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Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

Gothic horror and romance tales feed on our darkest fears and desires, and conjure the creatures of the night into being.

The sensational tales of 18th and 19th century writers like Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and the Brontës, have defined popular culture, inspiring some of film and television’s most memorable characters, from Dracula and Frankenstein to Cathy and Heathcliff. The technology of film always did fulfil a deep-rooted Gothic fantasy, by capturing the spirits of the living, conjuring ghostly and disembodied forms, and re-animating the dead. Now the undead creatures of the Gothic imagination return to our screens again and again, shape-shifting and breeding new genres. In 2013 the BFI’s spellbinding season lifted the lid on this dark storehouse of the imagination, which found its heart in Britain, and came to life on film. Delve into a dark heart of film here.

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The Elephant Man
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The Elephant Man

Biopic1980124 minsDirector: David Lynch

David Lynch's moving true-life tale of the severely deformed Joseph Merrick and his rescue from the hell of a Victorian circus sideshow.

The Beyond
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The Beyond

Horror198184 minsDirector: Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci's Italian zombie-horror classic about a New Orleans hotel built upon one of the seven gateways to Hell.

The Reflecting Skin
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The Reflecting Skin

Horror199096 minsDirector: Philip Ridley

Stunningly photographed drama about a young American boy caught up in the nightmare of a sinister rural community.

Nosferatu the Vampyre
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Nosferatu the Vampyre

Horror1979107 minsDirector: Werner Herzog

English language version of Herzog’s stimulating take on the Dracula story starring Klaus Kinski, with echoes of Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu.

The Company of Wolves
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The Company of Wolves

Fantasy198495 minsDirector: Neil Jordan

Angela Carter and Neil Jordan's magical, radical take on Little Red Riding Hood.

The Devil Rides Out
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The Devil Rides Out

Horror196795 minsDirector: Terence Fisher

Dennis Wheatley's occult tale is given the Hammer treatment.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
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The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Period drama192591 minsSilentDirector: Rupert Julian

'Man of a thousand faces' Lon Chaney stars in the first version of Gaston Leroux's oft-filmed novel.

Uncle Silas
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Uncle Silas

Drama194798 minsDirector: Charles Frank

Gothic chiller based on the novel by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Jean Simmons stars as an heiress pursued by her unbalanced uncle and his perverted son.

Nosferatu
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Nosferatu

Horror192289 minsSilentDirector: F.W. Murnau

This influential Dracula adaptation contains some of the most famous images of expressionist film, with a new score by Hammer composer James Bernard.

The Mask of Satan
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The Mask of Satan

Horror196086 minsDirector: Mario Bava

Italian horror classic from acclaimed Italian horror auteur Mario Bava, about a beautiful witch Asa (Barbara Steele) who rises from her grave to take revenge upon her enemies.

Suspiria
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Suspiria

Horror1977101 minsDirector: Dario Argento

Dario Argento’s phantasmagoric gothic nightmare blends operatic violence, disorienting dream logic and hyper-real visuals to create a horror classic.

City of the Living Dead
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City of the Living Dead

Horror198093 minsDirector: Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci’s sensationally gory zombie horror finds undead hordes overtaking a sleepy New England town, with only a reporter and a local psychic to stop them.

Vampire Circus
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Vampire Circus

Period drama197194 minsDirector: Robert Young

A dying vampire swears vengeance on the townsfolk who killed him. The promise seems to have been realized when, years later, plague arrives.

Countess Dracula
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Countess Dracula

Horror197094 minsDirector: Peter Sasdy

An ageing countess finds that if she bathes in the blood of virgins her youth is restored.

Twins of Evil
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Twins of Evil

Period drama197187 minsDirector: John Hough

Chilling vampire horror from Hammer in which a pair of innocent twins come under the influence of the evil Count Karnstein.

Hands of the Ripper
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Hands of the Ripper

Horror197185 minsDirector: Peter Sasdy

In Edwardian London, a series of gruesome murders match those of the Whitechapel Ripper, revealing an unlikely suspect.

The Uncanny
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The Uncanny

Horror197785 minsDirector: Denis Héroux

An author becomes convinced he's unearthed a feline conspiracy to control mankind.

The Ghoul
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The Ghoul

Horror193380 minsDirector: T. Hayes Hunter

The occupants of an old house are menaced by a dead - and very angry - Egyptologist.

Lips of Blood
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Lips of Blood

Horror197587 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

Jean Rollin’s hauntingly poetic horror about a man trying to solve the riddle of a tormenting childhood memory.

The Iron Rose
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The Iron Rose

Drama197380 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

A pair of lovers have a tryst in a vacant tomb, but then find themselves unable to escape from the graves and crypts of the massive cemetery.

The Living Dead Girl
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The Living Dead Girl

Horror198390 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

When toxic waste spill disturbs her grave, a deceased girl comes alive to walk the earth again in Jean Rollin's macabre tale of zombie carnage.

Fascination
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Fascination

Horror197982 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

Jean Rollin’s best-known film is the most full-blooded of his vampire tales, teeming with sex and lavishly filmed gore scenes

Shiver of the Vampires
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Shiver of the Vampires

Horror197095 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

Newlyweds visit their cousins at a remote rural chateau, finding them under the spell of two vampire girls.

Requiem for a Vampire
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Requiem for a Vampire

197287 minsDirector: Jean Rollin

Two female fugitives hide out in a deserted castle, only to become embroiled in a plot to extend the bloodline of a horde of blood-crazed vampires.

Symptoms
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Symptoms

Drama197491 minsDirector: José R. Larraz

The official British Palme d'Or entry at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, Symptoms is a sophisticated modern gothic horror film exploring the themes of sexual repression and psychosis.

Seance on a Wet Afternoon
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Seance on a Wet Afternoon

Crime1964111 minsDirector: Bryan Forbes

Bryan Forbes’ stylish psychological thriller about a medium who plans to kidnap a child and help the police solve the crime to bolster her reputation as a clairvoyant.

The Body Beneath
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The Body Beneath

Horror197082 minsDirector: Andy Milligan

Vampires rampage around Hampstead in a strange, bloody cult horror by low-budget sex-gore auteur Andy Milligan.

The Tell-Tale Heart
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The Tell-Tale Heart

Drama195321 minsDirector: J.B. Williams

Stanley Baker enacts the classic Edgar Allan Poe story in this chilling short film, only recently rediscovered after being lost for 50 years.

The Fall of the House of Usher
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The Fall of the House of Usher

Animation & Artists Moving Image198016 minsDirector: Jan Svankmajer

The first of Švankmajer's 'tactile experiments', the subject chosen partly because the title was on an official list of 'approved' texts. In this version there are no humans, just a brief glimpse of a live raven as the camera roams around an eerie derelict house.

The Phantom Light
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The Phantom Light

Comedy193572 minsDirector: Michael Powell

Michael Powell’s gothic mystery of a haunted lighthouse where insanity thrives.

La Belle et la Bête
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La Belle et la Bête

Fantasy194695 minsDirector: Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau’s ravishingly restored 1946 film is a cinematic classic. “Five stars. [This] magical exploration of the fairytale is a compelling and bizarre masterpiece” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Hands of Destiny
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Hands of Destiny

Drama195452 minsDirector: Tony Young

The strange prophesies of Dr Josef Ranald, palm reader of choice to Nazi war leaders.

Dellamorte Dellamore
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Dellamorte Dellamore

Horror1993103 minsDirector: Michele Soavi

Michele Soavi’s compelling concoction of anarchic Evil Dead-style horror-comedy, tragic romance and gore.

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