Night #1: Dead Of Night (1945)

Directed By: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer and Basil Dearden.

A architect has been invited to a Stately Home for the weekend to complete some work. He arrives uncertainly and appears to know his way around even though he hasn’t been there before. There are other guests in the house and the man reveals that he’s seen them all in a recurring dream he’s been having, and it doesn’t sound like it ends well.

After the visitor recounts to the strangers how he’s seen them before he’s only met with real skepticism from one character – a psychiatrist – who explains away his premonitions with a hand wave of reason. Everyone else is far more receptive, and regale the others with strange tales of their own. It’s these tales which make up the bulk of the movie, and in almost all cases are variations on stories we’ve seen since (The Twilight Zone reused at least two of them). It’s fair to say that they’re easily predictable fairly early on, but then they’re also so short that by the time you think you’ve figured anything out it’s finished.

Of the five tales, two stand out: The Haunted Mirror segment and the Ventriloquist segment. I’d hazard a guess that if you looked up any other review of this movie you’d find almost everyone else saying the same thing, so I’ll just reiterate what’s been highlighted many times and say that those pieces are great little tales, with the latter featuring a great performance from Michael Redgrave as a man who seems a little too attached to his dummy. Plus dummy’s are just one of those things that people find inherently creepy, so you could probably just have it sitting on a stool for 10 minutes and people would be hailing it a masterpiece.

The only real dud in the whole piece is the story of two friends who compete for the love of a woman with a game of golf (That she is totally fine with by the way because gosh, women are just so indecisive). It’s supposed to be a ‘comedy’ segment but largely falls flat, with an ending that’s supposed to be a joke but just raises far more questions than it should do.

We finally come back to the wrap-around segment, and being as it’s a movie about people in a house sharing stories it ends the way these things are bound to; with a twist. This one is pretty good though, and manages to ratchet up the tension until it builds to a nightmarish crescendo.

Dead Of Night was produced by Ealing Studios in a time when very few British horror movies were being made. During World War 2 the production of them had been banned and they didn’t start to be regularly produced again until Hammer started about a decade later. Still, this made full use of Ealing’s powers at the time to create an effective little movie that in some instances still work to this day. With that, It’s a shame that Ealing never really returned to horror again, as they clearly knew what they were doing. Alas, what the world of horror lost the world of comedy gained, so it’s not all bad.


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