BFI Gothic Dispatches from The Dark Heart of Film

The BFI’s mouthwatering Gothic season, running between November and January of next year, is now in full swing. A full and varied programme of screenings, Q&As, panel discussions and workshops covering film and television has been curated to celebrate and enlighten audiences both literate and curious. With various venues around the country staging their own Gothic related events and screenings in conjunction with the BFI’s programme, this is the perfect time to revisit or get acquainted with many of the works that have embraced the chilly, creepy and atmospheric traits associated with Gothic horror. Sub-divided into four distinct sections – Monstrous, The Dark Arts, Haunted and Love is a Devil – the Gothic season is complemented by the publication of a new book featuring a host of essays and stills on and from the films and series appearing over the coming months

BFI Gothic wasted no time in offering up some seriously impressive scheduling by hosting a trio of ‘in conversation’ evenings with Roger Corman, Dario Argento and George A. Romero respectively. Much as I admire Corman’s ethos – if not many of the films that bear his name – and love Argento’s output in the ’70s, it was the chance to spend an evening in the company of Romero that truly caught my eye. The man and his films are an integral part of why I came to love cinema so much, largely due to having been exposed to Dawn of the Dead on VHS while on the cusp of adolescence. Indeed, the first book about cinema I bought with my own money was Paul R. Gagne’s The Zombies Who Ate Pittsburgh, a lovingly researched and lavishly illustrated look at Romero’s career up to and including Day of the Dead. As the sold out audience in NFT1 on Friday 8th suggests, Romero is still an immensely popular figure despite the fact that, if we’re bluntly honest, only Monkey Shines and Land of the Dead out of the director’s half dozen movies post-Day are anything to write home about.

The now 73-year old director, whose films have spanned five decades, was in good form during his chat with FrightFest’s Alan Jones. The genial, humourous and self-deprecating figure regaled the audience with tales from his film-making career, with more time, unsurprisingly, devoted to discussing Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Numerous clips were shown from his films during the conversation, with a sequence from Martin prompting Romero to state that it’s the favourite of all his films. Dario Argento was in the audience, and received a warm round of applause, and Romero talked fondly of his friendship with famed author Stephen King and less fondly of his two experiences working with Orion. After a Q&A session and a break a screening of Romero’s ground-breaking debut Night of the Living Dead rounded off a hugely enjoyable evening.

The following evening saw me take in a double bill of Shaun of the Dead and Cronos, both films I’d not seen for a number of years. Now almost a decade old, Shaun felt as fresh and whip-smart as it did when it was released in 2004. The visual gags brought forth the same belly laughs, the film references will never age, the graphic violence still packs a wallop and the screenplay zips back and forth with one-liners and beautifully timed punchlines. Guillermo Del Toro’s now 20-year old feature length debut, Cronos, has also aged well, even if the print used was in serious need of restoration and/or digitization. Alternately creepy, funny, bizarre and downbeat, Cronos, a highly stylized, alternative take on vampirism, features the kind of strangely loveable or deeply repellent characters we’ve subsequently come to expect from the director’s films.

Over the course of just two evenings, the BFI’s Gothic season has already proved to be a real winner with me. Judging by line up, the rest of the season will be equally as entertaining.

The BFI Gothic Season runs until February 2014. Visit www.bfi.org.uk/gothic for screenings and events around the UK.