Reviews | Written by Martin Unsworth 11/11/2021


Just in time for Halloween comes another selection of macabre short films from the BFI archive. Like 2020’s Volume 1, this collection boasts entries from various decades and encompass a wide range of cinematic styles and genres.

Not content to play it safe with horror pictures, there are several shorts here that could easily fit into a compilation of safety films. 1946’s The Three Children pre-dates the more famous foreboding films that warned of talking to strangers or getting too close to a creepy brook. This one came from a Wanstead commission to cut down on traffic accidents involving children and features a suitably malevolent-looking man meant to be a representation of death, adds an extra layer of evil to proceedings and almost nudges it into stranger danger territory. Another non-narrative entry, Hangman (1985), was made to raise awareness of following the proper guidelines when working on a building site. It’s narrated on-screen by a burly chap in a hangman’s mask who chalks up the tally of misdemeanours that could lead to fatality.

If you like the interactive nature of Hangman, the earliest films in the set will be right up your street. These are a pair of Quiz Crime films from the early forties, which give you the chance to solve some crimes as if you were from Scotland Yard. These are great fun, if only for the accents! Another older film, Escape from Broadmoor (1948), is notable for several reasons. Not only does it star John Le Mesurier (as a brutal runaway convict, far removed from the sophisticated, humorous types he’d later play), but it was the directorial debut of John Gilling, who would later go on to helm several films for Hammer.

Face of Darkness (1976) is an impressive addition, even if it stretches most people’s definition of short, coming in not much under an hour. It’s worthy of being here, though, particularly in the current climate. It features a far-right MP (a pre-Only Fools and Horses Lennard Pearce) conspiring to cause public outrage to push through his private members’ bill that will bring back corporal punishment. In addition, there’s an in-depth interview with director Ian F.H. Lloyd, which complements the film brilliantly. Similarly, The Dumb Waiter (1979) director, Robert Bierman, gives a fascinating insight into his film. This is arguably the most well-known short in Volume 2 and is a compelling tale of a woman (Geraldine James) who a stalker threatens.

Also of note is Mark of Lilith (1986), the most recent film in the collection, which is a gritty feminist vampire piece with a distinctive feel. It screams ‘art school’ but is still ponderously entertaining. A real highlight is the early music video for Screaming Lord Sutch’s Jack the Ripper. Filmed in colour and presented in pristine condition, it’s a glorious exercise in bad taste. Rather than produced to screen on TV, this was made to play in Cinebox machines, which were video jukeboxes. They didn’t take off, unfortunately, but were way ahead of their time.

We’re always thrilled when there’s another release from BFI Flipside since the label always highlights British cinema that is otherwise ignored. This set is wholeheartedly recommended to fans of the obscure and offbeat.

Short Sharp Shocks Volume 2 is released on Blu-ray from the BFI on October 25th. Read our chat with the curators of the collection here.