This is my entry for my horror blogathon. I can’t wait to be able to read all of your spooky film reviews.
I’m going to be writing about one of my all time favourite horror films. That film is Dead Of Night. As many of you already know I personally much prefer creepy and psychological horror stories instead of the violent and gory ones.
This film is the perfect blend of the supernatural and scares for me. The film brings to mind the scary stories from books, you know the ones I mean, those creepy tales of terror which are best read by a blazing fire on a dark and stormy night.
A sequence near the end of the film does the best job I’ve ever seen of bringing to life nightmares. This sequence manages to capture the disorientation and outright terror you experience when you are having a nightmare. Images and faces are jumbled up, time has no meaning and there is no escape from what you’ve become part of.
At the time this film was released the horror genre was practically non existent in British cinema. America was churning out scary and spooky flicks on a regular basis, but we just were not doing the same. Then Dead Of Night was released, and this film quickly showed the world that the UK could also produce films that were able to chill the blood.
I would have so loved to have been in the audience when this film was first released. Not only was the content and style of the film something new but this film came out of Ealing Studios. Why is that important you may ask?
Well, the content of this film was about as far from Ealing’s regular output as it was possible to get. Ealing is best known for its comedies and picture postcard portrayals of British life, but during the 1940’s they did start to produce some grittier and darker films. This horror film was one of their darkest.
The content of this film was so different that it must have come completely out of the blue for audiences at the time. Other films worth watching from the studios grittier and darker years include: Went The Day Well? Pink String and Sealing Wax and It Always Rains On Sunday.
Dead Of Night is not only a good horror film, but it is also a very unique and cleverly put together film. It has four of Britain’s finest directors at the helm. These directors each directed the different segments of the film. Basil Dearden directs the linking narrative, and also directs the hearse driver story. Alberto Cavalcanti directs both the Christmas party and the ventriloquist dummy stories. Robert Hamer directs the haunted mirror story. Charles Crichton directs the golfing story.
Although this wasn’t the first anthology horror film to be made (the earliest that I’m aware of is Eerie Tales from 1919); Dead Of Night would however go on to become a film that was to become extremely influential on future horror anthology productions. The style of this film paved the way for films like The Amicus horror films, such as Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors and The Vault Of Horror. The hearse driver story surely has to have inspired the films Final Destination and The Night My Number Came Up. The Twilight Zone season 2 episode called Twenty Two also has strong similarities to this story too.
Dead Of Night consists of five individual horror stories, with each one being connected via a clever linking story. Ghosts, Deja vu, recurring nightmares, premonitions, haunted objects and a creepy ventriloquists dummy all feature here.
Unlike many other anthology films, the stories and the overall structure of the film combine together here to make a perfect whole. It’s not like there are only a couple of good parts and the rest is rubbish, each of these horror stories sucks you in. The horror stories are not the only high points of the film though; the linking story itself is also extremely chilling, and it is one that I always want to keep returning to as the film goes on.
I actually think that the film would have still worked and been creepy (although undoubtedly not as successful) if only the linking story was shown, and instead of us seeing the horror stories we just see the characters telling their respective stories.
The film begins with architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns)arriving at the country home of Elliot Foley (Roland Culver). Craig is there to consult on some renovations being undertaken in the house. Foley has some houseguests and Craig (despite never having met any of them before)knows them and claims he knows them due to seeing them in a recurring dream.
As the guests speak to him, Craig begins to start predicting things that they will do, and he becomes increasingly uneasy and is convinced something terrible will happen soon.
The other guests all try and convince Craig that there is no truth to his fears. As the day goes on the guests are inspired by Craig’s claims, and they start to share weird and scary stories of strange incidents they have witnessed themselves. We see these stories play out on screen.
The first story that we see is about a racing car driver (Anthony Baird)who is injured in a crash. As he recovers in hospital, he begins to have some frightening visions. He later comes to understand these were premonitions. This sequence is very unsettling indeed and it is one of my favourites from amongst the various stories. This sort of story is one that never gets old. It can be set in any situation really (public transport, meeting a dangerous person who will do you harm, an accident etc.)
The racing driver opens the curtains and looks out into a nightmare.Screenshot by me.
The second story takes place at a Christmas party in an old country house. A young girl (Sally Ann Howes) goes exploring the rooms during a game of hide and seek. She comes across a lonely little boy dressed in old clothes. Chills are guaranteed when she later discovers who he is. This sequence is both creepy and touching. It is inspired by a real British murder case. The actor who plays the boy is uncredited, I find that very strange as he has quite a large role within the sequence.
The third story concerns a couple who are plagued by a haunted antique mirror. The husband (Ralph Michael)sees a different room reflected back to him in the mirror, instead of the room in which he is standing. He soon becomes obsessed by this mirror and undergoes a personality change. His wife (Googie Withers)tries to help him and she soon comes to see that he is not going mad as she had first feared.
The fourth story is comic in tone and seems a bit of an odd one to have been included really. Having said that though there are some creepy moments to be found here (the man walking into the lake to drown himself for example). There’s also some clever camera trickery too. The story is about two obsessed golfers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)who are in love with the same woman. One of the men ends up as a ghost and haunts the other . This one strikes me as just an excuse to show Wayne and Radford in a film; these two appear regularly throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s as the comic characters Charter’s and Caldicott, their characters in this film might just as well have been those characters.
The fifth story is the one that is best remembered. A ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave)descends into incurable madness. What causes this? He is convinced that his dummy is actually alive. Is he correct, or is he just simply an ill man who is sadly losing his mind? Ventriloquist stories are always creepy and this is one of the most unforgettable and well made of these stories. Michael Redgrave gives one of the best performances of his entire career here, you really do believe he is becoming tired, unbalanced and downright terrified.
After the individual stories are over the horror continues on as we return to the linking story. I won’t reveal the ending in case people haven’t seen this, but if you have, then you will know the horror which awaits the viewer at the end of the film.
The film features many of Britain’s finest actors. Michael Redgrave and Googie Withers were two of the biggest British film stars of this era, and I’ve no doubt that their presence was a major reason for fans to check this film out. Mervyn Johns and Roland Culver were wonderful character actors and they are both excellent here. A very young Sally Ann Howes makes quite an impression in an early role.
The photography by Douglas Slocombe is incredible. The photography really helps to create an eerie mood which carries on from sequence to sequence. The film looks fantastic too. The music by Georges Auric is suitably chilling and it is the perfect accompaniment to the spooky visuals.
My favourites of the stories are the following. The linking story. The hearse driver. The ventriloquists dummy.
I think the best of the stories are the following. The linking story. The ventriloquists dummy. The haunted mirror. The hearse driver.
Be sure to see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best and to enjoy some interesting interviews about the film. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below. If you’ve never seen this one, I highly recommend it to you.