Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (3rd November 2023).
The Film

"Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3"

Back in 2020, the BFI unveiled the "Short Sharp Shocks", a 2-disc Blu-ray set of horror and thriller themed British short films. A year later they would follow it up with "Short Sharp Shocks Volume 2", another 2-disc set. And now after a two year gap, the series returns with "Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3". Comprised in this third volume are a number of fascinating works, from an Oscar nominated short, shorts made for the American television market, student films, television inserts, and more with quite a variety that isn't held down by a singular genre.

The following shorts are included in this two disc set.

* "Return to Glennascaul" (1951) (23:14)
* "Strange Stories" (1953) (44:46)
* "Strange Experiences: Grandpa's Portrait" (1956) (3:26)
* "Strange Experiences: Old Silas" (1956) (3:32)
* "Maze" (1970) (12:43)

The Films (with Play All) (99:08)
* "Skinflicker" (1973) (42:51)
* "COI: Broken Bottle" (1973) (0:29)
* "COI: Don't Fool Around with Fireworks" (1973) (0:42)
* "The Terminal Game" (1982) (33:49)
* "Wings of Death" (1985) (21:15)

“Return to Glennascaul” (1951) features Orson Welles taking a break during the filming of his feature film adaptation of “Othello”. He recounts an encounter in Ireland, in which he picks up stranded motorist Sean Merriman (played by Michael Laurence) who has an eerie story to tell. Near the same location, Sean saw a young lady (played by Helena Hughes) and her mother (played by Shelah Richards) who were looking for a ride to their lavish manor. They thank him by inviting him in and having a drink and a chat. On his way home he realizes that he left his cigarette case behind, so he quickly returns to the manor to find that there is no one to greet him. Where did the women go? Were they really there in the first place? What secret lies within the walls of the manor?

This 1951 short was written and directed by Hilton Edwards, who was working with Welles on “Othello”. The short was produced by Dublin Gate Theatre, which was where Welles made his stage debut in 1931 at the age of 16. The filming of “Othello” was a production that took three years to shoot due to financial and scheduling conflicts, and the short was produced during one of its many hiatuses. It’s interesting to see Welles playing himself in the short in a more or less cameo appearance as he is not the main storyteller. Going from Welles’ flashback to a further flashback with Laurence’s character telling his story, the core is the eerie tale of the disappearance of the two ladies. With an atmosphere that relies on the gloomy night and the supernatural, the short is quite effective though the payoff of on the lighter side, without too much in the sense of horror. The short would be the only film that Hilton would write or direct, with his career being centered mostly on stage while also acting in film and television. The short was nominated for Best Short Subject at the 1954 Academy Awards.

“Strange Stories” (1953) is comprised of two stories: “The Strange Mr Bartleby” and “The Strange Journey”. In the first story, A young woman (played by Naomi Chance) asks solicitor Mr. Gillkie (played by Norman Shelley) to find a man named Stephen Zwane. During his investigation, he meets Mr. Bartleby (played by John Laurie), a man who offers his service to work at Gillkie’s office. While he has office skills, the coworkers start to find his methods odd and hard to work with, and he refuses to change his ways. But there is much more to Bartleby that just being an odd character… In the second story, Charles Kellerton (played by Colin Tapley) has a plan to steal from his boss Mr. Babcock (played by Graham Stuart). But during a scuffle, Babcock is killed by Charles, who flees with Babcock’s bag. He and his wife Marie (played by Helen Horton) must find a way to escape, so they immediately board a ship, which happens to be a cargo boat to Tasmania. The captain (played by Peter Bull) finds it unusual that the two booked such an unusual trip at the last moment, and so Charles and Marie must do what they can to conceal the truth…

The two shorts were produced by British independent Vandyke Productions for broadcast on the American television series “Your Favorite Story”. “The Strange Journey” aired on February 1st, 1952 and “The Strange Mr. Bartleby” was aired on March 18th. For Britain, they were combined into a single theatrical release, but to wrap these two distant stories together, there were newly shot sequences with actors John Slater and Valentine Dyall, as friends who were telling each other the stories. “The Strange Mr. Bartleby” was directed by a young John Guillermin, and is highlighted with the unsetting yet melancholic performance by John Laurie as Bartleby, who the audience isn’t quite sure how to side with. There are a number of comical moments, though the unusual atmosphere and uncomfortable tone are well played. “The Strange Journey” was directed by Don Chaffey, and is like an Alfred Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller, except the twist being that it is the right man this time. The accidental murderer and his flaws, such as taking the bag with his murdered boss’ name inscribed, having to come up with lies on the spot that don’t quite make full sense, and the tension of being alongside a man on the run are well done to say the least. The wraparound segments with Slater and Dyall are more on the fun side rather than creepy, but somehow it works with the double-length short film, and is a true highlight in this set.

“Strange Experiences: Grandpa’s Portrait” / “Strange Experiences: Old Silas” (1956) are two episodes out the 25-episode series “Strange Experiences”, which had Peter Williams appear and narrate unusual tales in runtimes of less than four minute each. “Grandpa’s Portrait” is about a man’s eerie story about the said heirloom and “Old Silas” is a tale of supernatural vengeance at a cottage. Produced by Derick Williams Productions and created to air on ITV, the creepy shorts were low budget productions, as they used stock footage and library music and storytelling techniques rather than elaborate setpieces. Many, though not all episodes are held at the BFI National Archive, and here are two slices for a new audience.

“Maze” (1969) is an experimental short directed by student director Bob Bentley while at the Royal College of Art Film and Television School. Centered around an immigrant dishwasher (played by George Votsis), an upper-class individual (played by Paul Stubbs) and the beauty centered Marilyn (played by Stephanie Cleverley), the film plays against convention, instead using influences from the French New Wave and experimental works that play with time, structure, and storytelling. The short is confusing to say the least, and is not one that can be made sense of in a singular viewing, or even multiple viewings.

Director Bob Bentley constructed the short like a hallucination or a dream that jumps from place to place, time to time in a non-linear order that he claims only makes sense to him, as it incorporates many personal experiences, such as his time as a dishwasher when he was younger. The short is more confusing than shocking, and one trying to find the true narrative will be left frustrated here. But as an experimental short with hidden meanings that only the filmmaker can decipher, “Maze” certainly hits those marks. Bentley submitted the short to a BBC film competition, which came in second place and caught the eye of the BFI’s Bruce Beresford long before his award winning feature filmmaking career. This led to Bentley’s further works in shorts and in television.

“Skinflicker” (1973) features Wilf (played by Will Knightley), Susie (played by Hilary Charlton), and Henry (played by Henry Woolf). Three young adults who hire cameraman Georgie (played by William Hoyland) to document their task: the kidnapping and torturing of a government minister (played by Brendan Barry). The film opens with a statement saying the film was confiscated by authorities as evidence, and at first glance one can easily mistake this for reality. The handheld camera, the people in front of the camera talking directly into it as well as hearing the camera operator’s voice, “Skinflicker” is one of the first, if not the first horror mockumentary ever made. Written by Howard Brenton and directed by Tony Bicât, this was one of the most controversial films that the BFI had ever funded, as it has disturbing activity and acts of humiliation, and shot as if it were entirely real, with audiences being shocked at what was on display.

The production used 16mm black and white and Super 8 color stock for differing moments for a unique look, and also played with the sound design with the 16mm portions being sound synchronized while the Super 8 footage with the travel and violent kidnapping being silent. A groundbreaking short that used theater actors and improvisation to an extreme level, it doesn’t have the shock value that more graphic modern horror has had over time, but is still effective nonetheless.

“COI: Broken Bottle” / “COI: Don’t Fool Around with Fireworks” (1973) are two public information films produced by The Central Office of Information. Both run less than a minute in length and were shown on television alongside commercial breaks. The first short features a boy running along a sandy beach, but unforeseen to him is a broken glass bottle that lies in his way. They short ends before anything harmful can be seen, but obviously the pain can be felt from what is implied. The second short features a group of young kids playing with firecrackers outside, but one child Julie unfortunately gets injured with one of the projectile fireworks. Again as it doesn’t graphically show the outcome but instead the voices of screaming and panicking children are heard. Both uncredited shorts are effective, if not traumatic for kids to be careful while also cautious for adults who are not looking after their kids in these situations.

“The Terminal Game” (1982) showcases the Invex Corporation, who have developed a super computer and. But after the mysterious death of programmer Paul Mallory (played by John Francis), his colleague Raymond James (played by Jack Galloway) and his wife Carol (played by Stacey Tendeter) look into the matter and find there is much more to the computer that imaginable…

1982 was quite a significant year in computer technology. Compaq was founded. The CD and CD-ROM were developed. The first touch screen was produced. The Commodore 64 and Vectrex game consoles were released. Apple marked $1 billion in annual sales. The first feature film to use computer generated imagery with the setting from within a computer world was introduced in Disney’s “TRON”. On a much smaller scale, there was “The Terminal Game”, a student film directed by Geoff Lowe as a graduation project at the National Film School. While Lowe had a basic idea for the story since 1978, the script was completed in 1979 and was shot with small cast and crew of mostly student volunteers, though actors Jack Galloway and Stacey Tendeter had experience in television and film.

Even with a miniscule budget, Lowe was able to create a convincing environment through hallways, offices, and corporate corridors, though using enclosed spaces for tension. It would be another three years until the short would be completed and screened, The idea of a supercomputer and its artificial intelligence may have gone over the heads of most audiences at the time, but it is only too relevant today with the rise of ChatGPT and other AI services.

“Wings of Death”(1985) shows Alex (played by Dexter Fletcher), a strung out heroin addict checking into a boarding house where inner demons take full control. Written and directed by Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson, this short is a nightmarish vision of drug addiction, with hallucinations and nightmares come to visual life. The seedy looking environment of the small room, the interesting camera angles including the overhead shots, and even the oddball quirks of landlord and the landlady (played by Tony Haygarth and Paula Jacobs) make this a visual standout.

Plotwise there isn’t too much, though there are glimpses into the mind of Alex that are not quite comprehensible. It is notable that the film was screened together with the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) when it played in UK cinemas in August of 1985. While both dealt with nightmares, there was a touch of realism through the horrors of drug abuse with the short, while the main Hollywood attraction was more on fantasy and scares through jumps and gore for an unusual double bill. Filmmaker Derek Jarman was impressed with Dexter Fletcher’s performance that he cast him in “Caravaggio” (1986). It’s also easy to see the inspiration the film had on music videos, as well as in the stylistic and thematic approach in “Trainspotting” (1996).

Note this is a region B Blu-ray set


The BFI presents all the films in the set in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4.

“Return to Glennascaul” was scanned at 2K resolution from the original 35mm fine grain duplicating positive held by the BFI National Archive. Being the oldest of the productions but one of the more high profile works, the transfer is a bit disappointing. Film damage such as speckles and scratches are visible throughout and there are examples of flickering. The black and white levels are quite good with the greyscale, and detail is fairly strong,

“Strange Stories” was scanned at 2K resolution from the original 35mm negative held by the BFI National Archive. The picture quality is quite good throughout, with great greyscale and sharp detail. Damage is still noticeable with occasional flicker and speckles. There is something odd about the transfer in which there strange warping seen in the middle of the frame at times, where a number of lines of resolution shifts to the right for no apparent reason. It doesn't look like it is from warping of the film materials, but some kind of digital error. It's not clear whether it's part of the new master or an issue with the transfer.

The two “Strange Experiences” shorts were scanned at 2K resolution from original 35mm fine grain duplicating positives held by the BFI National Archive. There are some speckles to be found in the black and white image, though on the positive side they both have stable transfers.

“Maze” was scanned at 4K resolution from the original 35mm negative belonging to director Bob Bentley. The black and white image is quite nice in this transfer that has excellent film grain structure intact while damage marks being reduced. Greyscale is also excellent, detail is strong, and there are few if any flaws to be found. One of the best looking transfers in the set is this one.

“Skinflicker” is presented in HD, upscaled from an SD source. It is a bit disappointing that the film wasn't remastered from original elements. Due to that there is a lack of sharpness to the image with greyscale in the black and white segments not having quite enough depth and the Super 8 segments looking soft. Damage marks are visible at times, but on the positive side, the transfer looks fair throughout, and somehow the lesser elements give it a unique "found footage" feel. It could have been better, but it seems that no film elements were available for transfer.

The two COI shorts were scanned at 2K resolution from original 35mm interpositive elements held by the BFI National Archive. The shorts look great, coming from film elements which have been remastered. Damage is visible in the first short with scratches and speckles, though in the second it is quite minimal. Stability is excellent and sharpness is great on both. Colors on both seem a little faded but they look fine throughout.

“The Terminal Game” was scanned at 2K resolution from a 16mm element, which was kindly lent to the BFI by artist, musician, and film collector George Parfitt. The colors in the short are very good here with excellent dark hues. Detail is good though not quite sharp due to the 16mm source though the image is stable throughout. Damage marks are visible at times but not at all distracting. Another great transfer to be found in this set.

“Wings of Death” was scanned at 2K resolution from the original 35mm negative held by the BFI National Archive. The wide color palate is well reproduced here, with the detail in the enclosed room having great detail. Sharpness is excellent and there are little to any damage marks visible in this transfer. Being the newest film in the set, it should be no surprise that it looks great.


English LPCM 2.0 mono (for "Return to Glennascaul" / "Strange Stories" / "Strange Experiences" / "Maze" / "Skinflicker" / COI shorts)
English LPCM 2.0 stereo (for "The Terminal Game" / "Wings of Death")

"Return to Glennascaul" has quite a bit of hiss to the dialogue and is problematic with high sounds such as S or P sounds being spoken. "Strange Stories" sounds great throughout with dialogue and music being clear and clean and having little to any damage in the audio track. "Strange Experiences" sounds fairly good with dialogue being key. The sound has been restored and there are no pops or cracks in the audio, though there is a bit of minor hiss. "Maze" has very good sound with a mix of on set recordings and post synchronized audio. Some of the on set audio is echoey and hard to understand but that is part of the original elements as it seems. There are no major damage to the audio and is clean throughout. "Skinflicker" does not have the best sound due to the style of the found footage genre, sticking to on set recordings that sound echoey and unclear. There aren't any many damage to the track with fair balance throughout.

For the stereo audio tracks, "The Terminal Game" mostly uses separation for the music cues by composer Colin Towns in a subtle form, while dialogue is mostly centered. "Wings of Death" uses stereo separation for various music cues and echoed effects. While both may be labeled as stereo, they do not have deep separation and use the separation for ambience and are mixed well. The audio for both films are well balanced and without major issues such as hiss or crackle.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for all shorts in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read, though there were two or three moments of typos, such as "+Come" rather than just "Come" in "Strange Stories".



"A Vandyke Production: Roger Proudlock and Strange Stories" 2023 featurette (6:46)
This featurette which is narrated by the BFI's Vic Pratt looks at the independent Vandyke Productions and its founder Richard Proudlock. From its origins, their independent nature and productions for cinemas as well as early television, it's a great introduction to the little known and mostly forgotten British studio. The runtime may be short, but it's well edited with archival clips and stills with great information from Pratt.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Getting Lost: Director Bob Bentley Discusses Maze" 2023 interview (19:37)
This new interview with Bentley has him discussing his early life, getting into art school and his interest in cinema, talks of his early student films and the influence from the French New Wave movement. In addition he talks about the making of "Maze" with its inspirations, the music cues, the reception, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Maze" image gallery (2:56)
A series of black and white stills presented in a silent automated slideshow.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4


"Touch a Nerve: Director Tony Bicât Discusses Skinflicker" 2023 interview (25:59)
This new interview with Bicât has him talking about his early life and family, as well as the making of "Skinflicker". Shooting on a microbudget, having to start over the shoot with a different cinematographer, mixing two styles of filming with different stocks, Not being able to see any of the shot footage on set, the performances of the actors, the controversial reception, and more. There is no discussion on the surviving elements of the film itself and as to why only a standard definition element was used for this Blu-ray set.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Skinflicker" image gallery
- Script Gallery (64 stills)
- Image Gallery (8:56)
- Ephemera Gallery (2:08)

Presented here are still of the original script, a silent stills gallery and an additional gallery.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"A Game of Two Halves: Director Geoff Lowe Discusses The Terminal Game" 2023 interview (27:55)
This new interview with Lowe has him discussing his early life, with having to choose whether to go to film school or accepting a fairly good job, his initial idea for "The Terminal Game" and the resistance from the school, the making of the film with his schoolmates and the actors, the music composition, the difficulty with editing, and how the film led to future work.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Playing Music: Composer Colin Towns Discusses The Terminal Game" 2023 interview (8:21)
This new interview with Colin Towns has him talking about his impression of "The Terminal Game" and its themes, and finding the right sounds for the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"The Terminal Game" original trailer (2:37)
Presented here is a fairly effective trailer, in very good condition.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Flying High: Directors Nichola Bruce & Michael Coulson Discuss Wings of Death" 2023 interview (31:22)
This new interview with Bruce and Coulson have them talking about their lives together as college students, their working relationship on differing projects, the punk scene in the 1980s, getting into graphic design, and the making of "Wings of Death". From the location shooting, the actors, the creation o the soundtrack, the reception at Cannes, the theatrical reception and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Wings of Death: Behind the Scenes" featurette (6:59)
Silent film footage of the cast and crew while location scouting for “Wings of Death” is presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1

"Wings of Death" image galleries
- Photographs by Steve Pyke (3:50)
- Ephemera Gallery (1:02)

Presented here are two silent stills galleries for the film.
1080p AVC MPEG-4

A 32 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is an introduction by the BFI’s Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Josephine Botting. Then there are full film credits for each short along with written material on each. “Return to Glennascaul” has comments from author Jonathan Rigby. “Strange Stories” has notes from Botting. The “Strange Experiences” shorts and the COI shorts have writing by Pratt. Director Bob Bentley wrote his own notes for his short “Maze”. Director Tony Bicât also has his own notes for his short “Maze”. There is also “Skinflicker – Picking at the Wound” by documentary filmmaker Sarah Appleton on the short and its impact. Directors Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson reminisce about the making of “Wings of Death”. “The Terminal Death” has an introduction by director Geoff Lowe and comments from collector George Parfitt. There are also special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.

All the films except "Return to Glennascaul" are receiving their Blu-ray debuts in this set. "Return to Glennascaul" was released on various editions of "Othello" as a bonus feature. Note that on the other editions they feature an introduction from Peter Bogdanovich from 1992, which has not been carried over to this BFI set.

Peter Bogdanovich's introduction for "Return to Glennascaul" from 1992.

COI's "Broken Glass" short, courtesy of the BFI.


This is #47 in the BFI'S Flipside series.


"Short Sharp Shocks Volume 3" is another excellent entry with a great selection of obscure, forgotten, and well-known horror/thriller themed works from Britain's past. The BFI have done an excellent job with the set, with some great (and some not so great) transfers with a great selection of extras. Highly recommended.

Note the ratings below are an average score for all the films in the set.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: B+


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