Not such a green and pleasant land after all...

New film Sightseers shows rural Britain at its creepiest

What do you think of when you think of the great British countryside? Verdant fields and winding lanes? Charming tea shops and historic houses? Sightseers, the story of a couple on a British caravanning trip, and the latest film from Kill List director Ben Wheatley, has all of the above. It also has spree killing, dog-kidnapping and loud sex in a motorway lay-by.

This might not be chocolate-box Britain, but this eerier, anarchic vision of rural life is just as traditional, if not more so. It stretches back into our pagan prehistory, winds through the 15th- and 16th-century witch trials, and was cemented by a sub-strand of psychedelic folk and British horror movies of the 1960s and 70s. Most famously, there's The Wicker Man (1973), a film so iconic, that even Chris Crowley, the chairman of Britain's Pagan Federation can forgive it its sins. "I think most pagans really like that film. I mean, it is a cult classic, but that doesn't mean we do anything like that either."

Sightseers, with its chicken sacrifices and soundtrack use of Donovan's "Season of the Witch", nods towards a British horror tradition. It also encompasses very funny moments of black comedy, and a much less British antecedent; the spree-killer road movie à la True Romance, Bonnie and Clyde and Kalifornia.

In these films, the homicidal lovebirds drive across vast expanses of land, as desolate as their amoral souls. There's a reason why all these films were shot stateside, says Wheatley. "I think the thing that American road movies have, is that they don't have any roundabouts, so you can go a lot further in a straight line. I wouldn't like to see Dennis Hopper riding around a roundabout on his chopper in Easy Rider. It would have been a bit awkward."

In fact, as Sightseers illustrates, there are plenty of spots in rural Britain as awe-inspiring as they are potentially creepy. Kit and Holly in Badlands may have had the badlands of South Dakota, but Chris and Tina in Sightseers have the lunar landscape of Honister Pass in the Lake District and the imposing Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire.

"You forget how remote you can get [in Britain]" says Harvey Edgington, broadcasting and media manager for the National Trust. "Once you get into the ponds and the woods, and it's night and maybe you're alone, the scale doesn't matter. When you're scared, you're scared." He lists some of the film industry's favourite creepy locations as the "dark and forbidding" Frithsden Beeches wood at Ashridge in Hertfordshire, where The Descent (2005) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) were shot and Frensham Ponds in Surrey, which was the lake in Eden Lake (2009) and the Nile in The Mummy (1999).

This, and not Satan worshipping, is also what pagans are all about, says Crowley (no relation to Aleister): "Pagans see themselves very much as being part of nature and in tune with the natural cycle." Yet despite this shared viewpoint, directors of British horror movies and real-life pagans have not always seen eye to eye. This probably has something to do with film-makers' habit of depicting pagans as orgiastic sacrificers of small fluffy animals and virgins etc. "I mean obviously paganism celebrates the life cycle and so in honouring the seasonal year, you're aware of, y'know, fertility and things like that," says Crowley, "But people who don't know any better assume that we're all having a wonderful sexy time." And are they? Banish thoughts of Britt Ekland's nude cavorting in The Wicker Man or the semi-nude fireside dancing in Sightseers – not true, says Crowley. "Did you notice the terrible summer we had? Nobody's going to be out there in that."

'Sightseers' is released on Friday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone