Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#722. Dead of Night (1945) - Spotlight on England

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 several guests staying at an out-of-the-way English farmhouse. 

It begins with the arrival of architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones), who, though he’s never been there before, is overpowered by a feeling of déjà vu the moment he enters the house. He is convinced the evening will end in violence. This 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 one of its segments has something to offer. The first tale, about a mysterious hearse that seems to be stalking a race car driver (Anthony Baird) as he recuperates in the hospital, is interesting, if a bit slight. The same can be said for 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 both succeed in setting an ominous 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. The husband (Ralph Michael) sees reflections from the past whenever he peers into it. Once owned by a man who committed suicide, this mirror takes hold of the husband’s psyche, driving him insane. The entire sequence is related in a subtle manner, favoring mood over shock value, and 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, playing a man who may - or may not - be losing his mind.

Most surprising of all, however, is the framing story, the connecting thread to all of these tales: the architect and his premonitions of doom. This segment is just as fascinating as the quintet of stories at the center of Dead of Night, offering a grand finale that is every bit as disturbing as what came before it. 

In essence, this gives Dead of Night not five, but six anecdotes of terror, making it a rare horror anthology that from start to finish will give you the shivers.

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