Sunday, 12 April 2015

The rise of rural terror

The Guardian has just published an excellent piece by Robert Macfarlane entitled The eeriness of the English countryside. In it Macfarlance charts the course of the pastoral in English horror and gives a great overview of the recent groundswell of interest in the topic. What I'd like to explore is the 'why'. I want to compare Macfarlane's theories on the contemporary rise with those of Adam Easterbrook in his essay on MR James' A Warning to the Curious from the BFI booklet that accompanied the DVD release of Ghost Stories for Christmas. Easterbrook concerns himself with the preoccupation with the genre in the 70s.

Macfarlance lays the blame at the feet of "an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism." This timult is the result of several things. The first is that we now live in "a phase of severe environmental damage" - things are lost (native species) and as a result mother nature is wreaking her revenge (powerful storms, flooding and droughts). The second factor is politics. Macfarlane argues that the right have 'cupcakeified' rural Britain turning it into a twee lifestyle choice while at the same time bleeding the rural poor to the point of breaking. The rural horror genre is a left wing response to this.

Easterbrook argues that the interest shown fourty-odd years ago was the result of much more substantial upheaval. The decade saw, "industrial strife, rising inflation and unemployment, terrorist attacks and the three day week". The population, he argues, resorted to the comfort of the pastoral tradition, and so the country chic of Laura Ashley and Fairport Convention were embraced. It was no surprise that the horror genre looked back to the stories of MR James and the like to provide its own dark view of the comfort zone.

I wonder if there is something of Easterbrook's argument about the 70s which can be applied today, in our post-9/11 world where Russia is rattling its sabres and home-grown bombers are, the tabloids encourage us to believe, hiding in dank terrace houses in the Midlands. The UK housing crisis means the countryside is both at risk from further development, while folk from the capital are forced to leave for the provinces (gasp!) in ever greater numbers simply in search of a place they can afford to live.

Above: A sceen from Blood on Satan's Claw, 1971


  1. How is Ghost Stories for Christmas? I watched the revival version of Whistle and I'll Come To You the other night, I'm not sure I'll watch the other updated stories. I enjoyed the '68 version but I think I'd rather stick to reading. I believe that Robert Aickman is the master of the sense of something being wrong - eerie is too strong a word - unsettled? Askew? And I was trying to think of his stories that apply this to the English countryside. Maybe 'The Trains'.

    I read that article the other day, it's interesting although I feel I haven't seen enough of this pastoral horror revival to recognise the trend yet (beside A Field In England). I'd be pleased to see an Arthur Machen revival. I found this great link in the comments:

  2. I knew nothing of this subject before, but it's fascinating.

  3. @ Bruticus: GSfC is ace - the best DVD I've bought in years. The remake of Whistle isn't a patch on the original. This is a great place to delve to get a sense of the breadth of the genre today:

    @ phiq - glad you're enticed! Go and delve... but if you find any buried whistles, don't blow them.