creatures are allergic to alcohol — so the locals seal themselves in a pub and have a big session, hoping to last the night. GRABBERS has a surprising amount of heart to go alongside the laughter, the cast is terrific and the monsters themselves are effectively gross, slimy creations.
THE CANAL follows a film archivist (Rupert Evans) investigating the death of his unfaithful wife, while also looking into murders that took place in his own house over a century before. The film is an old school ghost story heightened by a rich visual look and sound design that can be downright unnerving. It’s a slow burn at times, but the mystery is engaging; there are several effective scares and the use of old, grainy film footage is a creepy touch.
RAWHEAD REX is one of the most memorable tales from Clive Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD, and the author himself penned the script for this feature film version. Sadly, it lacks the visceral quality of the short story, and Rawhead himself is turned into a muscle-bound, Mohawked monster — rather than the walking dick with teeth the author envisioned.
Despite some poor acting and ropey special effects, it still manages to be a cheesy good time, and finds a resurrected Pagan God eating his way through the Irish countryside. Despite toning down the gore and sexuality of Barker’s tale, the film retains some shocking moments — like Rex eating children and “baptizing” a priest by pissing on his face. It’s a fun creature feature with the right mindset, though Barker was so disappointed with the finished product, he made HELLRAISER as a response.
Director Ciaran Foy was attacked by a gang when he was eighteen and threatened with a syringe, with the experience making him agoraphobic for several years. He channeled that experience directly into this film, wherein a young father witnesses his wife being attacked by a gang — an incident that leaves him with a crippling fear of the outside world. It soon becomes clear the gang members aren’t entirely human… and they’re coming back for his baby daughter.
Foy captures the uncomfortable, sweaty fear of its main character, thanks to a muted color palette and jittery camerawork. A cloud of unease hangs over the story, and the film has a touch of early David Cronenberg to it, with the gang reminiscent of THE BROOD. The explanation for the creatures is a tad silly — but the nightmarish tone is enough to overcome that flaw.
Neil Jordan is an Irish filmmaker comfortable working in just about any genre — be it prestige fare like THE CRYING GAME, or glossy, big-budget horror like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. He returned to the vampire genre again in 2012 with BYZANTIUM, which follows a vampiric mother-daughter duo (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) over the course of two hundred years.
Jordan again uses vampire lore to examine the loneliness of immortality, and his talent for visuals is on display with the film’s gothic look. The mother-daughter relationship is the beating heart of BYZANTIUM, and while the movie is hardly a gorefest, the outbursts of blood are always shocking when they arrive. Particularly memorable is a shot of Arterton bathing under a bloody waterfall — one of the many visuals viewers will take with them when the credits roll.
Colin Hardy’s dark horror tale finds a couple moving to an Irish village surrounded by a huge forest, and learning the hard way that strange creatures live within. THE HALLOW is an adult fairytale in the truest sens, and draws deep on Irish folklore for inspiration.
Helping create this atmosphere is the cinematography — granting it a dark, foreboding feel throughout. Hardy wanted to make his monsters unique, and they’re definitely creepy little beasts when they arrive in the third act, their look being achieved by practical effects with a little CG assistance. Despite the fairytale tone, the scares and drama feel grounded throughout, and THE HALLOW never resorts to jump scares to get a response — making it an ideal monster movie for those who love THE THING or PAN’S LABYRINTH.
LET US PREY
This dark, pulpy horror film involves a demonic stranger (Ser Davos himself Liam Cunningham) who is arrested in a tiny village, and slowly drives everyone in the local police station insane. He seems to have an insight into their darkest sins… and things get progressively bloodier as the night wears on.
LET US PREY is essentially a psychological riff on ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, with the threat coming from inside the station rather than outside. It’s also a morality tale, but the dark comedy and gruesome gore make it a lot of fun too. Cunningham’s performance dominates the proceedings, but co-star Pollyanna McIntosh (THE WOMAN) is also great as the cop he torments. John Carpenter fans will get a kick out of the catchy electronic score too.