Dead of Night

Dead of Night

Anyone who knows me knows that I love British, Horror anthologies. Films such as Asylum, The House the Dripped Blood, and Trick R’ Treat, all get regular screenings here at The Haunted Cinema. I am such a fan, that I was fairly sure that I have seen them all, that was until Grimmly told me about the film we watched today.

Dead of Night was filmed in 1945 by Ealing Studios and starred a cast of largely unknown British actors (at least to me) and was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti.

The film really sets the stage for horror anthologies and follows the classic formula of an interesting intro tale that bookends the segments which included five tales of the supernatural. Like most anthologies, some of the segments were stronger than others, but taken as a whole, this film is really fun.

The binding story centers on an architect named Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) as he travels to a very rural farmhouse. As he approaches the house you can see that he appears perplexed. He was asked to come and look at the house for possible renovation by the owner, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver). As he arrives at the house, he discovers that the homeowner is having six friends over for the weekend. Walter’s unease continues and he tells the gathered group that in his dreams he has been here before and has met them all. His anxiety only increases as he relates details that he couldn’t possibly know and he shares that this dream always ends as a nightmare.

One of the guests is a psychiatrist, Dr, Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) whose is skeptical of this dream and tries to explain it away as coincidence, and suggestion. The other guests are more convinced and willing to believe in the unexplained. This is the set-up for the tales to come in the anthology, as each guest shares their stories with the supernatural in an attempt to get Dr. Van Straaten to believe.

The first tale, The Hearse Driver, is shared by Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird). He was a famous racecar driver that had a terrible accident on the track and nearly died. During his convalescence at the hospital he sees, out of his window, a mysterious horse drawn hearse and driver. After seeing this he gets premonitions of death.

Next up is a story told by the youngest member, teenager Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes), and it is a more traditional ghost story. She recounts a recent Christmas party when she encountered the ghost of a little boy brutally killed by his sister.

The third tale in this anthology is one of the two most effective stories. The Haunted Mirror as recounted by Joan Cortland (Googie Withers) centers on an antique Chippendale mirror that she purchases for her fiancée as a gift. This tale is a descent into madness as her fiancée, while gazing into the mirror, sees himself standing in a different room in an unknown house. These visions start gradually but grow in intensity as it is revealed that the mirror belonged to a man driven mad by an injury that left him bedridden. This invalid eventually kills his wife and it seems that the mirror is having a similar effect now.

Golf is the unexpected subject of the next story, and we are presented with a light hearted tale of two golfers and best friends who both fall for the same girl and decide that in fairness one of them needs to die for the good of all and they stage a golf match to decide it.

The final story is the strongest and most disturbing. It centers on a ventriloquist and his dummie. This tale is related by DR. Van Straaten, to show that he also has seen something unexplained, yet still is not ready to accept the supernatural as an explanation. This story is genuinely disturbing, and I won’t spoil it here.

The anthology is wrapped up in a superb way, coming back to our poor architect and his nightmare.

This early tale was a low budget affair so there were no real effects to speak of, except in the golf tale where camera trickery was used. This lack of any spooky effects may hold the film back from being a true classic, but it forced the director to rely on excellent storytelling. The acting was average but serviceable.

All these strengths and weaknesses taken together, I give this film 3 ½ stars out of 5 and recommend it.