Random Film of the Week: Dead of Night (1945)

(thanks, scaringeachother!) 

Even though it’s almost 60 years old, for my money, Dead of Night is still an effectively scary horror anthology as well as one of those classic movies worth tracking down. It’s also a decent comedy when it needs to be and even a bit of drama and mystery gets tossed into the mix. Four different directors (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer) worked on the five stories that make up the film (Dearden directed the framing sections that make up the beginning and ending as well as one of the stories), but it’s a seamless production where no style overtakes another. Of course, being an Ealing Studios release means there’s a huge amount of that British film quality that studio managed to make standard issue and a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal for film buffs who want no junk tossed at them from the balcony. Of course, most film buffs sit IN that balcony, but Ealing’s films were always fit for both stuffy critics above the common folk and those cheap-seaters below tossing popcorn and balled up paper napkins upward…

The plot is a bit odd and intentionally dreamlike, but everything makes sense as the film plays out to its excellent conclusion. A wealthy man has a party at one of his homes  where the guests are all people he’s seen in a particularly vivid dream. He seems to be able to see into the future for some reason and the film has a bit of fun bouncing between comic and serious moments as each of the five guests retells their tale. One of the sequences is flat out funny in a polite English sort of way (the pair of golfing buddies in lust with the same gal, even after one of them dies in a not so mysterious manner), there’s a Christmas party with an initially fun then pretty unsettling vibe, a famous race car driver gets visions of a horrific bus wreck, a bizarre mirror really tests a new marriage’s limits and finally, a troubled ventriloquist finds out he’s got the dummy from hell.

In terms of frights, the mirror segment deftly glides from amusing to slightly shocking to “Hey, now…” territory thanks to some stellar acting from Ralph Michael and Googie Withers as the tortured husband and wife. He sees stuff in an antique mirror she can’t and doesn’t quite get what’s going on for a bit. But when he starts getting images of killing her off, she decides to take matters into her own hands before he takes them into his. Still, the best and freakiest story is saved for last, with Michael Redgrave playing Maxwell Frere, a ventriloquist with a dummy who has a life and mind of his own. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (who also did the Christmas Party sequence), right from the beginning there’s a dark and creepy mood set that becomes relentless and if you’re sitting in the dark alone, you may jump a little, then a little more as things get weird. Well, even more weird…

While some of these stories are older than the film and have been done and redone over the years (that ventriloquist dummy story sure has gotten around over time), Dead of Night still does them all better in my opinion. Of course, there’s no blood and gore here and “Oh my gawd, it’s in black and white!” will be the first thing some people who don’t appreciate the classics will scream for no good reason. But if you can live with both of those “flaws” (which aren’t flaws at all), you’ll have a blast and want more afterwards. One suggestion if you’re too lazy to just queue up another Ealing Studios flick: go hunt for the 1977 TV movie called Dead of Night, which isn’t a remake at all. Writer/director Dan Curtis (of Dark Shadows TV fame) managed to make a very solid little chiller with a few tales spread across a few genres and a couple of nice shock scenes. Feel free to do the double feature thing with this and see which you prefer…

2 thoughts on “Random Film of the Week: Dead of Night (1945)

  1. Pingback: Curse of Chucky Trailer: That New CG Dolly Doesn’t Scare Me One Bit… | "DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

  2. Pingback: Random Film of the Week(end) 3: MAGIC | "DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

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