Warning, this post contains clips & images which some readers may find disturbing.
This is part two of a look at some of London’s scariest film and television scenes. For the first instalment, please click here.
The Day of the Triffids (1981)
In this BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel, most of the world’s population have been permanently blinded after witnessing an incredible ‘meteor shower’ (which it transpires, was actually created by malfunctioning Soviet satellites).
Society collapses overnight and to make matters worse the blind are now at the mercy of swarms of ‘Triffids’; bio-engineered plants which can move around freely, lash out and kill.
In this clip, Bill Masen (played by John Duttine) and Jo (Emma Relph), both of whom have managed to escape blindness, are ambushed by a desperate, grasping group of scavengers on Rocliffe Street, Islington.
Later on in the series, a sequence of chilling images depicts an abandoned, crumbling London being reclaimed by nature.
QED: A Guide to Armageddon (1982)
Broadcast at the height of the Cold War, this deeply unnerving QED documentary examined what would occur if a single, 1-megaton nuclear weapon was detonated above St Paul’s Cathedral.
To simulate the impact on the human body, flying glass is blasted at a pumpkin, meat from Lidgate’s butchers is seared to charcoal and actors are slathered in make-up to emulate severe burns and the gruesome effects of radiation poisoning.
Perhaps most terrifying of all though are the early 1980s fashions, as modelled by this young Finsbury Park couple…
The full documentary can be viewed below.
By far one of the most controversial programs ever broadcast on the BBC, Ghostwatch was billed as a live investigation into apparent poltergeist activity at a normal, suburban home in Northolt.
Closely based on the ‘Enfield Haunting‘ from the late 1970s, the malevolent spirit in Ghostwatch was a being nicknamed ‘Pipes’ who is briefly glimpsed several times as chaos unfolds.
The problem with Ghostwatch was that many viewers didn’t realise it was a drama and genuinely believed that the events they were witnessing were real- rather like the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. Panic ensued, complaints flooded in and it has never been repeated since…
Red Dwarf: Quarantine (1992)
In this episode of the deep-space set comedy, Red Dwarf the crew discover an abandoned medical research laboratory where professor Hildegarde Lanstrom (played by Maggie Steed) has placed herself in suspended animation. After reviving the professor however it’s discovered that she is infected with a deadly virus which produces petrifying results…
The eerie medical base in this scene is in fact Kempton Park Pumping station, an impressive industrial building on the outskirts of south-west London which is open to the public for guided tours.
28 Days Later (2002)
In the famous, Day of the Triffids inspired opening sequence to this post-apocalyptic horror film, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) emerges from a coma in St Thomas’s Hospital, only to find himself completely alone and the building deserted.
As Jim heads out onto the streets of London it becomes clear that a massive catastrophe has occurred and the city has been effectively abandoned– something which director, Danny Boyle achieves with tremendous skill, making the capital’s most prominent spots appear completely devoid of life…
Later on in the film, Jim meets Selena (played by Naomie Harris) and London cabbie, Frank (Brendan Gleeson). The group agree to travel together to Lancashire from where a mysterious radio message offering hope and safety is being repeated on a recorded loop- Frank plays the broadcast to Jim and Selena on top of East London’s Balfron Tower:
As they embark on their journey however, Frank’s cab suffers a puncture in the middle of the Blackwall Tunnel, resulting in an utterly terrifying adrenaline rush… (although in real life they wouldn’t need to cross the Thames- the Balfron Tower is already north of the river!)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Despite being a comedy, Shaun of the Dead– a homage to George A. Romero’s infamous zombie films- has some alarmingly tense scenes.
Much of the action occurs in Crouch End, north London where Shaun lives on Nelson Road. The film’s climax however, which takes place in The Winchester pub, was filmed on the opposite side of the city at The Old Duke of Albany on Monson Road, New Cross. The pub has since been converted into flats.
For more chills, please check out my ‘Time Out’ blog- Eight scary London spots you should know about.
Warning, this post contains clips which some readers may find disturbing.
Over the years there have been many eerie, unsettling and downright scary film and television sequences shot in London. Here is a small selection- complete with clips- to get you in the mood for Halloween…
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)
Television was still in its infancy when this adaptation of George Orwell’s totalitarian novel was shown. Staring Peter Cushing, the play was acted and broadcast live from BBC’s Alexandra Palace on the night of the 16th December 1954.
At the time, this adaptation was the most expensive television drama to date- and also the most controversial, with the film’s subversive and disturbing tone leading to questions being raised in the Houses of Parliament.
The following clip is taken from the film’s climax in which Winston Smith is hauled to the petrifying ‘Room 101’ and threatened with a ghastly form of rat torture. In real life Peter Cushing really did have a phobia of rodents which makes his turn all the more disturbing.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
In The Day the Earth Caught Fire, nuclear bomb tests conducted by the USA and USSR have caused a catastrophic shift in the Earth’s orbit, pushing it on a deadly path towards the sun.
The story focuses on Peter Stenning, a journalist from the Daily Express who covers the crisis from his Fleet Street office. Although made in black and white, the final section of the film is tinted yellow to emulate Earth’s soaring temperatures. So intense is the heat that the Thames completely dries up.
As society collapses and the planet faces destruction, scientists detonate more nuclear bombs in Siberia in the desperate hope that the earth will be pushed back on course. In the final, eerie moments, the camera focuses on an almost deserted Fleet Street print room where two alternative headlines have been prepared: ‘World Saved’ and ‘World Doomed.’ The audience are left guessing as to which story goes to press…
Dr Who: The Invasion (1968)
Despite the obvious budget limitations, I’ve always found the Cybermen from the 1960s to be particularly chilling with their soulless eyes and uncanny electronic voices.
In this clip an army of Cybermen emerge from London’s sewers and begin their march on the capital, including an iconic shot of them stomping before St Paul’s Cathedral.
Death Line (1972)
Death Line (known as ‘Raw Meat’ in the USA) is a rather daft film in which a pack of cannibals lurk on the London Underground, snacking on hapless commuters. Much of it was filmed at the now disused Aldwych station (a site still popular with film and television crews today).
The original American trailer for the film can be viewed below.
The Omen (1976)
This modern classic about ‘Damien’- the young incarnation of the devil himself- was shot on location across London, including scenes at Lambeth, Hampstead Heath and Grosvenor Square.
In the film, Catholic priest, Father Brennan (played by Patrick Troughton) is aware of Damien’s true identity and attempts to warn Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) who is the US ambassador to Britain and Damien’s adoptive father. The shocking scene in which Father Brennan meets his grisly fate was filmed beside the Thames in Bishop’s Park, Fulham (look out for Putney Bridge which can be spotted in the background).
Later in the film, Damien deliberately knocks his mother, Katherine (Lee Remick) off of a balcony, landing her in hospital. Unfortunately Katherine is still not safe and ends up being hurled from a hospital window by Damien’s psychotic nanny and protector, Mrs Baylock (Billie Whitelaw). This scene was filmed at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow (which also happens to be where I was born!)
The Omen’s final scene in which Damien gives the camera a sinister (and unscripted) smile was shot just outside the capital at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. For many years, Brookwood was linked to Waterloo station by a special funeral train (click here to learn more).
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Like The Omen, this cult favourite features many London locations.
After a vicious werewolf attack on the Yorkshire Dales which leaves his friend dead, American backpacker, David Kessler (played by David Naughton) ends up in a London hospital where he falls for nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). As David has nowhere to stay, Alex invites him to her flat at Redcliffe Square, Earls Court (sadly, I’m not quite sure how a nurse would be able to afford to live here nowadays).
It is here, as a full moon looms, that David succumbs to his werewolf bite…and transforms into a beast in a celebrated, but highly disturbing special effects sequence made long before the days of CGI. Shortly afterwards, we see David’s werewolf form commit its first attack on a young couple outside The Pryors, East Heath Road, Hampstead.
The werewolf then goes onto pursue a hapless late-night commuter at Tottenham Court Road tube station.
Finally, in the film’s famous climatic scene, the werewolf goes on a shocking, bloody rampage across Piccadilly Circus before meeting its fate at the hands of police marksmen on Clink Street, Southwark.
Please stay tuned for part two, coming soon…
If you ever find yourself feeling thirsty within London’s historic square mile then head for St Paul’s churchyard where, standing opposite the southern side of the magnificent cathedral, you’ll find this equally monumental structure:
This is the St Lawrence Jewry Memorial Fountain which dates back to 1866. It has not always been at this site- its first home was a short distance away in the courtyard of St Lawrence Jewry church, Guildhall.
The original St Lawrence Jewry church was one of many destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and the fountain was installed 200 years later by the Victorians as a way of marking the bicentenary.
On the night of December 29th 1940 the church suffered appalling damage during what would turn out to be the heaviest night of the blitz.
Amazingly the fountain survived, standing proud in the midst of the bombsite and holding the fort until the 1950s when St Lawrence Jewry was skilfully restored to Wren’s original design.
In the 1970s the Guildhall underwent extensive redevelopment which required the fountain to be dismantled.
Divided into 150 pieces, the Victorian masterpiece was reduced to a complex jigsaw, stashed away on pallets and stored at a barn in Epping where it would remain hidden for four decades.
The fountain finally returned to the streets of London in 2010 when it was lovingly pieced back together and installed at its new home opposite St Paul’s Cathedral; that other great survivor of the December 29th air-raid.
If you fancy a sip from the fountain, the pipe can be found around the back; on the south side which faces towards Distaff Lane and the Millennium Bridge.