Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#722. Dead of Night (1945)

Directed By: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Starring: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver

Tag line: "A Thriller...the critics hugged it!"

Trivia: Director Martin Scorsese placed Dead of Night on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time

Dead of Night is a British horror anthology featuring five tales of the supernatural, as told by a group of guests staying at an out-of-the-way English farmhouse. It begins with the arrival of architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones), who, despite the fact he’s never been there before, is overpowered by a sense of déjà vu the moment he enters the house, and is convinced the evening will end in violence. This feeling of his captures the attention of the other guests, some of whom relate their own experiences with the beyond.

Dead of Night is a pleasant surprise in that each of its segments has something to offer. The first tale, about a mysterious hearse which continually appears to a race car driver (Anthony Baird) as he recuperates in the hospital, is a bit slight, as is the second entry, set at a Christmas party, where a teenage girl (Sally Ann Howes) playing a game of hide-and-seek comforts a crying young boy (Michael Allan), only to discover the child was not what he seemed to be.  Neither of these initial yarns is very long, yet they do succeed in setting a gloomy tone. This is further enhanced by the third, and, in my opinion, best story, in which an antique mirror wreaks havoc on the lives of a married couple when the husband (Ralph Michael) sees reflections of the past whenever he peers into it. Once owned by a man who committed suicide, this mirror takes hold of the husband’s psyche, nearly driving him insane. The entire sequence is related in a subtle manner, ignoring shock in favor of an unsettling mood, which is completely enticing. The fourth story concerns a pair of golfing buddies (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), and is played for laughs, while the final entry, about a ventriloquist who believes his dummy is coming to life, features a tense performance by Michael Redgrave in the lead role, as a man who may, or may not, be losing his mind.

Perhaps most surprising of all, however, is the connecting thread to all of these tales, the architect at the farmhouse and his premonitions of doom, which is just as strong as the quintet of stories at the center of Dead of Night, offering a conclusion every bit as disturbing as what went before it. In essence, this provides Dead of Night with not five, but six anecdotes of terror, making it a rare horror anthology that, from start to finish, can give you the shivers.

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