An evaluation of the vastly under-appreciated suitability Scotland has within the horror genre.
When thinking of horror films, your first instinct will probably be that of American classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, or maybe some newer entries like Get Out or It. But how often is it that you think of horror films set in Scotland? If the answer is not often, then yeah, fair enough. I understand this may seem a niche topic, however Scotland’s suitability as a setting for this highly-profitable genre has been sold agonisingly short. The films below may offer some variance to our preconceptions of “iconic horror”, which mostly comes from overseas. Additionally, with Halloween coming up soon, it may be the perfect time to take a stab at viewing one of these entries if you haven’t before.
The Wicker Man – 1973 (dir. Robin Hardy)
No, not the one with Nicholas Cage and his bees.
The film Sir Christopher Lee believed to be his finest, this inclusion no doubt did wonders for the Scottish Tourist Board back in the 70s. Set in a fictional island in the Hebrides, the film follows a police sergeant who comes to the island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, and who comes to blows with the island’s pagan worshipping inhabitants. Shot almost entirely in the west coast of Scotland, this film mixes the police procedural aspect of a thriller or murder mystery with a weird Midsommar-esque cult undercurrent. While it is far more of a slow burner than most contemporary audience members might expect, what has saved it from being lost in time is the ending, which dials up the already crazy atmosphere up to an 11 and helps preserve it as an iconic Scottish horror.
The Descent – 2005 (dir. Neil Marshall)
This film is full-frontal horror. It centres on a group of women trapped in a claustrophobic underground tunnel system who are stalked by a horde of vicious cave-dwelling monsters. This may be one to miss if you aren’t a fan of tight spaces. The film is set in North America, though it was shot entirely in the UK (exterior shots depicting the Appalachian Mountain Range also being shot in Scotland). It also features a Scottish protagonist, a rare find in the horror genre. Probably one of the better-known films on the list, this entry was met with widespread critical acclaim upon its release and remains a popular staple among horror fans. It also combines a mix of horror genres, incorporating tropes from slasher, found-footage, creature features, and psychological horror, and does so, for the most part, successfully. A cast containing relatively unknown actors only adds to the realist aspect of the film, so when things start going south it hits hard. Be sure to watch the UK release instead of the US one, though – I can’t state why here, but it really improves the ending.
Under the Skin – 2013 (dir. Jonathan Glazer)
In many ways, this film could be considered more sci-fi than horror, despite its dark plot. Shot all over the country, the film centres around an unnamed alien played by Scarlett Johansson (and her terrifically well-disguising wig) who drives around in search of men to prey on. Centred on the themes of sexuality and ontological questions on what it means to be human, the film views everything from the mundane to the heart-wrenching from the perspective of an outsider. As a disclaimer, this film does include some very graphic scenes. It’s also interesting to note that many of the men Johansson’s character preys upon were non-actors, who were secretly filmed interacting with her and only informed about it afterwards. In a way, it lends to the sense of uneasiness in the film, as within that world there is something more at play that these people are unaware of, much like reality. With many scenes shot in Glasgow, including the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, this might be one to watch if you’re interested in seeing the university’s gothic home on screen.