Dead of Night Reviews
"Dead of Night" is the kind of horror film that gives the genre a good name. Before the 1960s, horror was mostly contained in B-movies that relied more on campy performances and a blackened visual style. They were always strange, but rarely terrifying. But like "Cat People" or "The Picture of Dorian Gray", "Dead of Night" is instantaneously successful because it taps into our vulnerable emotions, not our logic.
It's an anthology film, one that, unlike most, ties everything together in a neat package. Containing five different stories directed by four different directors, "Dead of Night" contains elements of the supernatural, black comedy, but first and foremost, a deep underlying sense of horror.
The framework of the film is simple but highly effective: an attractive group of strangers finds themselves invited to a weekend at a secluded country estate, all for unknown reasons. Their exchanges are perfectly pleasant, but one guest in particular is bothered by the entire situation. Everyman Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones) is highly confused; everything that is happening before him has happened before. The estate, the guests, and every movement has been the focus of a recurring nightmare.
It doesn't seem far-fetched, and as the guests begin to get to know one another, they share their own odd stories. One woman (Googie Withers) recounts her experience with a haunted mirror; another (Sally Ann Howes) recalls a run-in with a ghost at a Christmas party. As the film progresses, "Dead of Night" gets spookier and spookier, until it reaches a twist ending so devastatingly mind-boggling it only adds to the nightmarish feel of the film.
It's a brilliant horror movie because it's so unclear as to what we should be expecting. As some of the stories are more comedic than others, the darker they become the more unsettling the film turns. There's a kinship with "The Twilight Zone" that is unmistakably felt. There is no explanation of any of the events and there doesn't need to be. The tales in "Dead of Night" are macabre, some more than others, but like a good scary story you tell by the campfire, the effects are more potent when our own intelligence isn't involved.
The best vignettes hit so hard, they almost knock you off your feet. "The Haunted Mirror", which stars Ralph Michael and Googie Withers, is directed by Robert Hamer with claustrophobic style. Michael and Withers portray a married couple (Peter and Joan Cortland) who purchase a gothic mirror when decorating their new home. Peter is shocked to find that when he looks at his reflection, the setting that surrounds him is not his bedroom, but is instead a grand looking suite that looks straight out of a "Dracula" movie. It's full of mystery and magnetism, and Withers is particularly good as the confused wife who is forced to come to terms with her husband's unimaginable torture.
"Dead of Night"'s finest and most famous few minutes, however, come from "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" sequence. Starring a young (and terrific) Michael Redgrave and directed by Cavalcanti, it tells the story of a puppeteer whose dummy may or not have a mind of its own. Because it's never completely clear if Redgrave's character is completely insane or the puppet actually is possessed with some sort of life, the segment is all the more creepy. It's a quintessential story that's been revamped several times in the world of horror, but none do it better as the original. You can feel "Dead of Night"'s influence in nearly every scene; it's surrounded in a dreamlike state that makes for disturbingly quiet horror. It's a work of complete originality, and few can even begin to compare to its intricacies.
Now, if you've not already seen it, consider yourself being taken to school AND GO WATCH THIS FILM.