Dead of Night
If you've been wondering where your fear of creepy ventriloquist's dummies originates then you can find the answer in this Ealing Studios production from 1945. This is a beautifully made series of stories recounted by a group of guests at a country house and tied together by an architect named Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns).
Walter is invited to a country farmhouse to discuss a possible project and when he arrives to meet the assembled group of guests he is struck by a terrible sense of having met them before in a recurring nightmare. He confesses his feelings and the psychiatrist, Dr. Van Straaten (Valk), who is present, feels compelled to challenge him. Each guest in turn recounts a tale of the unexplained that they experienced and in between stories we return to Walter and the guests as his own tale advances.
The stories themselves are wildly different and range from spooky to funny to outright terrifying. There's a race car driver and his brush with death, a young girl and her ghostly experience, an evil mirror, a comical interlude about a ghostly golfer and a truly frightening tale about a ventriloquist and his dummy. Things are rounded off beautifully with the conclusion of Walter's story.
This is an Ealing production from 1945 and so while the direction is terrific, the writing equally excellent and the cast well chosen, there is no doubt it has aged. Some of the language, manners and attitudes are going to seem odd to say the least but the quality of the stories and ideas at play here cannot be diminished by the passage of time. There have been many references made to these short stories in later films and some of them have been expanded into full features.
Dead of Night proves that you can make real chillers without resorting to any onscreen violence. This is a PG but I wouldn't recommend watching it with your kids. If you can get past the antiquated styles and dialogue to appreciate those golden nuggets of horror goodness then you'll get a lot out of this film. Horror fans will recognise these tales in the many movies that have copied them since this was made and in a way that's shame because it will inevitably lessen the impact.
When it comes to atmosphere the direction is excellent and there are four men at the helm for different sections. The lighting and sets are perfect and if you grew up watching Ealing Studios many releases then you'll recognise quite a few of the faces on show here. The pace doesn't let up and events fly along never allowing you to grow bored as you approach the epic finale.
If you enjoy a really good yarn and don't require your horror to be blood soaked and in Technicolor glory then you have to see Dead of Night. For students of horror it is an absolute essential simply because it has been so influential.Short Review
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