Dead of Night

Day Twenty Eight of the 2010 Silver Shamrock Happy Halloween Countdown!

Happy Halloween Countdown Day Twenty Eight

Dead of Night
Dead of Night was a tough one to write about.  What can I say about a film that is so self evidently awesome?  A hugely influential and thoroughly entertaining film, Dead of Night, is itself is less well  known than its progeny.   You’ll see what I mean in a moment.  Though portmanteau films, that is, films where a number of short films are put under the umbrella of a larger encapsulating story arc or theme, have been around nearly as long as the film industry itself, the idea came somewhat late to the horror genre.  Initially the format was used to showcase vaudeville style acts and the like.  Later, Amicus Productions, inspired in large part by Dead of Night, would produce a string of portmanteau films.  Dead of Night was also an influence on the TV show The Twilight Zone.

The container story revolves around Walter Craig, an architect , who has bee invited to a manor house in Kent to draw up plans for some additions that the owner, Mr. Foley, wants to make.  When Craig arrives, he finds the place eerily familiar.  Having arrived at tea, Mr Foley introduces him to Mrs. Foley and the other guests.   Craig is stunned, telling the party that he has seen them before, in a reoccurring dream.  This sparks a conversation about weird and supernatural events; a number of the guests, who in the course of the conversation, each tell of their own brush with the uncanny.

The stories range in tone from nightmarish to whimsical and all stops in between.  Dead of Night is probably best know for the segment about a hard pressed ventriloquist who is being tormented into madness by his dummy, Hugo. This segment is still, after sixty years, unnerving, mostly due to a terrific performance by Michael Redgrave, though it helps that the dummy is uber-creepy.  The ventriloquist segment and the conclusion of the encapsulating story  have a very modern feel that should still scare contemporary audiences. In the name of science I did a little experiment, showing the climax of the ventriloquist segment to K and the Housecat. K ran from the room (she’s my age) and the Housecat screamed.

The other segments are more subtle in their creepiness, much like The Twilight Zone or some of the classic horror comics.  The segment about a haunted mirror is straight forward as far as its plot goes, but the execution is done so well, that it’s easy to forgive its predictability.  The same holds true with the Christmas party story, the horror of which isn’t revealed until after it’s passed.  You know that I mean?  The sort of thing that, when you think about it after the fact, sends you into the dance of heebie-jeebies .

Dead of Night gets a big recommendation, especially for those who grew up reading classic horror comic books or watching the original The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

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