For sadists only? The problem of British horror
in Hammer and beyond
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Horror is often a problem for critics. The all too visible stress in many horror films on morbid themes and acts of violence; the openly exploitative nature of much horror; the association of the genre with a predominantly adolescent audience: all these factors militate against the horror genre being viewed in anything but the most derogatory or patronising of terms. So much is this the case that even those critics who want to argue for the worth of these films sometimes find themselves negotiating what appears to be inhospitable terrain, with their work taking on an accordingly defensive tone. This unease is evident in the various critical responses provoked by British horror cinema over the years. From the outraged to the laudatory, these responses are part of the baggage which British horror inevitably brings with it to any critical discussion. If we are to move beyond some of the less helpful long-standing assumptions about horror and towards a more systematic understanding of this sector of British film production, we need to consider this legacy of criticism. The chapter explores the various responses to and readings of British horror since the 1950s and concludes by attempting to identify what it is that makes the horror film so distinctive and important a part of British cinema.

Hammer and beyond

The British horror film

Editor: Johnny Walker

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