Dead of Night Reviews
If you want to watch an effects-laden or gory horror movie, do not watch this. This is all about mystery, mood and atmosphere.
Thanks to every director's own view, every episode has a special look and feel that contribute to making this feature an all-time classic.
I've spent months studiously avoiding writing a Dead of Night review, because I'm at a loss what to say about it. I've never been a big fan of Ealing (compare Alexander MacKendrick's work when he was an Ealing guy to what he was able to produce in Hollywood-one of the very few examples of Hollywood importing a director and actually getting him to produce better work than he did overseas), but I'd heard enough about Dead of Night over the past thirty-odd years that I figured I needed to give it a try. To my surprise, it wasn't half bad, and thus my confusion.
Dead of Night, an anthology film, was trotted out in order to show off the talents of four of Ealing's rising directorial stars: Cavalcanti (Went the Day Well?), Robert Hamer (Kind Hearts and Coronets), Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda), and Basil Dearden (Victim). The four of them film six stories, all told (including the linking narrative, about a guy whose recurring dream seems as if it's coming true, which incites the other guests to tell the movie's tales), from writers like H. G. Wells and E. F. Benson (all uncredited, natch).
The linking narrative involves an architect (The Day of the Triffids' Mervyn Johns) who goes off to a country house, where despite a distressing sense of deja vu, he is encouraged to stay by the guests, who alternately encourage him to fight against feeling as if he's bound by the rules of a dream he had just like this and tell tales of their own supernatural experiences.
None of these things are overly scary, especially these days, and you've seen most of them done better (a few were reprised quite well in Twilight Zone episodes, for example), but it's a well-made film, and an extremely stylistically coherent one for being the work of four directors; the only other anthology film I can think of that has this much stylistic integrity despite being the work of multiple directors is 2005's Rampo Noir. These days it's more worth seeing for the quality of acting and direction than it is for any stray scares that may come along, but of all the Ealing movies I've seen, this is the best. ***
I think it would be wrong to overlook this sequence as unworthy of comment, and reassess its value in "Dead of Night". It may not be as frightening as the famed ventriloquist story, but it does carry an emotional power which is perhaps its strongest point.