#31DaysOfHorror: Dead of Night (1945)

dead_of_night_xlgAn architect senses impending doom as his half-remembered recurring dream turns into reality. The guests at the country house encourage him to stay as they take turns telling supernatural tales.

This might be the earliest example of a horror anthology film that I’ve ever seen. While now they take the form of VHS and ABC’s of Death, to name a few, this seems to be the initial prototype of this kind of movie. Now, I know that now I’ve said this I’m sure I’ll uncover one from the 1920’s, but as for my personal experience, this is the earliest example.

Based on a story by H.G. Wells, this movie is a genuine treasure that I had never heard of before this month. The linking narrative is compelling and entertaining, as people at a party of some kind recount their own personal tales of the paranormal, and is really well constructed and paced. On top of that, the stories that each person tells is very entertaining, and at times a little spooky.

Of course, it’s scary in the way that many movies from these early days of horror are, in that they really aren’t terribly frightening. It’s absolutely a fun movie, and the ending is really effective, and even a bit bleak. That said, it does have this inherent silliness about it just as a byproduct of the time that it’s from.

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It really is amazing how much is owed to this movie from the more recent anthologies, and even Creepshow. Each segment has a different director and writer and, if we’re being honest, the quality of each segment is pretty high, it’s one of the few movies like this that I haven’t tried to defend the poor quality of some segments, because they’re all really watchable. The pieces are directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (Song of the Sea), Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda), Robert Hamer (The Detective), and Basil Dearden (Khartoum). All prolific directors, who are clearly having fun, and simultaneously taking the segments seriously.

The credited writers are, interestingly, the same as those who wrote the stories that this is based on. This includes H.G. Wells, E.F. Bensen, John Brains, and Angus Macphail. The directors, writers, and great cast have come together and created something really fun with Dead of Night.

I won’t go into each segment, but I will talk about the two that stood out most to me. First, the linking narrative is really compelling, and resolves in a way that is genuinely pretty frightening; at least it is when you think about the implications. The other stand out is the ventriloquist segment, which manages to create a surprising amount of menace and creepiness. Plus, we see the dummy return again at the end in what might be the scariest moment in the whole film.

I found myself hugely entertained by this all the way through, and while it hasn’t aged tremendously well, I won’t hold that against it. Dead of Night will be joining House on Haunted Hill as some of my favourite early horror films, and I can’t recommend it enough.

MY RATING: ****

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