Gothic: The Dark Heart of British Film (For Non-UK Exhibitors)

GASLIGHT

Available from Hollywood Classics

Newly remastered by the BFI National Archive

UK 1940. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Anton Walbrook, Diana Wyngard, Frank Pettingell. 84min.

The novelist/dramatist Patrick Hamilton is regularly ‘rediscovered’, but the first film version of his Victorian stage play Gas Light has not had its time in the sun – until now. Mingling suavity and cruelty, Anton Walbrook excels as the sadistic husband who attempts to drive his wife mad to prevent her disclosing his guilty secret while he searches obsessively for some hidden jewels. The project appealed to Thorold Dickinson for allowing him ‘to expose the worst side of the Victorian male’s attitude to women’. The film’s critical success in Britain prompted the sale of all rights to MGM, who suppressed this version in favour of its own Ingrid Bergman-starring retread. Fortunately, Dickinson had made a ‘secret’ print, which was donated to the British Film Institute and used for reference when the film was digitally remastered by the BFI National Archive.

- Nigel Algar

DEAD OF NIGHT

Available from Studiocanal

UK 1945. Dir Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti. With Michael Redgrave, Googie Withers, Mervyn Johns. 102min. 

Ealing’s compendium proffers five ghost stories as related by visitors to a country house, who eventually find themselves caught up in almost surreally nightmarish developments beyond their control. Best, arguably, are Cavalcanti’s episode about a ventriloquist and his dummy and Hamer’s tale of a mirror which reflects how easily history might repeat itself. Excellent contributions from all ensure that this remains one of the greatest of all portmanteau films.

Geoff Andrew

THE QUEEN OF SPADES

Available from Studiocanal

UK 1949. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell. 95min.

A marvellously atmospheric version of Pushkin’s short story, in which Walbrook’s impoverished young army officer decides to improve his skills at gambling by trying to discover the secret of an elderly countess who is rumoured never to have lost at the card tables. Otto Heller’s camerawork, Oliver Messel’s sets and Georges Auric’s music all contribute to Dickinson’s meticulous evocation of imperial Russia and to the mood of stiflingly gloomy decadence.

Geoff Andrew

NIGHT OF THE DEMON

Available from Park Circus

Newly remastered by the BFI National Archive

UK 1957. Dir Jacques Tourneur. With Dana Andrews, Niall MacGinnis, Peggy Cummins. 82min.

No-nonsense psychologist Holden (Andrews) has his scepticism sorely tested when he’s passed a cursed parchment - by irresponsible mummy’s-boy occultist Karswell (MacGinnis) – and told he’ll die a demonic death in four days. Aided by perceptive Joanna Harrington (Cummins), Holden must race to escape his destiny. Now remastered by the BFI National Archive, this gripping tale of contemporary witchcraft is revealed once again - in all its shadowy glory - as one of Tourneur’s finest works.

Vic Pratt

DRACULA

Available from Park Circus

UK 1958. Dir Terence Fisher. With Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee. 82min.

Hammer’s Dracula foregrounded the viscerally erotic allure of the Count, with every unholy incident captured in full colour as never before. Icily magnetic as the vampire, Lee towers over proceedings with aristocratic disdain; while Peter Cushing makes the perfect foil as Van Helsing.

Vic Pratt

THE MUMMY

Available from Park Circus

UK 1959. Dir Terence Fisher. With Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee. 88min.

Emerging from a fetid swamp bent on vengeance, Hammer’s mummy, Kharis (superlatively played by Lee), was a different reanimated Egyptian from the Universal original. Devoid of dialogue, trussed in bandages, Lee’s monster dispenses wrath upon all desecrators, while his eyes tell a tale of torment.

Vic Pratt

THE INNOCENTS

Available from Hollywood Classics

UK 1961. Dir Jack Clayton. With Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave. 100min.

With its superlative script (largely by Truman Capote) and arguably the finest performance of Deborah Kerr’s career, Jack Clayton’s film of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is one of cinema’s greatest ghost stories. From the very opening – the sounds of first a small girl and then a nightingale in song, followed by a shot of hands in tremulous prayer – an unholy alliance is vividly evoked, of childhood play, nocturnal longing and fearful superstition. Hired with little ado by their uncaring, absent uncle, Miss Giddens (Kerr) arrives at Bly House to oversee the welfare of orphans Miles and Flora; after the housekeeper mentions her predecessor’s fate, the governess, wellmeaning but hardly well-versed in the ways of the world, becomes convinced her charges may have been corrupted, even possessed… Much has been made of Freddie Francis’s lambent black and white ‘Scope images, darkly suggestive of sinister visitations and immanent horror – ‘O Rose, thou art sick’ – while Wilfrid Shingleton’s production design and Georges Auric’s music add to the febrile atmosphere. But it’s the rich ambiguity, embodied in the cadences of the dialogue and acting and enhanced by the use of natural sound and reflections, that makes the film as psychologically astute as it is deliciously disturbing.

Geoff Andrew

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT

Available from Park Circus

UK 1967. Dir Terence Fisher. With Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower. 95min.

Dennis Wheatley’s occult tale set among a devil-worshipping cult in 1920s England took 30 years to reach the screen, but it was well worth the wait as Hammer adapted it as only they could. The performances are top notch, with Lee’s commanding Duc de Richleau pitted against Charles Gray’s wonderfully evil Mocata. Although the special effects are not quite as convincing, the film powerfully and effectively evokes the dark world of devil worship.

Jo Botting

WITCHFINDER GENERAL

Available from Hollywood Classics

UK 1968. Dir Michael Reeves. With Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer. 86min.

This censor-shocking period horror follows corrupt inquisitor Matthew Hopkins (Price, in a career-highlight performance) as he journeys across 17th century East Anglia, extracting confessions of witchcraft with perverse zeal. Notoriously grisly, always intelligent, this was arguably the masterpiece of Reeves’ all-too short career. A brooding contemplation on the nature of brutality played out against a beautifully realised rural backdrop, it spawned various gorier, less cerebral witch-trial horror films.

Vic Pratt

DON’T LOOK NOW

Available from Studiocanal

UK 1972. Dir Nicolas Roeg. With Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason. 110min.

Roeg’s masterly version of Daphne du Maurier’s short story about a couple who, in mourning after the death of their young daughter, go to Venice to forget and recuperate, only to encounter two sisters claiming to have a message from beyond. At once a supremely unsettling supernatural thriller and a sensitive, insightful study of inconsolable grief, the film is arguably its director’s masterpiece; certainly it is his most persuasive and emotionally affecting exploration of the sometimes confounding elasticity of time.

Geoff Andrew

THE WICKER MAN

Available from Studiocanal

UK 1973. Dir Robin hardy. With Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento. 92min.

Staunchly Christian copper Sgt Howie (Woodward) visits remote Summerisle, searching for a missing schoolgirl. But the idyllic Scottish island community – resplendently led by Lord Summerisle (Lee) – harbours ancient, arcane beliefs. Arguably the greatest British ‘folk horror’, now digitally restored to include sections from a 1979 American release print, in line with the director’s intentions. Come, there has never been a better time to keep your appointment with The Wicker Man.

Vic Pratt

THE ELEPHANT MAN

Available from Studiocanal

USA 1980. Dir David Lynch. With John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft. 124min.

Shot in superb black and white by Freddie Francis, Lynch’s marvellous, deeply moving film concerns John Merrick, a man so terribly deformed that he’s displayed in freak shows until a doctor (Hopkins) takes an interest in his condition and welfare. Though this variant on the beauty and the beast theme is in some ways Lynch’s most conventional film, its vision of Victorian London is also the stuff of nightmares. Hurt’s subtly nuanced performance as Merrick is enormously expressive.

Geoff Andrew

THE COMPANY OF WOLVES

Available from Park Circus

UK 1984. Dir Neil Jordan. With Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea. 95min.

Reviewer Hal Erikson called this film ‘Little Red Riding Hood for the Alien generation’ which neatly describes the goriness and girly-ness of Neil Jordan’s groundbreaking adaptation of Angela Carter’s popular reworking of the classic fairy tale. This is properly Gothic, from its red-white-and-blood colour palette to its central theme, a set of stories about the predatory nature of male desire, symbolised by the werewolf, encountering the fearless pubescent girl who is most certainly no passive victim.

Bryony Dixon

THE MISTLETOE BOUGH

Available from the BFI

UK 1904. With music by Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne

Newly restored by the BFI National Archive Archival short film

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