London's Horror Film Locations
A city as eclectic and energetic as London is destined to be filled with directors shooting their latest films here, and a walk around the city at night reveals ancient, shadow-filled corners, which make it a dream setting for a horror movie. In honour of the 62nd annual BFI London Film Festival (10-21 Oct) and the spookiest month on the calendar, join us on a tour of the capital’s scariest movie spots.
28 Days Later (2002)
Some of the people who have seen this raw and gruesome zombie apocalypse film say that the most memorable scenes are at the beginning, when Jim (Cillian Murphy) walks around central London when it is completely deserted. He’s woken up from a coma to discover that the entire population has either been infected with the Rage virus, or fled to escape it. Jim searches hopelessly over Westminster Bridge, through Horse Guards Parade and along The Mall, before passing the City of London’s grand Royal Exchange building... with not a person in sight. How on earth did they film that?
The film’s producer, Andrew Macdonald, explains that London’s Metropolitan Police and the council ‘were quite happy to assist us – we were ready to shoot in minutes. When you see the whole of the Embankment and Westminster Bridge closed for you, it’s pretty exciting’.‘Walking around deserted London was a big buzz,’ said director Danny Boyle at the time, who went on to mastermind the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. ‘We tried to find iconic images, which did the job of a film with a much bigger budget.’ A few scenes later, Jim is attacked in a church by its priest who has been infected with the Rage virus. This scene was filmed inside St Anne’s Church in London Docklands’ Limehouse neighbourhood, while further on in the film you’ll also spot Jim and a few fellow survivors heading underground using the huge, metal escalator shafts at Canary Wharf Tube station.
The Omen (1976)
This horror classic follows the story of little Damien, around whom terrible accidents occur. This might have something to do with the fact that he’s related to Satan (we’re glad we didn’t have to babysit). Directed by Richard Donner, who also made Superman and Lethal Weapon, it stars Gregory Peck. In the film, Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton) tries his best to dismantle Damien’s destiny, but instead meets his end in one of the film’s most famous scenes. Brennan is chased through Bishops Park by a lightning storm as he attempts to hide in All Saints Church, next to Putney Bridge. The church is locked and, as he panics, the spire is struck by lightning and Brennan is impaled as it falls. Damien’s father then travels to Rome and arrives at a monastery. The interior shots were not filmed in Italy, however, but at St Mary-at-Lambeth. This London church was converted into the Garden Museum when The Omen was released – a coincidence?
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Don’t panic: that’s just the title of a film, but you’d be wise to remain extra vigilant if you visit ZSL London Zoo, just in case. This John Landis horror has a cheeky sense of fun as it follows the story of young American tourists David and Jack, who are attacked by a werewolf in Yorkshire (these scenes were filmed in Wales). Jack is killed and David is taken to a London hospital with a bite. You can probably guess what happens next. David goes on a rampage during the next full moon and kills a few Londoners. The flat in which David transforms into a werewolf for the first time is 64 Coleherne Road, in Earls Court, while the later scene where he bites off a man’s head was filmed at Tottenham Court Road Tube station. David finally wakes up in London Zoo – remember, we did warn you to be vigilant! The climactic scenes were shot at Winchester Walk between Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral, which was used to represent the West End. It was easier to film here, which may explain why Winchester Walk has since been used as a location for Bridget Jones’s Diary and Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
The filming of this movie has twice the creepy credentials of the others, because it’s based on a true story which took place in Enfield, north London. In 1977, the Daily Mirror broke a story about a family that was apparently being terrorised by a poltergeist in an unassuming, suburban home. Online, you’ll find ghostly videos of the ‘possessed’ 11-year-old Janet Hodgson speaking to a Daily Mirror reporter. At the time, two police officers who visited the house confirmed the reports, saying that they witnessed a chair float above the ground and then move across the living room on its own. Hollywood turned its attention to the story 40 years later with The Conjuring 2, a sequel to the second-highest grossing original horror movie ever, The Conjuring – The Exorcist was the first. Starring Vera Farmiga, the film takes the Enfield haunting as inspiration and re-enacts key moments from this episode.
While the shoot took place in the USA, Enfield was visited for exterior residential shots, and Janet revisited the address in 2016 with her older sister Margaret. On returning, Janet recalled 1977 and said: ‘I can recount [that] a chest of drawers started shuffling and it moved towards the [bedroom] door.’ The Conjuring 2’s producer Peter Safran described the story as ‘certainly one of the best-known examples (and the best-documented) of supernatural possession.’ These days, 284 Green Street in Enfield is a private home.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
It’s time for something a little less frightening. This is another zombie apocalypse tale, but a silly one; if you don’t enjoy horror, we suggest you watch the film that made a star out of the British actor Simon Pegg. In a tribute to north London, Shaun of the Dead is set in the well-to-do neighbourhood of Crouch End. Near the beginning of the film, Shaun walks to the corner shop and back, totally oblivious to the apocalyptic fate that has befallen all of his shuffling, dribbling and moaning neighbours. This route, which is walkable in the real world, sees him stroll from his house on Nelson Road to Weston Park Grocery shop (now a Londis shop) and back. Meanwhile, the electronics store where Shaun works is on the High Road in North Finchley.
The Winchester Tavern pub, where much of the action in Shaun of the Dead takes place, was the Duke of Albany, situated in southeast London. Sadly, it is not a pub any longer and has been converted into flats – perhaps the owners were worried about what the regulars might turn into…
BFI London Film Festival
The British Film Institute’s annual London extravaganza (10-21 October) is your chance to choose from hundreds of films from around the world, screened at multiple cinemas. Events start with the premiere of Widows by Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, in Leicester Square. If you love horror films, don’t miss Peter Strickland’s new film In Fabric, hotly tipped for awards. Filmed partly in an old shopping centre in Croydon, south London, the film tells the story of a cursed dress which causes devastation wherever it goes.