Cult Movie: BFI's Flipside brand brought me some of my top films of the year
THANK God for the BFI. In a year as culturally grim as the one that is just shuffling off over the horizon this week we needed something to remind us of how the beauty of weird and wonderful film-making can take us away from the harsh realities of life in the 21st century.
More than ever we needed art to confirm to us that life wasn’t all political doom, gloom and celebrity deaths by the truck load. By reactivating their long dormant Flipside brand, an imprint “dedicated to reclaiming a space for forgotten British films and film-makers who would otherwise be in danger of disappearing from our screens forever”, those thoughtful dudes at the British Film Institute did just that.
Their finest archive release of the year was Psychomania. A cheap and cheerful slice of prime exploitation nonsense, it’s quite simply the greatest British zombie biker horror comedy ever made. Admittedly it’s also the only British zombie biker horror comedy ever made but that shouldn’t put you off sampling the late night stoner magic of director Don Sharp’s 1972 masterpiece.
Nicky Henson is Tom, a surprisingly middle class biker who makes a pact with his frog-obsessed, devil-worshipping mother (Beryl Reid) that grants him immortality. Using his new found invincibility he encourages his fellow bikers to kill themselves, safe in the knowledge that they’ll return to terrorise the locals down at the nearest supermarket forever. It’s as mad as that sounds and every bit as entertaining. With the final screen performance from the great George Sanders – he took his own life shortly after filming finished – a groovy wah-wah-pedal-heavy soundtrack from John Cameron and a ton of lovingly curated extras, Psychomania’s debut on Blu-ray was a cult obsessive's dream come true.
Flipside also gifted us Symptoms, a 1973 psychological thriller that had long been considered lost and gone forever. Featuring a deeply spooked central performance from Angela Pleasence, daughter of Halloween star Donald, as a mentally disturbed woman left alone in an old country mansion as a storm brews, it’s an almost unbearably tense thriller and a wonderfully odd example of cult film-making at its very best.
Much lighter but just as entertaining and also on my best of the year list was Expresso Bongo. Val Guest’s 1959 music biz satire returned in all its Blu-ray beauty in 2016 to give us a pin-sharp send up of Soho coffee bar culture and the unforgettable sight of Cliff Richard singing up a storm as the unforgettably named Bongo Herbert, the next big thing on the London scene. If that doesn’t take you away from it all for a while, nothing will.