Kim Newman

The journalist, film critic and fiction writer picks Quatermass and The Pit, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Dead Of Night, Kind Hearts And Coronets and Peeping Tom.

There are so many titles on this list that I’ve gone back to time and time again… and quite a few that I appear on the extras of… but here are my five go-to choices, films I could watch any given gloomy Sunday afternoon.

Quatermass and the Pit

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Dead of Night

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Peeping Tom

Of these, I only saw The Man Who Fell to Earth on its original release – it’s one of the few films I went back to several times during its first run, because Nicolas Roeg’s science fiction experience so all-enveloping and mesmeric. Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom was almost a suppressed film when I was getting into movies – but I saw it at a film society (sacreligiously in a black and white print) and then in its vibrant lurid Eastman color glory at the Scala. It’s at once horrifying and playful, intelligent and lurid, tender and cruel – and it’s about a lifelong obsession with cinema, acknowledging a downside (if not serial murder) but also the portal to wonders.

The other three were television staples in the 1970s.

I first saw Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit – which I can’t help but think of as Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit – on Christmas Day, 1974 – in the middle of the oil crisis, the three-day week and rolling power cuts, television shut down at 10.30, except on Christmas as a treat the BBC stayed on air extra late just to screen a Hammer Film about ancient Martian evil influences nearly bringing about the end of the world. I don’t quite know how that became comfort viewing, but it’s a film I’ve been back to many times – I wrote a BFI Classics monograph about it, and I’m wittering on in a feature on the Blu-Ray – and find endlessly fascinating. The two Ealing films are deceptively cosy, with a sting… a quiet, conversational, still-chilling collection of ghost stories (‘room for one more inside, sir!’… the haunted mirror… the ventriloquist’s dummy… the recurring nightmare) and a literate, barbed tour de force of black comedy that still has a lot to say about Britain. Dead of Night and Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets, made in the 1940s, were already canon when I saw them, like so many other great films on this list, but I remember the thrill of connecting with them, when they were already old and yet still about the Britain I was growing up in – the comedy still funny (wit lasts better than slapstick), the terrors still vivid (Michael Redgrave’s voice as the dummy is one of the creepiest things in cinema).

Recommended Titles

Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden & Robert Hamer1945
George Roy Baker1967
Robert Hamer1949
Nicolas Roeg1976