50 late-night classics

What to watch at witching hour? These 50 cult recommendations on BFI Player offer flesh, fear, violence and subversion.

The Beast (1975)

For a number of reasons, many films just seem suited to being watched late at night. Whether they are gory horror flicks, cult B-movies, sexually explicit dramas or documentaries with adult themes, there’s no hard and fast rule as to what makes a great late-night movie. It’s a safe bet to assume, though, that naked flesh, graphic violence and coarse language are likely to be on the cards in one form or another. Add to that bold shooting styles, unsettling themes and/or brutally frank depictions of confrontational subjects and you’re all set. Here are 50 to watch when the clock has struck midnight.

Antiviral (2012)

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Antiviral (2012)

Riffing on the body-horror themes of his father David’s early films, Brandon Cronenberg gave viewers an insight into his own dark imagination with Antiviral. Grotesque and scalpel sharp, Cronenberg Jr’s self-penned screenplay is a dystopian vision of viruses being harvested from celebrities and injected into adoring, fame-obsessed clients. As bizarre as it sounds.

Bad Timing (1980)

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Bad Timing (1980)

Memorably described as “a sick film made by sick people for sick people” by its distributor, the Rank Organisation, Bad Timing is a narratively fragmented story of sexual obsession and psychological abuse set against the backdrop of Cold War Vienna. Critically divisive, Nicolas Roeg’s dark thriller is a compelling cult favourite.

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015)

Director: Eva Husson

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015)

A heatwave, a house free from parental governance, sexual longing and drug use converge in actor and first-time feature director Eva Husson’s steamy, apparently fact-based, portrait of adolescence. Participating in a series of sex parties, Husson’s teenage central protagonists learn that experimentation and free love come with unforeseen consequences.

The Beast (1975)

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

The Beast (1975)

Written and directed by the divisive Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, The Beast is an eyebrow-raising concoction of erotic fantasy, surreal imagery and bestial horror. Controversial and sexually explicit, Borowczyk’s X-rated, dreamlike fable portrays the taboo relationship between a young woman and a beast. Once seen, it’s never forgotten. 

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

Director: Peter Strickland

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

When sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) takes on a job at the Berberian film studio in Italy, the distinctions between life and art begin to insidiously blur. While working on the shocking, violent giallo The Equestrian Vortex, Gilderoy’s grip on reality is eroded away. A beautifully designed and genuinely weird experience.

The Beyond (1981)

Director: Lucio Fulci

The Beyond (1981)

Briefly on the UK’s video nasty list and heavily censored on its US release, The Beyond forms the middle section of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy. The re-opening of a portal to Hell located underneath a renovated hotel is the catalyst for Fulci’s bizarre, creepy and graphically violent cult horror.

The Black Panther (1977)

Director: Ian Merrick

The Black Panther (1977)

Realism is to the fore in Ian Merrick’s fittingly bleak portrayal of the disturbing real-life crimes committed by armed robber, kidnapper and multiple murderer Donald Neilson, aka The Black Panther. Merrick’s finely crafted true-crime tale is driven by Donald Sumpter’s chilling performance as the ex-soldier turned notorious, brutal criminal.

Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Director: Piers Haggard

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

The discovery of a deformed skull close to a village in 18th-century England unleashes supernatural forces in Tigon Pictures’ cult British folk-horror period piece. With the local children under the influence of a Satanic beast, the remaining villagers are pitched into a deadly battle with the forces of evil.

Blue Collar (1978)

Director: Paul Schrader

Blue Collar (1978)

Richard Pryor excels in a rare straight role as Detroit automotive factory worker Zeke Brown in Paul Schrader’s blistering directorial debut, Blue Collar. A critique of underhand union practices and a portrait of life in the rust belt, Blue Collar is also a tough crime drama driven by racial and class differences.

The Brood (1979)

Director: David Cronenberg

The Brood (1979)

Described by the late Roger Ebert as “disgusting in ways that are not entertaining”, The Brood is classic Cronenberg: fantastical, fleshy and decidedly creepy. Murderous mutant children, external wombs and mad doctors fill the screen in a deeply twisted shocker concerned with maternal love, unorthodox psychological therapy and mental/physical abnormality.

Chemsex (2015)

Directors: Max Gogarty, William Fairman

Chemsex (2015)

Produced and directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty, Chemsex is an unflinching exposé of the disturbing rise in drug-induced, high-risk sexual activity within London’s contemporary gay scene. A bleak, complex but non-judgemental portrait of an underground subculture, Chemsex features sobering accounts of the dangers inherent to the phenomenon.


City of the Living Dead (1980)

Director: Lucio Fulci

City of the Living Dead (1980)

Set in the fictitious, remote village of Dunwich, the first part of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy concerns a horrifying vision that presages the dead returning to walk the Earth. As events begin to mirror the premonition, a desperate race against time to close the gates of hell unfolds.

Dogtooth (2009)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Dogtooth (2009)

For anyone wishing to dip their toes into the Greek Weird Wave’s outré waters for the first time, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth is an uncompromising but rewarding entry point. A dictatorial father’s decision to raise his offspring in seclusion from the outside world unfolds as part nightmare, part jet black comedy.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Director: Billy Wilder

Double Indemnity (1944)

Having Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler working together on an adaptation of a James M. Cain crime novella always promised stellar results, and Double Indemnity proved to be a classic. Starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, and garnering seven Academy Award nominations, this timeless murder story set a high bar for the film noirs that followed.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Director: Mark Hartley

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Now sadly defunct, Cannon Films were responsible for delivering a raft of cult titles, including The Happy Hooker (Nicholas Sgarro, 1975), The Delta Force (Menahem Golan, 1986) and Masters of the Universe (Gary Goddard, 1987). Mark Hartley’s celebratory and revelatory documentary is as frenetically entertaining as Cannon’s lengthy back catalogue.

Fascination (1979)

Director: Jean Rollin

Fascination (1979)

With a penchant for well-drawn female leads, stunning photography and visual symbolism, Jean Rollin made an indelible mark on European erotic horror and exploitation filmmaking. A period piece set in the early 20th century, Fascination marked a return to Rollin’s roots in the ‘fantastique’ genre in this vampiric tale with arthouse stylings.

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

Director: Jim Hosking

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

Grisly, grotesque and revolting by design, Jim Hosking’s scatological horror comedy The Greasy Strangler will appall as many as it delights. Gleefully infantile and revelling in the deviance on show, Hosking’s first feature is as attention grabbing as debuts get. If you like OTT genre movies, this should sate the appetite.

Gridlock’d (1997)

Director: Vondie Curtis-Hall

Gridlock’d (1997)

When heroin addicts ‘Spoon’ (Tupac Shakur) and ‘Stretch’ (Tim Roth) decide to get clean they are confronted with apathy and Kafkaesque bureaucracy in this sharp black comedy. Released four months after Tupac Shakur’s untimely death, Gridlock’d featured a performance from the late rapper that’s every bit as confident and accomplished as that of Tim Roth.

Herostratus (1967)

Director: Don Levy

Herostratus (1967)

Bold, challenging and savagely pointed, Herostratus was the only feature-length project to be made by experimental filmmaker Don Levy. When disillusioned poet Max (Michael Gothard) declares a wish to commit suicide in public, an unscrupulous marketing firm purchases the rights to promote Max’s demise as a mass media event.

I Am Divine (2013)

Director: Jeffrey Schwarz

I Am Divine (2013)

The wild, wonderful and trailblazing life of actor and singer Harris Glenn Milstead, better known to the world as Divine, is celebrated in Jeffrey Schwartz’s highly entertaining documentary. A host of interviewees, including John Waters, Tab Hunter and Mink Stole, provide hilarious and heartfelt memories of the irrepressible icon.

Inferno (1980)

Director: Dario Argento

Inferno (1980)

The middle section of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, Inferno has grown in stature since its brief, muted theatrical release in 1980. Scored by prog-rocker Keith Emerson, Argento’s New York-set tale of the supernatural is as stylistically and aesthetically bold as one would expect from this highly distinctive master of horror.

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Director: Jack Arnold

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Based on a treatment by Ray Bradbury, Universal-International’s It Came from Outer Space was unusual in its subversion of the standard line presented in the thinly veiled, anti-communist science fiction films of the era. Originally released in 3D, Jack Arnold’s entertaining popcorn flick is also an attack on Cold War ideology and corrosive xenophobia.

Kill List (2011)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Kill List (2011)

Ben Wheatley’s genre-hopping Kill List, a blend of folk-horror, psychological thriller and kitchen sink drama, is one of modern British cinema’s most striking entries. Off-kilter one minute and grimly realistic the next, Kill List is a slowly turning vice that offers no let up from its disorienting milieu.

London in the Raw (1964)

Directors: Arnold Louis Miller and Norman Cohen

London in the Raw (1964)

London in the Raw was one of many sensationalist documentaries to appear in the wake of the success of shock-doc Mondo cane (1962), an exploitation classic that purported to show cultural practices around the world. Shot during the swinging 60s, this British equivalent is now a vibrant record of Soho’s then seedy streets, strip clubs and underground bars.

M (1931)

Director: Fritz Lang

M (1931)

Singled out by its director as being the finest of his films, Fritz Lang’s M is a classic of the crime genre and a cinematic highpoint for German Expressionism. With the unmistakable Peter Lorre in the role of child killer Hans Beckert, M is a gripping examination of particularly disturbing subject matter.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Director: Nicolas Roeg

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

A wiry physique, androgynous aura and otherworldly features made David Bowie the ideal choice to play humanoid alien visitor Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s absorbing sci-fi, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Newton’s doomed, decades-long survival mission plays out as a meditative examination of humanity’s dreams, flaws and values. 

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016)

Directors: Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (2016)

Featuring contributions from Fran Lebowitz and Debbie Harry among others, Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s documentary is a fascinating look at the life and feted work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. A revered artist for many, the late Mapplethorpe also ruffled censorious conservative feathers with his emotionally charged homoerotic, BDSM-oriented works.

The Mask of Satan (1960)

Director: Mario Bava

The Mask of Satan (1960)

The film that made its lead actress, Barbara Steele, into a horror icon, The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday) is a superlative Gothic chiller that also propelled director Mario Bava into the international limelight. Heavy on atmosphere and gruesome for the era, it’s essential viewing for any budding horror buff.

More (1969)

Director: Barbet Schroeder

More (1969)

Barbet Schroeder’s flawed but intriguing directorial debut saw Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grünberg as young lovers spiraling into drug addiction on the island of Ibiza. Scored by Pink Floyd, More is a loose-limbed, psychedelic tale of physical attraction, youthful ennui and self-destruction that’s very much a product of its era. 

Nighthawks (1978)

Director: Ron Peck

Nighthawks (1978)

A down to earth portrait of London’s gay scene in the late 1970s, as seen through the eyes of reserved geography teacher Jim (Ken Robertson), lies at the centre of Ron Peck’s Nighthawks. This engrossing debut feature is culturally significant for being one of British cinema’s first openly LGBT feature-length films.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Director: George A. Romero

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A classic of the horror genre, George A. Romero’s low budget, independent shocker gave birth to the modern incarnation of the zombie movie. Claustrophobic, graphic and bleak, Night of the Living Dead also broke new ground in its casting of African American Duane Jones in the lead role as the film’s hero, Ben.

Peter De Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn (2014)

Director: Ethan Reid

Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn (2014)

A pioneer in the realm of directing gay-themed erotic shorts and feature films, Peter de Rome is the subject of Ethan Reid’s celebratory documentary. A captivating, worldly presence, the now sadly deceased de Rome himself guides the viewer through the memories of his remarkably diverse life and filmmaking career. 

Scanners (1981)

Director: David Cronenberg

Scanners (1981)

Featuring one of the all-time-great exploding head special effects, David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror is a wild tale of psychic powers run amok. Michael Ironside’s malevolent ‘scanner’ Darryl Revok is intent on using his telekinetic powers for world domination. Only Revok’s similarly blessed/cursed brother, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), stands in his way. 

Sebastiane (1976)

Directors: Paul Humfress and Derek Jarman

Sebastiane (1976)

Derek Jarman’s feature debut, co-directed with Paul Humfress, set the tone for what would become one of British cinema’s most unique bodies of work. This homoerotic historical drama about the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, scored by Brian Eno and told entirely in Latin, is provocative, unconventional and artistically challenging.

The Shout (1978)

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

The Shout (1978)

A sinister drifter named Crossley (Alan Bates) inveigles himself into the lives of a young couple played by John Hurt and Susannah York while bringing deadly Shamanism to rural Devon. Adapted from Robert Graves’s short story of the same name, Jerzy Skolimowski’s The Shout is a uniquely eerie British horror film. 

Sid & Nancy (1986)

Director: Alex Cox

Sid and Nancy (1986)

A squalid tale of addiction and mutual destruction is recounted in Alex Cox’s cult biopic of Sex Pistols’ erratic bassist Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his equally troubled girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Amid the sound and fury, Cox doesn’t forget the touching and tragic love story underpinning the chaos.

Sightseers (2012)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Sightseers (2012)

A caravanning holiday around the English countryside descends into a bloody, murderous frenzy in Ben Wheatley’s uniquely British, horror-tinged black comedy. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, lovers whose serial killing antics are presented in wince- and cringe-inducing fashion. A gruesome comedy of embarrassment.

Stray Dog (1949)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Stray Dog (1949)

Incorporating elements of film noir and the buddy-cop sub-genre, Akira Kurosawa’s police procedural plays out on the mean, downtrodden streets of post-war Tokyo. One of the many Kurosawa films to star Toshiro Mifune, Stray Dog is both a riveting crime drama and a comment on the harsh social conditions of the time. 

Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento

Suspiria (1977)

When Jessica Harper’s American ballet student Suzy Bannion transfers to an exclusive dance academy in Germany, she is horrified to discover it is populated by a coven of witches. Visually stunning and exquisitely lit, Dario Argento’s horror film is a tour de force of Italian horror cinema, a dazzling exercise in style, colour and terror.

The 10th Victim (1965)

Director: Elio Petri

The 10th Victim (1965)

Stylish, camp and satirical, Elio Petri’s The 10th Victim envisions a near-future scenario where violent tendencies are channelled into The Big Hunt, a kill-or-be-killed game that provides the world’s most popular form of entertainment. Violence as a spectator sport, fame, fortune and oppressive social control are the dominant themes.

The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter

The Thing (1982)

Not the expected hit on its initial release, John Carpenter’s The Thing is now widely regarded as a classic of both the science fiction and horror genres. The reawakening of a parasitic alien lifeform from its 100,000-year slumber spells disaster for the crew of an Antarctic research station.

Totally F***ed Up (1993)

Director: Gregg Araki

Totally F***ed Up (1993)

As well as comprising the first part of Gregg Araki’s ‘Teenage Apocalypse’ trilogy, Totally F***ed Up is an essential New Queer Cinema entry. Largely shot with a handheld camcorder and structured in 15 segments, Araki’s self-penned tale revolves around the lives of six gay teenagers and their dysfunctional, self-styled family unit.

Trans-Europ-Express (1966)

Director: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Trans-Europ-Express (1966)

Novelist, screenwriter and director Alain Robbe-Grillet’s filmmaking CV was heavy with intelligent, reflexive works of which his second, Trans-Europ-Express, was also one of his most successful financially and critically. While ostensibly about a drug runner, the filmmaking process itself takes centre stage in a bold experiment in fourth wall-breaking, meta-narratives.

Under the Skin (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Under the Skin (2013)

Jonathan Glazer’s critically lauded, loose adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 science fiction novel of the same name fittingly stripped its source material right back to the bone. Foregrounding tone, atmosphere and visual imagery over expository dialogue, this disturbing tale of a predatory alien’s view of humankind is one of the boldest British films in recent memory. 

Videodrome (1983)

Director: David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983)

Flesh guns, pulsating videotapes and bodily mutations are some of the freakish highlights of David Cronenberg’s seminal Toronto-set body-horror movie. James Woods’ Max Renn, the CEO of a small cable television channel, is sucked into an increasingly twisted, violent and hallucinatory world after viewing a sadistic, mind-altering TV show.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Offbeat Kiwi funnymen and frequent collaborators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement took the frankly ridiculous idea of a mockumentary about vampires living in the suburbs of Wellington and delivered an instant audience favourite. Hilarious from first frame to last, Waititi and Clement’s astutely observed, comedic gem is also unexpectedly touching in places.

Witchfinder General (1968)

Director: Michael Reeves

Witchfinder General (1968)

Despite director Michael Reeves wanting Donald Pleasence for the titular role in this celebrated 1968 period horror, Vincent Price delivered an unbeatable performance as the brutal 17th-century witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins. Reeves didn’t shy away from portraying Hopkins’ sadism, much to the chagrin of the censor and many critics at the time.

X the Unknown (1956)

Director: Leslie Norman

X the Unknown (1956)

Prehistory and modernity collide in the Scottish lowlands near to Glasgow, as an ancient lifeform is unearthed in this classic Hammer Studios science fiction thriller. Driven to feed off the radioactive materials produced at a nearby atomic energy laboratory, the monstrous creature is a grisly manifestation of Cold War anxieties.

Yojimbo (1961)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Yojimbo (1961)

Over 16 collaborations, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune established themselves as one of cinema’s greatest director/actor partnerships. This influential tale of a wandering samurai (Mifune) expertly manipulating warring crime lords is a masterclass in narrative economy, brutal action and choreographed swordplay. Yojimbo would subsequently be (unofficially) remade as the spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone in 1964.

Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Director: Isaac Julien

Young Soul Rebels (1991)

Socio-cultural, racial and political tensions run through Isaac Julien’s late-1970s-set coming-of-age drama. Woven through the interactions between characters from London’s soulboy, skinhead and punk scenes is a tale of murder, same-sex relationships and sub-cultural divides. An evocative and worthy winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s critics prize.

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