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British Folk Horror Films to Lure You Into the Forest

Britain's lowland terrain is the perfect landscape for ancient, eerie occurrences.  

black and white photo of a demon from Night of the Demons (1957)
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  • Photo Credit: Sabre Film Production

From the fog-draped fields of its countryside to the lore-laden streets of London, there is something undeniably mystical about Britain. 

Perhaps it’s the inherent isolation of living on an island hundreds of miles from the European mainland, or maybe it’s the fact that the ancient Celts left a spiritual and cultural mark so indelible that even Christianity could not erase it from the popular consciousness; whatever the cause, the sense remains that there lurks a force both dark and unknowable just beneath the surface of modern British society. 

This force has given birth to one of the most celebrated cinematic subgenres: British folk horror, which examines the ways in which this mysterious past can inspire terror and revulsion in the contemporary mind. 

After a somewhat fallow period following their original heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s, British folk horror films have seen a recent resurgence in popularity, leading to both a reappraisal of the classics and a spate of modern movies and shows that attempt to pick up the mantle.

 Anyone with a particular interest in the folk horror subgenre would do well to start with a viewing of Kier-La Janisse’s well-researched and comprehensive 2021 documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, followed by a dive into its accompanying 19-film boxset, All the Haunts Be Ours.  

Whether you’re a clear-eyed novice or a seasoned initiate, it’s time to slip on that animal mask, rally around the maypole, and prepare yourself for a chronological overview of eight of the most iconic British folk horror films: 

Night of the Demon (1957)

Also known by its American title, Curse of the Demon, this film based on a short story by M.R. James straddles the line between folk and occult horror, although it’s generally accepted as part of the former category—in fact, some consider it to be one of the very first entries in the genre, following 1922’s silent Swedish witch horror Häxan.

 While the rather cheesy-looking titular demon dilutes the movie’s power to truly scare a modern audience, this is still a fun and atmospheric film about an Aleister Crowley-like figure who unleashes a supernatural force he can’t quite control on those who doubt his self-proclaimed connection to the supernatural.  

The Witches (1966)

Legendary production company Hammer eventually made their reputation as purveyors of Gothic vampire tales featuring glamorous babes in low-cut gowns, but here they try their hand at folk horror with a story of an amusingly uptight schoolmarm played by Joan Fontaine.

In a sequence that unfortunately lacks any semblance of nuance or racial sensitivity, this teacher flees her work as a missionary in Africa for the perceived safety of the English countryside…only to encounter even more godless heathens on her very own home turf! 

Eye of the Devil (1966)

Deborah Kerr plays another prim lady caught in the throes of pagan panic in this French-set British production about a wealthy family attempting to revive their failing vineyards the old-fashioned way: With a little Satanic blood sacrifice.

The gorgeously filmed chateau setting coupled with the stellar supporting cast, including Halloween’s Donald Pleasence as an infernal priest and the preternaturally beautiful Sharon Tate in a very chic black mock turtleneck and silver eye pendant, go a long way toward elevating a somewhat flimsy premise. 

Robin Redbreast (1970)

Originally broadcast on the BBC, this made-for-TV movie is most notable for its similarities to The Wicker Man, a giant of the genre and possibly the most quintessential British folk horror film of all time.

In this slow-moving, dread-infused tale, a newly single woman finds herself embroiled in a pagan conspiracy in the English countryside—and what she discovers will change her life forever. 

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Another absolute titan in the British folk horror subgenre, this deliciously titled period piece details the rapid corruption of a small farming village after a mysterious skull is unearthed in a nearby field.

Most notably, the local teenagers, led by Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) — whose descent into hedonistic madness is illustrated by the increasing severity of her eyebrows!—lose their minds and souls in a frenzy of ritualistic sexual violence. 

The Wicker Man (1973)

Often imitated, never surpassed, if you only watch one British folk horror film, let it be this one—and please, let it be the original 1973 version and not the 2006 remake!

A devoutly Christian police officer is sent to an insular island off the British coast to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.

 Instead, he finds a flourishing pre-Christian cult led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle, played by the legendary Christopher Lee. Can his faith survive the encounter? Can he?  

A Field in England (2013)

After several long decades without much in the way of modern British folk horror, this film from director Ben Wheatley signaled the start of a welcome renaissance.

Set during the 17th-century English Civil War, it follows a group of deserters who descend into paranoia, terror, and violence after ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms they find growing in a field. 

Disorienting and deeply trippy, A Field in England forgoes the standard pagan rituals and secretive villagers that populate the genre for a natural horror that sprouts from the land itself, making it perhaps the most unique entry on this list. 

Lord of Misrule (2023)

Proving that folk horror is still alive and well, this film about a minister desperately searching for her young daughter after the girl disappears at their small town’s harvest festival may not be perfectly executed, but it is beautifully shot. 

Its close adherence to the genre’s classic tropes makes it a fun and gratifying watch for fans of British folk horror.