BFI London Film Festival 2016 – The genre films you need to see

From Prevenge to Phantasm, the BFI’s Michael Blyth takes us through the LFF Cult Strand and beyond


The BFI London Film Festival is nearly here, bringing the best films from around the world to the capital, and, as ever, we’re keeping a very close eye on the science fiction, fantasy and horror films on offer.

Genre fans should be getting very excited indeed, with a brilliant range of films set to play as part of the fest. We can’t wait to see Alice Lowe’s “Mumsnet Taxi Driver” revenge movie Prevenge, stunning South Korean chiller The Wailing from The Chaser director Na Hong-jin, Canadian parasite horror The Void, mind-bending British murder mystery The Ghoul (also starring Lowe), Julia Ducournau’s French teen cannibal drama Raw, and superbly unsettling horror The Eyes Of My Mother to name a few.

And, as if that’s not enough, the 4K restoration of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm will be there!

We asked Michael Blyth, the progammer of the BFI’s brilliant Cult Strand, to talk us through this year’s incredible line-up, the state of modern genre cinema, and why we all need to be excited about Phantasm.

What can we look forward to this year in terms of genre films at this year’s LFF?

Well, of course the Cult strand is our main showcase for genre work, and this year’s line-up is a horror fan’s dream come true. We’ve got everything from slasher movies to occult thrillers, arthouse exploitationers to animated oddities. It’s really important for me to put together a selection as diverse and surprising as possible, and I genuinely think this year’s Cult strand is the strongest we’ve had yet. But what’s really exciting is that the genre work is not just confined to this part of the programme, and those keen-eyed festival goers can unearth plenty more hidden horrors throughout the rest of the line-up.

We have Julia Ducournau’s extraordinary feminist teen cannibal film Raw in our First Feature Competition, there’s the South Korean shocker The Wailing in Thrill, Alice Lowe’s killer comedy Prevenge about a pregnant serial killer is in the Laugh strand, and in Dare we have Mexican curio The Untamed, part social realist drama part slimy Lovecraftian sci-fi, and Dearest Sister, a supernatural chiller from Mattie Do – the first female Lao filmmaker. And that’s just naming a few. I think it’s real testament to the strength of genre work in this year’s festival that these films can’t be contained to one section. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find them everywhere. 


There’s a great mix of movies that could be classified as arthouse and films that have more of a cult feel, like Phantasm. What makes a film a good fit for the London Film Festival?

It just has to be a great film! There can be no better fit than that. I try not to be too prescriptive when it comes to choosing films for the festival, as I think the most important part of programming is to be open to surprises and to challenge your own tastes and expectations. I think it’s really important to achieve a balance, but you shouldn’t let that pursuit of balance completely define the choices you make, as films can mean different things to different people.

Phantasm is a great example – some audiences would see that film as mindless horror trash. But others (like myself) think it’s a surrealist masterpiece, filled with wild ideas and visual imagination. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I just want to make sure that our audiences have access to as much variety as we can offer and let them make up their own minds. 

The Cult Strand seems to be going from strength to strength! How exciting is it to show these films, both new and classics, on the big screen?

It’s the most exciting thing in the world! For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with movies, and horror films have always been my main thing. With obsession comes the desire to share, to tell your friends about this amazing film you just saw, or to tweet about this great new director you’ve come across. I’m in a very fortunate position that I get to share my obsession on a bigger scale, and to give a platform to these films (which can all too often be dismissed) and hopefully in some small way contribute to a shift in how horror (and broader genre cinema) is perceived.

And luckily for me I get to continue this all year round thanks to the monthly Cult strand at BFI Southbank, in which I screen a variety of weird, wonderful and oft forgotten archive classics. We show everything from high-end horror like The Changeling to low-end trash like The Toxic Avenger, and having the chance to see work like this on the big screen, often from original prints, really can’t be taken for granted. 

Alice Lowe in The Ghoul
Alice Lowe in The Ghoul

Do you think that genre cinema is in an exciting place at the moment?

Absolutely! You just have to take one look at the LFF Cult strand to see the range of voices creating exciting and distinctive genre work. And what is particularly exciting is the fact that there are so many first time directors in the line-up. There’s Jiří Sádek’s The Noonday Witch, a beautifully photographed retelling of an old Czech folk tale which will definitely appeal to fans of The Babadook, Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes Of My Mother is one of the year’s most stylish horror films, and also one of the most brutal, or there’s Lorcan Finnegan’s atmospheric slice of rural gothic Without Name which is really quite remarkable. To have accomplished so much with their first features is nothing short of extraordinary. With burgeoning talent like that, the genre looks to be in rude health.

I don’t make you want to choose just one film, but is there something you’re particularly excited for people to see?

This is one of the questions I get asked the most, and unfortunately it’s probably the most difficult to answer. Ask me another day and I’d probably give you a different response, but today I’m going to single out Callback, which is a deliciously droll and creepingly insidious story of an out of work actor who indulges in a bit of serial killing on the side. It’s hard to put into words just how strange and wonderful this film is, but I will say that it features one of the most squirm-inducing central performances ever committed to celluloid. It’s cold, cruel and nasty, and I cannot wait to share it with our audiences!

The 60th BFI London Film Festival runs from October 5th – 16th, 2016. Public Booking Opens:  September 15th

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