The gothic first gripped Britain through the sensational novels of 18th and 19th century writers like Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. But the gothic really came to life on film, transforming Dracula and Frankenstein into towering myths. In 2013 the BFI launched a UK­-wide celebration of gothic film and TV featuring a wide range of world cinema.

This selection of great British classics newly available on DCP demonstrates the continuing impact of the gothic imagination on several decades of British film history, with spookily stylish adaptations of works by Patrick Hamilton, Henry James, Daphne du Maurier and Angela Carter. Ghoulish portmanteau horror films such as Dead of Night (1945) and the Technicolor­ infused blood­lust of Hammer Films productions of the 1950s and 60s, still have an irresistible charm. Film and television makers, as well as audiences, continue to return to these classic productions for inspiration, breathing new life into the un­dead creatures of our imagination and renewing the gothic sensibility at the dark heart of British culture.

Touring programme features

  • Gothic: The Dark Heart of British Film brand identity
  • clips from each of the films included in the package on DCP
  • relevant BFI commissioned web content including in-conversation sessions and interviews
  • specially-written film notes for distribution to cinema audiences
  • Gothic: The Dark Heart of British Film publication and merchandise
  • full details of how to acquire non-BFI owned international rights and materials

Booking and rights information

Contact us for international booking enquiries.

The BFI will provide all rights information to allow you to clear the rights for non-BFI owned rights and materials.

Available in new DCPs

Thirteen classic features (and one short) spanning 5 decades of British film history.

Gaslight

UK 1940. Dir Thorold Dickinson. With Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell. 84min. Digital. PG
Digitally remastered by the BFI National Archive.

The first film version of Patrick Hamilton’s Victorian stage play Gas Light has not had its time in the sun, until now. Mingling suavity and cruelty, Anton Walbrook excels as the husband who attempts to drive his wife mad to prevent her disclosure of his guilty secret while he searches obsessively for some hidden jewels. Dickinson delivers a powerful gothic melodrama of domestic sadism and psychological suspense.

Bookings: Hollywood Classics

Dead of Night

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

Ealing’s compendium proffers 5 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. One of the greatest of all portmanteau films.

Bookings: StudioCanal

The Queen of Spades

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

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.

Bookings: StudioCanal

Night of the Demon

UK 1957. Dir Jacques Tourneur. With Dana Andrews, Niall MacGinnis, Peggy Cummins. Digital. 95min. PG

No-nonsense psychologist Holden (Andrews) has his scepticism sorely tested when he’s passed a cursed parchment – by occultist Karswell (MacGinnis) – and told he’ll die a demonic death in 4 days. Aided by perceptive Joanna Harrington (Cummins), Holden must race to escape his destiny. Now remastered by the BFI National Archive (thanks to the generous support of Simon W Hessel), this gripping tale of contemporary witchcraft is revealed once again – in all its shadowy glory – as one of Tourneur’s finest works.

Bookings: Park Circus

Dracula

UK 1958. Dir Terence Fisher. With Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee. Digital. 82min. 12A

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. Plus Cross-roads (UK 1955. Dir John Fitchen. With Christopher Lee. 19 min. New print). This archive rarity stars Lee in perhaps his earliest supernatural screen role, as a vengeful ghost.

Bookings: Park Circus

The Mummy

UK 1959. Dir Terence Fisher. With Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Felix Aylmer. Digital. 88min. PG

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. Plus Tut-Ankh Amen’s Tomb (UK 1923. c3min). This newsreel item captures the excitement as the Pharaoh’s tomb was opened for the first time.

Bookings: Park Circus

The Innocents

UK 1961. Dir Jack Clayton. With Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin. Digital. 100min. 12A. A BFI Release

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, well-meaning 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 acting and enhanced by the use of natural sound, that makes the film as psychologically astute as it is deliciously disturbing.

Bookings: Hollywood Classics

The Devil Rides Out

UK 1967. Dir Terence Fisher. With Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Patrick Mower. 95min. 15

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. Plus La Danse du Diable (France 1904. Dir Gaston Velle. c3min. © Pathé Production).

Bookings: Park Circus

Witchfinder General

UK 1968. Dir Michael Reeves. With Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Nicky Henson. 86min. 15

The last and best film of director Michael Reeves’ tragically brief career, Witchfinder General is one of a select few horror films to have transcended their genre to win broad critical admiration – in Britain, perhaps only Peeping Tom (Dir Michael Powell, 1960) and The Wicker Man (Dir Robin Hardy, 1971) have been similarly favoured. All 3 films had to overcome native critics’ customary disdain for horror, and in the case of Witchfinder General, it took Reeves’ premature death for the film’s visionary power to be fully appreciated.

Bookings: Hollywood Classics

Don’t Look Now

UK 1972. Dir Nicolas Roeg. With Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason. 110min. 15

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 2 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.

Bookings: StudioCanal

The Wicker Man

UK 1973. Dir Robin Hardy. With Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento. 92min. 15

Staunchly Christian copper Sergeant 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.

Bookings: StudioCanal

The Elephant Man

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

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.

Bookings: StudioCanal

The Company of Wolves

UK 1984. Dir Neil Jordan. With Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea, Micha Bergese, David Warner. 95min. Digital. 18

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.

Bookings: Park Circus

The Mistletoe Bough

UK 1904. Dir Percy Stow

An unlucky bride is locked in a trunk during a game of hide and seek in this ghostly, early silent film. The tale of The Mistletoe Bough dates back to the 18th century and was traditionally recited at Christmas time as a ballad. Its ghostly bride, olde-worlde castle setting and shock discovery of skeletal remains make it a gothic classic.

Bookings: BFI