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Scare Yourself Silly with the Spookiest of UK Film & TV

A white woman with brown hair wearing a bright red dress, looks in the mirror with her face painted in a creepy, black and white mask style, with a large mouth extending across her face exposing teeth

The best horror and suspense for Halloween and beyond…

The nights are drawing in and Halloween is almost upon us, and that makes it the perfect time to curl up and watchsomething scary. There is, somehow, nothing cosier than escaping these dark nights with some dark deeds and mysterious menaces – perhaps because it makes you appreciate the lack of ghosts, ghouls and monsters in the real world after the credits roll. Just as some of the greatest Gothic and mystery literature comes from the UK, so too do some of the scariest films and TV shows.

Let’s go monster by monster – starting with ghosts, because you can’t beat a ghost story on a misty day. If you prefer your phantoms nonthreatening, you can’t do better than TV’s Ghosts, the warm-hearted comedy about a couple who inherit an old house and find that it comes with a full array of spirits haunting its halls. Created by Simon Farnaby (Paddington 2) and Matthew Boynton (Horrible Histories), it’s the most fun you can have while you’re non-corporeal. 

At the other end of the spectrum, they don’t come much scarier than The Woman in Black, the adaptation of Susan Hill’s terrifying novel. Just as the stage show found ways to inject fresh tension into the story of a young businessman visiting a remote house, so the film reinvented the story with a new, cinematic angle, thanks to a script by Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Secret Service), direction by James Watkins (Eden Lake) and a great central performance from Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe. Just make sure the lights are on first. 


The Woman in Black

Visitors also call in at a creepy old house in The Awakening, with sceptic Rebecca Hall (Starter for Ten) investigating a child ghost hoax in a boarding school, only to find it may not be a hoax after all. The Banishing is another film where a ghost hunter (Sean Harris, ’71) tackles the restless dead, this time on behalf of a terrorised vicar’s wife (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey). Another big country mansion is the setting for The Little Stranger, based on the bestselling novel and starring Ruth Wilson (His Dark Materials) and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina). There, Gleeson’s Doctor arrives to find a once proud family facing extinction and ghosts watching from quiet corners. It will leave you wishing that Poirot were around to explain it all, as Kenneth Branagh’s incarnation of the character tries to do in this year’s A Haunting In Venice

Spirits, however, don’t just haunt mansions, as ex-soldier Tomaz (Alec Secareanu, God’s Own Country) found in Amulet, directed by Romola Garai (Atonement). Sope Dirisu (Mothering Sunday) and Wunmi Musaku (Luther) have their own ordeal in His House, as a refugee couple housed on a rundown estate who find that the terrors of their past will not let them alone. And in TV’s fun teen drama Lockwood & Co, from Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) ghosts are absolutely everywhere, and teenagers are the only people who can save us from them. In Last Night in Soho, a genre-bending adventure from director Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead), a young student won’t leave the past alone: Thomasina Mackenzie (The King)’s Ellie discovers a gateway to the 1960s and the glamorous life of young singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma), but finds herself getting too close to the tragedies of her older counterpart’s life. 

The Awakening

His House

But what if ghosts aren’t your thing? There are killers, demons and existential threats galore too. Bill Nighy (Living) hunts down a killer like no other he’s seen in The Limehouse Golem, an atmospheric Victorian story full of swirling fogs and lurking menace. In the modern day, Rob Savage’s tight, terrifying Host imagined a demon crashing a group séance done over Zoom, while his Dashcam saw creepy behaviour in the back of a car. And on TV’s The Rig, Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) and Martin Compston (Line of Duty) face something supernatural aboard an oil rig; as if they didn’t have challenges enough. In Prano Bailey-Bond’s chilling Censor, a film censor (Niamh Algar, Calm with Horses) starts to doubt her own mind – as does Alice Lowe’s (Sightseers) pregnant protagonist in the film she also directed while pregnant, Prevenge. In The Baby, strange and gory events seem connected to an abandoned infant: no one is safe! You can’t even trust those closest to you: Morfydd Clark’s Saint Maud is a religious private carer who takes her own moral stance to extremes in Rose Glass’ powerful debut chiller.  

Hungry for more? There is an ancient vampire stalking The Boys from County Hell – and he’s not alone. Another lurks in the fully Gothic horror of Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green (Casino Royale), Rory Kinnear (The Hollow Crown) and Billie Piper (no stranger to Gothic scares thanks to Doctor Who). Or if you prefer witchcraft, try A Discovery of Witches, starring Matthew Goode (The Crown) as a professor who’s also a vampire but who forges an alliance with a witch to solve a mystery. Other mystical business threatens as a young couple finds more than they bargained when they move to a remote house by the forest in The Hallow, from filmmaker Corrin Hardy (Gangs of London). 

The Baby

The Hallow

If you like your scares very gentle indeed, or if you’re trying to teach your children about the fun of spooky season, try an animated treat like Hilda and The Mountain King, where our titular heroine (voiced by Bella Ramsay, Game of Thrones) is transformed into a troll. For an even more gentle approach, you can turn to the fabulous Aardman Animation, the team who made Chicken Run. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of The Were-Rabbit plays gloriously with all sorts of horror tropes, while their sci-fi tinged comedy Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon sees the popular sheep encounter a mysterious visitor from another world, in an outing that riffs on sci-fi scares galore (without actually being too frightening). 

Whatever it is that scares you, in other words, there’s a film or show to match. So stay warm, get comfortable and enjoy them – and listen out for things that go bump in the night.