Directors: Anthony Gilkson, J. B. Williams, Theodore Zichy, Brian Cummins, Lindsey C. Vickers, Derek Robbins, Nigel Finch
Script: Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allen Poe, George Barraud, Brian Cummins, Lindsey C. Vickers, Derek Robbins, David McGillivray
Cast: Algernon Blackwood, Stanley Baker, Harriette Johns, Terence Alexander, Roland Brand, Alex Gallier, Michael Lewis, Sandra Dorne, Anthony Tancred, David Ritch, Yvonne Warren, Dermot Palmer, Ralph Tovey, Aleis Kanner, Youtha Joyce, Julie Peasgood, Gene Foad, Ben Howard, Felicity Devonshire, Jane Carden, Alun Armstrong, Edward Kalishski, Peter Howell
Running time: 216 minutes
Year: 1949 – 1980
Certificate: 18

This compelling new BFI Flipside collection revisits the heyday of the supporting programme with a compendium of eerie and eccentric British short films presented for the first time in high definition. This compendium makes for a strange cinematic journey through uncanny stories, with twists in the tale, and low-budget weirdness, all with oodles of atmosphere, or at least character.

This carefully curated collection includes a plethora of interesting titles, some newly remastered in HD for the very first time and showcases an eclectic range of filmic delights spanning from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. The films are:

LOCK YOUR DOORS (Anthony Gilkison, 1949, 14.5 mins)

Master storyteller Algernon Blackwood relates his own tale of an elderly spinster overcome by ghostly voices and a creeping sense of horror in a remote country cottage that she takes refuge at when her train is delayed. Blackwood creates quite an impression as he doesn’t seem to be reading off a prompter, but remembering his story line for line. His delivery is a bit rambling, but the tale still pushed a mild shiver or two up my spine.

THE REFORMATION OF ST JULES (Anthony Gilkison, 1949, 14 mins)

There’s something strange in the sky as sci-fi and religious revelation collide – and only legendary weird fiction writer Algernon Blackwood can provide an explanation. This was probably my least favourite short in this collection; I particularly felt Blackwood’s characters in this one were lacking.

THE TELL-TALE HEART (J B Williams, 1953, 20 mins)

The late, great Stanley Baker gives a virtuoso performance by candlelight as Edgar Allan Poe recounting his classic tale of horror. This is atmospheric stuff, with plenty of weird camera angles, and much interesting framing of shots to help maintain the viewer’s interest.

DEATH WAS A PASSENGER (Theodore Zichy, 1958, 27 mins)

A World War II spy short where a chance encounter with an enigmatic nun on a train evokes eerie, half-forgotten memories of a perilous wartime escape attempt in occupied France. This was quite tense in places with some good performances, although the ending was a little twee.

PORTRAIT OF A MATADOR (Theodore Zichy, 1958, ? mins)

An artist becomes unhealthily obsessed with his painting of a dead bullfighter in this bizarre tale of romance, intrigue, insanity and auto-suggestion. This plays out like a weaker episode of Tales of the Unexpected and is a little cheesy, but still worth a watch.

TWENTY-NINE (Brian Cummins, 1969, 26.5 mins)

A promiscuous young man, Baird (Alexis Kanner, The Prisoner), wakes up in a strange flat, wearing clothes that don’t fit, with a hangover and a half-remembered memory of a visit to a strip club. What happened last night? This rather confusing tale is fun mostly because of the crazy 60s fashions on display and for the general ambience it exudes.

THE SEX VICTIMS (Derek Robbins, 1973, 33 mins)

The bizarre sight of a naked woman on horseback leads an unwary truck driver into a supernatural spiral of pursuit and destruction in rural England. This short raises more questions than it answers, but is quite engaging all the same and has some striking visuals and some cool locations.

THE LAKE (Lindsey C Vickers, 1978, 37 mins)

The tranquil stillness of a romantic picnic for young lovers Tony (Gene Foad) and Barbara (Julie Peasgood, from House of the Long Shadows) is threatened by echoes of a horrific murder scene that happened nearby in this haunting and quite creepy rural ghost story from Lindsey Vickers (The Appointment). This is probably my favourite film in the set and works nicely on a number of levels. The performances are good and the point-of-view killer shots were probably quite new at this time. A nice location and a cool dog lift this one too.

THE ERRAND (Nigel Finch, 1980, 29 mins)

A soldier at an elite military institution is sent on a strange and increasingly nightmarish mission/errand in this full-on fever-dream thriller from long-time Pete Walker collaborator David McGillivray (House of Whipcord). This was a bit disappointing since it has great pedigree and I had high expectations, but it doesn’t really cut the mustard. However, it does have a few memorable sequences and Finch and McGillvray make good use of some great locations.

Special features

  • Man With a Movie Camera (2020, 42 mins): interview with Twenty-Nine producer Peter Shillingford – a fascinating look back at a very varied and distinguished career in filming. Peter has worked with a  veritable who’s who of stars and directors including Richard Burton (who could memorise lines in minutes) and George Lucas.
  • A Crazy, Mixed-up Kid (2020, 43 mins): interview with David McGillivray, writer of The Errand – Probably my favourite extra on the disc, this is a warts and all look at the crazy life and career of David who spent way too much time up to his neck in the Sexploitation industry, but is great fun as he recounts some funny stories. I could have listened to McGillvray all day…
  • Telling Tales /Arthur Dent and Adelphi: Films in the Family (2020, 37 mins): Kate Lees, of Adelphi Films, discusses the family business and the discovery of 1953 short The Tell-Tale Heart, long believed to be lost. This is an insightful interview and Kate is good company. Apparently she’s spent 15 years looking for the film and it was eventually found in an attic in Scotland. On a separate note, a suicide was blamed on one of the company’s films, Torment.
  • Almost Thirty (2020, 15 mins): interview with RenĂ©e Glynne, script supervisor on Twenty-Nine, who seems to have had an interesting life including turning down Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in order to work on Beverly Hillbillies in London! She’s also been flashed by Mick Jagger…
  • Splashing Around (2020, 18 mins): interview with Julie Peasgood, star of The Lake and House of the Long Shadows. Julie was 22 when she shot this and really enjoyed the experience, although did get frightened in the car sequence. She also recalls shooting House of Long Shadows and falling in love with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing and their funny stories.
  • Image galleries for The Tell-Tale Heart (3.30 mins), The Lake and The Errand (3.50 mins) – these include some really nice behind the scenes imagery
  • Script galleries for The Lake and The Errand
  • Gallery of the original short story The Errand
  • Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by renowned illustrator Graham Humphreys
  • ***First pressing only*** illustrated booklet with an essay by BFI video producer Vic Pratt and curator William Fowler, co-founders of the BFI Flipside strand and Josephine Botting, curator in the BFI National Archive; notes and credits on each film and notes on the special features.

 

Short Sharp Shocks
Justin Richards reviews the BFI's collection of bizarre British shorts, namely 'Short Sharp Shocks'.
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About The Author

After a lengthy stint as a print journalist, Justin now works as a TV and film producer for Bazooka Bunny. He's always been interested in genre films and TV and has continued to work in that area in his new day-job. His written work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications, including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not running around on set, or sat hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard, he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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