Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3 [BFI] – Review
By Sarah Morgan
There is no finer time to dip your toe into the murky waters of the horror genre than this time of year.
Luckily there are plenty of offerings out there to send shivers down your spine, not least the BFI’s Short Sharp Shocks collections. The organisation has already treated us to two volumes, and now a third is here.
The two-disc set is packed full of rarities, with the first concentrating on more vintage fare. Chief among them is Return to Glennascaul, a curiosity from 1951 written and directed by Hilton Edwards but of particular interest due to the involvement of Orson Welles. In fact, it’s also known as Orson Welles’ Ghost Story and was filmed during a break in the shooting of his big screen adaptation of Othello.
“Atmospheric and unnerving”
The legendary actor-director is told a spooky tale set in a mysterious house while driving through Ireland with a man whose car has broken down. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Subject and it’s easy to see why – it is genuinely atmospheric and unnerving.
There are also two four-minute episodes of Strange Experiences, a mid-1950s TV series in which actor Peter Williams recounts scary stories. In this case, it’s ‘Grandpa’s Portrait’ and ‘Old Silas’. They’re a wee bit creaky, but well worth a look.
Better is Strange Stories, a portmanteau in which actors John Slater and Valentine Dyall, as themselves, tell each other slightly unnerving anecdotes. The first, ‘Strange Journey’, is directed by future Jason and the Argonauts helmer Don Chaffey, while the second, ‘The Strange Mr Bartleby’, stars John Laurie and was directed by John ‘The Towering Inferno’ Guillermin.
Maze is a real curiosity piece made by Robert Bentley while studying at the Royal College of Art Film and Television School in 1969. An experimental piece, it’s difficult to decipher, something Bentley himself admits during an interview included in the disc’s special features. Whether it’s truly shocking, however, is a moot point.
The second disc features more hard-hitting works, including 1973’s Skinflicker, which is a tough watch. An early entry in the found footage genre, it follows the rather unsavoury, to say the least, activities of a group of activists (imagine a British version of the Baader-Meinhof group and you get the idea) who kidnap a politician. Will Knightley (father of Keira) stars, alongside Henry Woolf, who’s best known to Doctor Who fans for his appearance as the Collector in the 1977 serial The Sun Makers.
The Terminal Game, a cyber-thriller from 1982, and 1985’s Wings of Death, which involves the hallucinations of a young drug addict played by Dexter Fletcher, are less impressive. The public information films ‘Broken Bottle’ and ‘Don’t Fool Around with Fireworks’, however, still pack the same terrifying punch they did when I first saw them more than 40 years ago.
Both discs are packed with special features that prove invaluable to our understanding of several of the set’s artier productions; in some cases, they’re even more fascinating than the projects they cover.
If you love chills that are a little off the beaten track, then this is for you. Frankly, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a fourth volume.
Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3 is available to buy from shop.bfi.org.uk – £24.99