March 6 – March 20
Drawing upon a folkloric tradition with roots stretching back to before the Roman invasion, Britain has a rich heritage of supernatural tales.
In cinema, this has translated to a powerful if eclectic body of work exploring the idea that something older, and undoubtedly malevolent, lies just below the modern surface (often literally, in an archaeological sense). Once disturbed, these weird, unfettered forces will manifest as a direct threat to the precarious rationalism of our era’s disconnection from the natural world, folk traditions and the elemental fears of death and the afterlife.
With the exception of Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General, chronicling the brutal activities of a witch-hunter – played by Vincent Price – during the Cromwell era, the films chosen for this season follow in the tradition of the ghost stories of M. R. James (whose short story “Casting the Runes” forms the basis of the earliest film in our season, Jacques Tourneur’s extraordinary Night of the Demon), forsaking historical settings to reveal terror erupting amongst contemporary communities.
This season – a sequel to our 2018 focus on British psychological horror – explores an atmospheric but similarly psychologically motivated legacy of eerie cinema. From Jack Clayton’s masterful and influential adaptation of Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’, The Innocents, onwards to The Wicker Man’s terrifying encounter between the old, pagan Britain and the veneer of modern Christianity that replaced it, this is a season promising lashings of cinematic strangeness, dread and unease.
7:00pm – THE HAUNTING
Robert Wise (1963) 111 mins PG
Declared the scariest film of all time by Martin Scorsese, Wise’s eerie tale of a gothic manor house whose massive wooden doors hide an unseen, but ever-present menace is a masterclass in the power of suggestion. Adapted from Shirley Jackson’s ornately literary ghost-infested gothic horror novel ‘The Haunting of House Hill’ by frequent Wise collaborator Nelson Gidding, and starring Richard Johnson, Julie Harris and Claire Bloom, this chilling depiction of inner (and outer) disturbance casts a long, looming shadow over the history of horror cinema.
9:00pm – THE INNOCENTS
Jack Clayton (1961) 100 mins M
Freddie Francis’ haunting cinematography and Georges Auric’s atmospheric score are just two of the outstanding contributions that enhance Clayton’s eerie, deeply unsettling and widely celebrated rendering of Henry James’ classic 1898 novella, ‘The Turn of the Screw’. Co-scripted by Truman Capote and featuring a tour-de-force lead performance from Deborah Kerr as a repressed governess whose charges appear possessed by ghostly apparitions or demons, this chilling, nightmarish movie remains one of the landmark horror films. With Michael Redgrave and Peter Wyngarde.
The Power of Imagination: ‘The Innocents’ by Winston Wheeler-Dixon.
7:00pm – THE WICKER MAN: THE FINAL CUT
Robin Hardy (1973) 94 mins. M
Originally released as a severely curtailed B-feature, this is the 2013 “director’s cut” of Hardy’s truly unsettling and strange cult classic of “olde” Britain. A Christian policeman (Edward Woodward) is brought to a remote Hebridean island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl and is shocked to discover the inhabitants still worshipping pagan Celtic gods and practicing arcane, libidinous rituals. Featuring Paul Giovanni’s extraordinarily unsettling score and a highly literate script by Anthony Shaffer, it co-stars Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento.
8:45pm – WITCHFINDER GENERAL
Michael Reeves (1968) 86 mins R 18+
Vincent Price gives a chilling and brilliantly understated performance as Matthew Hopkins, a real-life witch-hunter during the era of Cromwell. This savage, stylish low-budget cult horror melodrama was the last and most significant work by Reeves, one of the truly promising British directors of the era who died at the age of 25. This outstanding work of British horror reflects the unsettledness of the late ’60s, demonstrates the importance of history to the genre, and shows extraordinary imagination and feeling for its gruesome subject.
7:00pm – NIGHT OF THE DEMON
Jacques Tourneur (1957) 95 mins PG
A sceptical American psychologist (Dana Andrews) investigates a mysterious occult related death in southern England. Tourneur’s first venture into horror since working so memorably with Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940s (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie) is one of the most unsettling, convincing, atmospheric and ominously beautiful of all supernatural thrillers. Based on a seminal short story by M. R. James, “Casting the Runes”, this cult horror classic features an expert script co-written by frequent Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, evocative misty English locations and a spectacular monster finale. With Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy).
35mm print courtesy of the British Film Institute Archive.
8:45pm – NIGHT OF THE EAGLE
Sidney Hayers (1962) 90 mins PG
A professor’s wife, who is obsessed by witchcraft and the occult, believes she must die in her husband’s stead. Scriptwriters Richard Matheson (‘I Am Legend’), George Baxt and Charles Beaumont hone and shape Fritz Leiber’s novel into a remarkable, psychologically ambiguous work. Melding the brooding horror of Dreyer and Val Lewton, the inspired Hayers builds a portentous atmosphere of superstition through judicious framing and camera movement, producing a taut, genuinely frightening witchcraft chiller. With Peter Wyngarde, Kathleen Byron and Janet Blair.