If you didn’t grow up in the U.K., it’s not always easy to learn about the back­wa­ters of its cin­e­mat­ic his­to­ry. Most cult film addicts know the basics — Hammer films, the work of Pete Walker, Amicus antholo­gies, etc. — but as with any country’s cin­e­ma, there’s a host of lesser-known but equal­ly deserv­ing obscu­ri­ties that film fans from oth­er coun­tries would love to learn about. Headpress has stepped up to tack­le this chore with Offbeat — and the result­ing read­ing is as addic­tive as it is infor­ma­tive.

Edited by Julian Upton, Offbeat describes itself in its sub­ti­tle as “British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities And Forgotten Gems.” It focus­es on the peri­od from 1955 to 1985, the era where British gov­ern­ment poli­cies helped provide fund­ing for domes­tic film­mak­ing until they were swept away by the Thatcher admin­is­tra­tion. This era saw the country’s most pro­lific out­pour­ing of com­mer­cial film­mak­ing — and this tome dili­gent­ly scours that out­put for the for­got­ten entries that reveal inter­est­ing things about the film­mak­ers and how the U.K. shaped their approach and atti­tudes.

The major­i­ty of the book is devot­ed to detailed reviews of films, with the entries devot­ing three to four pages to each title. There are occa­sion­al well-known titles — his­tor­i­cal­ly impor­tant items like Deep End, Privilege or That’ll Be The Day — but the selec­tion of titles takes great pains to illu­mi­nate the over­looked cor­ners of the bet­ter known fil­mo­gra­phies. For exam­ple, the entries on Hammer films bypass the usu­al Dracula and Frankenstein fare to devote time to the bank heist thriller Cash On Demand or Nigel Kneale’s non–Quatermass work.

There are also essays that illu­mi­nate themes and unique sub­gen­res that run British film­mak­ing of this era. For exam­ple, there are chap­ters on the cycle of ‘50s/‘60s British swash­buck­ler movies and a chap­ter on how David Sullivan, a Bob Guccione-styled sul­tan of skin mag­a­zi­nes, made a cycle of high­ly con­tro­ver­sial soft­core sex come­dies in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. The most inter­est­ing of the­se essays is a chap­ter on how British films in the ‘60s and ‘70s dealt with themes of teen sex­u­al­i­ty in an over­heat­ed, loli­ta-fetishiz­ing way that wouldn’t be tol­er­at­ed today.

However, Offbeat isn’t just a com­pendi­um of the obscure for obscurity’s sake. Upton and the oth­er con­trib­u­tors to this vol­ume, which include Headpress co-founder David Kerekes and lumi­nar­ies like Kim Newman, use the lesser-known fare they dis­cuss as a way of cue­ing the read­er in to what the­se films say about the cul­ture that spawned them and the film­mak­ers who cre­at­ed them. There’s a con­sis­tent­ly high stan­dard of qual­i­ty to the writ­ing here, with a focus on research and con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion that adds a real depth to the explo­ration of so-called throw­away films.

For exam­ple, the reviews of Permissive and Goodbye Gemini reveal the exis­tence of an “anti-Swinging London” sub­gen­re that showed the down­side of this sup­pos­ed­ly chic era. Elsewhere, a review of Michael Winner’s The Jokers explores his oft-for­got­ten ear­ly era as a hip film­mak­er while also point­ing out how it con­tains trace ele­ments of bru­tal­i­ty that would come to define his lat­er work. A par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable moment is a review of Lindsay Shonteff’s How Sleep The Brave that dou­bles as an explo­ration of his under­achiev­ing yet dogged­ly pro­lific career — and why his films are so tough to watch.

In short, Offbeat is like­ly to show cin­e­mat­ic trainspot­ters just how much there is to learn about the cultish side of English film­mak­ing. By prowl­ing the late-night t.v. list­ings and dusty video store shelves, Upton and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have cre­at­ed an alter­na­tive his­to­ry of their country’s film­mak­ing that says as much about the England of 1955–1985 as it does about the films them­selves.