Welcome to the horror show: Yorkshire’s filmic dark side

Niamh Alghar in 'Censor', filmed partly in Parkwood in Tong.

August 17th

Censor launches in UK cinemas on August 20

Censor is the second British horror to be filmed in Yorkshire in two years. Last year it was Saint Maud, a psychological drama set on the North Yorkshire Coast, and if there’s a heartland for horror in Yorkshire it’s surely got to be this brooding sweep of clifftops, creaking villages and crashing waves.

Whitby

In fact, Yorkshire has long had historical ties to the horror genre. The coast that Saint Maud filmed on has become the UK’s gothic capital thanks to one particular character with global gorey appeal: Dracula. Vampire ephemera is everywhere in Whitby, the Yorkshire seaside town that features in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.

Bram Stoker visited Whitby in 1890, took inspiration from it and included many nods to the Yorkshire coastal town in his gothic novel. Most famously, Whitby harbour is where the Demeter ship lands, carrying Dracula in dirt from Romania and with the dead captain tied to the helm.

Claes Bang as Dracula

The town has been plagued by ghost stories for centuries, but ever since its rise to fame in Dracula, it’s also been a favourite with witches and cosplayers. Twice a year, it hosts the UK’s biggest Goth Weekend.

Whitby’s narrow cobbled streets, overlooked by the ruins of a giant gothic clifftop abbey, are extremely cinematic, and it’s easy to see how Stoker formulated his dark-side protagonist while staying here. In 2020, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat remained faithful to the original novel by returning to Whitby to film parts of their retelling of Dracula.

Saint Maud - Morfydd Clark

Saint Maud was primarily shot in and around Scarborough, a larger coastal resort just south of Whitby with Victorian pleasure gardens and quaint heritage trams that scale the cliffs down to two broad beaches. It’s about an isolated woman (played by Jennifer Ehle) whose health is deteriorating in a grand old Victorian pile, and her pious live-in nurse (played by rising star Morfydd Clark).

 

Saint Maud crew filming on location in Scarborough. Image: Scarborough Borough Council

Some of the filming took place around the heritage amusement arcades that line the seafront, but Saint Maud also shows off the North Yorkshire Coast’s dark side. In the right light, the jagged, windswept cliffs of this coastline look haunting as they’re being lashed by the North Sea. The same coastline, close to Whitby at Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes was used in the Phantom Thread in 2017, starring Daniel Day Lewis.

Daniel Day-Lewis (Reynolds) and Vicky Krieps (Alma) in Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread isn’t a horror film, but the excruciating tension in this drama about a haute couture dressmaker’s dominating relationship with a waitress – which ultimately ends in his death – is magnified by the intense backdrop of blustering Yorkshire clifftop walks, pounding surf and bleak Atlantic skylines.

Niamh Alghar in 'Censor'

Censor’s slasher-style gore picks up the trail from Dracula, using the gritty urban folds of Leeds and Bradford as a setting for blood-bathing scenes. In 2021, horror has returned to Yorkshire.