Directors: Ronald Haines, John Gilling, Theodore Zichy, Ian F.H. Lloyd, Robert Bierman, David Evans, Polly Biswas Gladwin, Bruna Fionda, Zachary Nataf
Script: Ronald Haines, John Gilling, Theodore Zichy, Ian F.H. Lloyd, Robert Bierman, David Evans, Polly Biswas Gladwin, Bruna Fionda, Zachary Nataf
Cast: Carol O’ Conner, Max Earl, Victoria Hopper, John Le Mesurier, John Stuart, Therese Burton, Reid de Rouen, Anthony F. Page, Gordon Bell, Screaming Lord Sutch, Rosie Bizley, John Beniett, David Allister, Geraldine James, John White, Susan Franklyn, Jeremy Peters, Pamela Lofton, Patricia St. Hilaire
Running time: 222 + 130 minutes (extras)
Year: 1943 – 1986
BFI Flipside has produced another interesting collection of shorts, revisiting the heyday of the supporting cinema programme. This compendium of eccentric and often quite bizarre British short films is presented for the first time in high definition. This follow-up compendium makes for yet another 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 particular collection showcases an eclectic range of filmic delights spanning from the early 1940s to the mid-1980s. The films are:
QUIZ CRIME: Crooked Billet Murder (1943)
Detective Inspector Frost (no, not that one!) invites his viewers to beat him at his own game of solving a grisly murder. He relays the facts and we see a reconstruction, of sorts, of his own investigation. Some unfortunate chap is murdered on a golf course, and it soon becomes apparent who clubbed him to death – well, it was obvious, the perp’ looked dodgy and smoked! However, I was worried about the cop’s powers of observation since, at one point he describes a modest-sized suitcase as being large!
QUIZ CRIME: Back Stage Murder (1943)
More mayhem and murder for Detective Inspector Frost (o’ Conner) to solve, involving a showgirl stabbed in her own dressing room. This one is a little more interesting, mostly down to the shapely form of the showgirl and some over-acting.
QUIZ CRIME: The Case of the Stolen Boy (1944)
This Quiz Crime episode Max Earl plays the investigating officer, who’s a little less ‘wooden-top’ than Conner and carries a gun! This time we’re presented with a kidnapping to help solve and our ‘hero’ turns into a bit of a letch while questioning the missing boy’s attractive nanny. The ransom note asks for £5,000 in one pound notes – wow!
QUIZ CRIME: The Boarding House Murder (1944)
Finally, we get to solve another brutal stabbing, resulting from a jewellery robbery. Probably the worst crime here is the terrible acting on behalf of the maid as she’s being interviewed by our stoic man-of-the-law.
THE THREE CHILDREN (1946)
A public information film, of sorts, this starts off as a warning to children not to go off with strangers until it finally becomes clear that it’s really a different warning about road-safety for children and that the three kids profiled here (Tommy, Bobby and Susan) were all based on children who were killed in actual traffic accidents. The grim narration claims that three children are killed on UK roads each day. The film was commissioned by the Long Eaton Safety Committee.
ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR (1948)
Directed by John Gilling, who later went onto to direct the likes of The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies for Hammer Films in the 1960s, this is a nuanced tale of revenge from beyond the grave. John Le Mesurier, of Dad’s Army fame, turns in a great performance as creepy ex-con and mental patient, Pendicost, who returns to the site of where he murdered a maid while robbing the stately home, Twelve Trees. The black and white photography adds to the general air of menace.
Directed by the Hungarian Theodore Zichy (who had also directed a couple of the previous Sharp Shocks volume’s shorts too), Mingaloo is a fun crime caper with a slight mystical edge to it. A sculptor dreams of a Chinese dog statue so sculpts it. A visiting client sees it and negotiates with the sculpture’s posh naive assistant to sell it on the quiet, after she claims that she made it behind her boss’s back. This was quite odd, but enjoyable in a fluffy sort of way. The girl is quite annoying though!
JACK THE RIPPER (1963)
The original ‘shock-rock’ performer, Screaming Lord Sutch (real name: David Edward Sutch), performs his Jack the Ripper track in a funky music video; the first colour film in this compilation. This is a nice bit of Sixties kitsch and the song is quite catchy, although I struggled to understand one word particular of the chorus line consistently!
THE FACE OF DARKNESS (1976)
Brent Walker’s The Face of Darkness is a rather dense and pretentious nearly hour-long short that features Grange Hill’s headmistress, Rosie Bizley, as the brainwashed acolyte of an over-zealous MP who makes a pact with an undead heretic in order to further his own political career, as you do! This is all very peculiar and is quite difficult to follow at times, but came about due to concerns about unnecessary security legislation brought in by the government of the time to combat an upsurge of terrorism. Our right-wing politician here arranges for his undead partner to commit an act of terror on a school in order to justify the Security Act that he’s trying to push through parliament. It’s all a bit fragmented, but is still worth a watch, if only to see Lennard Pearce (granddad from Only Fools and Horses) featuring as a dodgy politician.
THE DUMB WAITER (1979)
This slasher-lite short is probably my favourite film in the set, and sees Geraldine James being menaced by a stalker, firstly on the roads and then later at her apartment in London. Frustratingly, it feels like part of a much longer film, but is done really well and James’s performance errs on the side of quieter, understated fear rather than full-on screaming. Our heroine does act a bit dumb though by deciding to get undressed and grab a bath once she’s back home, which seems the opposite to how most people would be if they were scared and alone. It’s a pity director Bierman didn’t turn this into a full-length feature. The music score really adds to the tense atmosphere too.
This safety video, made for the Building Employer’s Confederation, is a laugh-riot as some kind of Village People reject, wearing a hangman’s eye mask, takes us through a series of building-site accidents and points out to the audience the ‘epic fails’ the workers made while going about their work, thus resulting in their untimely deaths, usually falling from great heights… Our narrator emphasises the fragility of the human body by periodically breaking table tennis balls or dropping eggs or, on one occasion, his fruit juice in its cardboard container. I’m not sure if this ever made hardened builders change their bad habits, but it’s a fun watch, and we get to see plenty of high-falls, guys being squashed under fallen bricks and falling tools destroying eye sockets!
THE MARK OF LILITH (1986)
As I was watching this I’m afraid I had a somewhat negative reaction, commenting that it’s all a ‘load of woke twaddle’ to myself. However, after watching the extras (see later) I have to admit I re-evaluated my opinion somewhat, and now just think it’s a pretentious student art-house project gone a bit awry. There are some elements I did quite like – for example, there are a few quite creative shots here and there and it has a few original ideas, but, on the whole, I found it tested my patience as it dragged on too long. In summary, Lilith sees a black lesbian filmmaker becoming involved with a white female vampire who is, essentially, trying to ‘find herself’ after having a crisis of conscience over all the kills she’s made, unlike her more ruthless white male boyfriend. Even some Polish vodka couldn’t make this one seem any better!
- Darkness Falls (43.5 mins): An interview withThe Face of Darkness director Ian F. H. Lloyd – Lloyd makes for good company as he explains how the film got off the ground and the mistakes he made. They had very little money, which was borrowed off a bank in Shropshire and still hasn’t all been paid back, apparently! Looking back he now thinks the film is ‘too heavy’ with political meaning and he should have made it ‘more entertaining’. I couldn’t agree more, Ian…
- Heads will Roll (40 mins): An interview with Robert Bierman on The Dumb Waiter. Robert is a fun tour-guide through the world of low-budget filmmaking and talks about his early career and also a little about his later career, including his work on Vampires’ Kiss with Nic Cage and The Fly. He also got sacked while directing the anti-racism film White Dog and gives some sound script-writing advice, including ‘the rule of thumb’ concerning dialogue.
- Making their Mark(33 mins): Polly Biswas Gladwin, Brunan Fionda and Zachary Nataf talk about how The Mark of Lilith came about and how it got funded and made. This starts off a bit awkwardly, but once the very pleasant trio hit their stride they’re very engaging and have a lot of interesting stuff to say. We find out that Lilith was inspired by films like The Hunger, Nosferatu and Daughters of Darkness and that they funded the project themselves, for the most part, out of their student grants. The freaky masks in the background are more terrifying than anything in their film, that’s for sure!
- Puttin’ on the Ritzy (13 mins): An interview with Clare Binns on London’s legendary Ritzy cinema. Clare got a job there, aged 19, and seems to be still there, now aged 67, so she knows her shit. Clare talks about how the cinema, and how cinema in general, has changed throughout the years and how the Ritzy was kind of a sister cinema to the now sadly defunct Scala cinema.
- Image Gallery: a selection of stills and posters for the likes of The Face of Darkness (22); The Dumb Waiter (32) and for The Mark of Lilith (75).
Information booklet – This 32 page BFI-produced booklet covers in some detail all the shorts and is an interesting read. There also additional information regarding the extras. Useful, engaging stuff.