Oldie But A Goodie
by Brody Rossiter
Featuring a series of supernatural stories that paved the way for the Amicus and Hammer horror cycles which followed its release, Dead of Night is one of British cinema’s most significant horror pictures. Originally screened in 1945, this portmanteau of the horror genre was pieced together by numerous Ealing Studios directors of the period, namely, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. Cited by Martin Scorsese as one of his favourite horror films, and still brandishing the widespread acclaim of horror cinema lovers and creators today, Dead of Night’s terrifying tales are more than deserving of a revisit.
Despite each tale following a different character, the film revolves around architect, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns), and his arrival at a country house. After meeting the various guests joining him on his weekend retreat, he realises he has met them all before, not in person, but rather throughout the happenings of his recurring nightmares. From there we experience five different perilous sequences that twist and distort the nature of stiff-upper-lip, post-war Englishness – ranging from the deadly premonitions of a racing driver, to the relationship between a disturbed ventriloquist and his twisted dummy.
Dead of Night is a distinctly old-school example of homegrown horror, both thematically and visually. Its sustained scares are largely reliant upon the strange and macabre atmosphere it introduces and then gradually builds upon, before climaxing with a final chilling twist. The distinctly 1940’s black and white visuals may deter some viewers, but Ealing have recently unveiled a solid restoration of these ghost stories, ensuring the period environments and their finer details can be explored to the fullest – bolstering the films ghoulish charm in the process.
If you’re looking for abominable creatures of the night, blood soaked violence, and jump scares, then look elsewhere. However, if refined classical ghost-stories are your preferred arena of horror, then Dead of Night is a restless and cerebral journey fit for sending many a shiver down your spine. A must for horror aficionados.