A dead scary horror movie that skimps on the blood but not the goose bumps, Dead Of Night's a contender for Best of British. A collection of five stories, the film revolves around Mervyn Johns' architect who's struck by a bad case of déjà vu while visiting a country house. Forced to listen to his fellow guests' stories about their own paranormal experiences, he slowly loses his marbles as dreams become reality and reality becomes a nightmare.
Best remembered for their classic British comedies, Ealing Studios broke all the rules with this spooky psychological thriller, their first post-war release. Released in 1945, its dark tales of neurosis and obsession proved the perfect response to the trauma of the war years with five stories by four different directors capturing a brooding menace that's quite at odds with the middle-class world of the stiff-upper-lipped characters.
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The house's resident psychiatrist (Frederick Valk) is the only voice of sanity, but even he can't explain the spooky goings on as people have premonitions of accidents, a cursed mirror leads to attempted murder, and a game of hide-and-seek in an old mansion turns nasty. Pitching science against supernatural surrealism, it's a classic tale of the clash between reason and hysteria.
Like all omnibus horror movies, some of the segments are more scary than others - the real disappointment is The Golfing Story, a clowning tale of ghosts on the putting green. Yet Dead Of Night deserves a glowing place in the cinema history books if only for The Ventriloquist's Dummy segment in which Michael Redgrave's wild-eyed ventriloquist performs with a demonic puppet that's out to get him. Influencing everything from Anthony Hopkins in Magic to the Childs Play series, it's a venerable little chiller that hasn't lost a scrap of its hair-raising power over the last 60 years. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Dead Of Night is released in UK cinemas on 1st January 2005.