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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dead of Night (1945) Horror Anthology

Dead of Night (1945) - Long before V/H/S there was Trilogy of Terror and long before that was this collection Dead of Night. It is a wonderfully paced, supernatural thriller perfect family entertainment that holds up after more than 60 years. Like many anthologies of today its structure is that of a wrap around story that gives the characters in it the opportunity to share their own scary tales. In this case the story of a group of people brought together for an evening party, one of whom is Mr. Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) who is having a fierce case of deja vu.  He arrives at the party hosted by Eliot Foley (Roland Culver) Craig has the horrible realization that the events of the evening are the same as his repetitive nightmare that has been plaguing him. When he shares this with the others in the room it is the basis for not only a lively conversation about proof versus belief, but also an instigating event for others to share their stories. When one of the party guests says "We are nothing but characters in Mr Craig's dream." and that is quite apt and as the wrap around story plays out it more correct than known at the time.
  The stories are a mix of ghost and strange happenings all culminating with the Craig story to finish the film out. First up is Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird) a race car driver who tells the story of two near death experiences as well as how he met his wife Joyce (Judy Kelly). After an accident on the racetrack she is the nurse for his recovery, with a high fever and hallucinations his condition is difficult for the doctors to explain. One night after Joyce leaves for the night Hugh opens the window to find it is daylight. A horse drawn hearse sits outside and the driver says to him there is only room for one more. Suddenly the spell broken Hugh sees it is night again.This sticks with the man as he recovers, falls in love with Joyce and attempts to get on with his new life with her. Psychiatry does some good in helping him deal with that strange fever dream but one day while traveling on public transit, he finds the dream revisiting him. The bus driver seems to be the same man as the hearse driver, Hugh panic and avoids the bus altogether only to see it crash off a bridge moments later.
  A second story by Sally O'Hara (Sally Ann Howes) who attends a Christmas party and while playing hide and seek finds herself comforting the ghost of a small boy. Some of this story is a bit annoying but that could just be the child actors. I did find that the version of hide and seek was interesting. In the game one person hides and everyone else counts, when someone finds the hider they stay with them quietly and so on until the last seeker finds the group.
 Joan Cortland (Googie Withers) tells a tale of buying her fiance a mirror only for it to nearly break up their engagement.  Her fiance Peter starts seeing another room in the reflection in the mirror, It takes hold of him eventually to be revealed that the spirit in the mirror has possessed Peter. This section was a bit long and drawn out but still it was an interesting little story.
  Mr Foley tells a story of George and Larry, golfing buddies competing for the love of a woman. When they decide to play a round for her George wins and Larry depressed by his loss commits suicide in the lake at the golf course. The unexpected hi-jinx that ensues when Larry returns as a ghost to haunt his former friend is amusing. Knowing that George cheated in the match, knowledge obtained in the after life Larry decides on the haunt but even after forgiving his friend he somehow forgets how to disappear. Amusing with a surprising ending it is a strange interlude in the film.
  The final story about a ventriloquist who is controlled by his dummy is a second slightly long and drawn out story but still interesting enough for what it was. A tortured soul on the verge of a breakdown it is a sad tale of split personality.
All surrounded by the story of Mr Craig the film is a fine example of the anthology. I don't know if there are many examples of this format prior to 1945 but this one certainly holds up. Watched on VHS and I am pretty sure this is not released on DVD although there are probably some privately ripped versions out there. This film definitely gets a recommendation with the knowledge that this is G rated fun and you should not expect to be frightened hardly at all.

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