Dead of Night (1945)

Inspired by Joe's kick-off Halloween flick, From Beyond the Grave (1973), I thought I'd go back to one of the early horror anthologies, Dead of Night, a 1945 British film from Ealing Studios. Collections of short stories had been around since the earliest films (Waxworks from 1924 for example, was composed of 3 short horror stories), but the structure and content of Dead of Night would come to influence many subsequent films and TV series (the Twilight Zone, for one) and some consider it one of the great horror films.

The plot involves an architect arriving at a country estate, only to discover that the place, and each of its inhabitants have haunted him in recurring nightmares. As he slowly recalls premonitions from he dreams, the group begins recounting their own previous brushes with the supernatural, each of which is detailed within an episodic flashback. Dead of Night isn't particularly scary, although the famous ventriloquist dummy segment with Michael Redgrave is creepy enough. The genre changed so dramatically in subsequent decades that much of the wit and charm of the dialogue seems almost out of place in a horror film. Still, it's an interesting film from an historical perspective.

One of the problems with Dead of Night is its narrative structure. Each of the characters tells their own tale and the viewer is therefore aware that they must have survived the horrors they faced. It zaps the individual segments of some potential tension, but it must be remembered that this was 55 years ago so you need to cut the film some slack. The surreal, avant-garde ending is terrific and plays well all these years later, even if some of the individual tales come off a bit flat. That dummy still gets under my skin.

Unfortunately, the DVD release of this film is long out of print (and once again, the title trades online for stupid prices), so I yanked it off the FBW shelves last year. If you're in the mood for a little horror nostalgia however, I'll bring it in. It's an interesting and important early film in the genre.


1 comment:

the coelacanth said...

excellent! mike brown gifted me with a burn of this a few months ago and i've been meaning to watch it but have yet to get around to it. will bump to the front of the queue. thanks for the reminder scott, and hope to see more contributions from you (and others, hint, hint) as the month progresses...