anthologies

[Movie Review] Dead of Night (1945) ★★★★★

the ventriloquist's dummy in Dead of Night 1945

Dead of Night is a fun, surreal and spooky mix of bonfire tales, that becomes true nightmare fuel.  


Dead of Night is a horror anthology in which a group of people tell each other ghost stories that they have experienced themselves. The wrap around is all of these people telling stories, that are either spooky, strange or funny or really terrifying. Shot in black and white it creates an ominous feeling which is ironic because this group tells five ghost stories to comfort another guest.

With great outstanding cinematography, a spooky and mysterious atmosphere these five stories come to life, while the ending is the real final sixth story that will certainly give you the shivers. It might be an old movie but it certainly isn’t outdated and it’s a must-see for horror fans and film fans in general.


Plot

At the request of Mr and Mrs Foley architect Walter Craig visits their house that they plan to renovate. When he arrives, some other guests are there as well. But the strange part is that he has dreamt it all, the guests, everything else that is happening, even the tiniest little things. While he gets a bit unnerved, the other guests tell him ghost stories to ease his mind while psychiatrist Dr van Straaten wants to prove that ghosts and the paranormal doesn’t exist. Meanwhile everything he has predicted and what he has dreamt about, indeed does happen. Even a death. 


Why you should watch it

The film is divided into different segments when a guest starts to tell his or her story. Each story has its own vibe and tone and reflects the storyteller in a fun, serious or spooky way. Meanwhile the big story arc about the group and Walter Craig’s dream or vision and what events unfold during their little storytelling is the overall main story. Between each story, the others react to it, either somewhat scared, or laughing and they ask Dr van Straaten if he is convinced now. It’s a diverse group of people and they fill up the so-called gaps while becoming a story of their own, in which strange and dreadful things start to happen. It does make the film more coherent and complete.

Hearse Driver 

The first story is told by race car driver Hugh Grainer. After a crash he was in hospital but he had a vision about a hearse with space for just one person. It is a very intimate story and well-told and a real spooky story. It only focuses on his observations and thoughts and how these eerie events unfold. The scene of the hearse and the driver puling up in front of the hospital is scary and foreboding all by itself and completely out of place which makes it a bit surreal. 

Christmas Party

The second story is told by young girl Sally O’Hara who claims she saw a ghost at a Christmas party. This holiday segment is spooky with a real ghost, although that’s what she claims. It’s a fun and innocent ghost story and reflects her thoughts on the existence of ghosts.

The Haunted Mirror

The third story is told by Joan Cortland. When she was engaged to her husband Peter she bought him an antique mirror. But there was something strange about this mirror. It’s a mysterious and original story with an original horror trope. Is the mirror haunted or magical, are the images in it visions or is it deadly mischievous? It’s a good little tale that easily could have been part of a much bigger story and therefore speaks to the imagination.

Golfing Story

The fourth story is told by Eliot Foley who tells a rather funny spooky story about two golfers and a ghost. This story provides some comic relief. It’s not scary at all, but comical but it must be said that this one is maybe the most outdated story. 

The Ventriloquist’s Dummy

The fifth story is told by psychiatrist Dr van Straaten and is about a ventriloquist’s doll and ventriloquist Maxwell Frere. This is the most fleshed out and gripping and scary story. It’s psychological in nature and the thin line between reality and mental illness or hallucinations is very well balanced and suits the story of the psychiatrist. It also provides a buildup towards the ending of the movie.

The ending has to be seen as the sixth story and is the most terrifying of all. The surreal style, the madness and illusion or hallucination really spiral into an enthralling horror story. 

The stories all have a different tone and vibe, but together they all add up to the dreadful ending. But each story addresses a foreboding feeling, and the question if the abnormal is real or not is never really answered. It’s also about science versus the supernatural and even Dr van Straaten knows a good scary bonfire story.

It’s proper storytelling that uses suggestion to create a creepy atmosphere and the end lives up to its outstanding buildup. The cinematography is excellent and outdoes itself in the final act, which is breathtaking even now in this modern age. It’s an anthology that smartly combines the different stories into one big terrifying story with a huge twist that has truly become a nightmare of its own. 


My favorite part

The best story for me was the story about the dummy. I was well-told and had a great buildup and was truly scary. If you don’t like dolls it will be even scarier. The admirable part about this segment is, that it has not aged at all. Some segments can feel a bit outdated which makes them less scary, but not this one.

It becomes even more scary when this fifth segment seeps into the real story, or should we say the sixth ghost story. That final act is absolutely the best part of the film. It was an excellent superb ending that was pure nightmare fuel. It was scary, twisted and ironic at the same time. Add to this the excellent cinematography and a great visual style that created a truly terrifying atmosphere and this film is an absolute horror classic that will never be outdated. 


Ratings

Rating: ★★★★★

Scare factor: ★★★☆☆

Surreal factor: ★★★★☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★


Cast and crew

Dead of Night is based on the stories by H.G. Wells, John Baines, E.F. Benson, Angus MacPhail. It is directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden. It stars Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Frederick Valk (Dr van Straaten), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Googie Withers (Joan Cortland), Mary Merrall (Mrs Foley) and Michael Redgrave (Peter Cortland).

Duration: 102 minutes. Music by: Georges Auric. Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe. Edited by: Charles Hasse. Produced by: Michael Balcon. Production company: Ealing Studios. Distributed by: Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited.


Check the trailer below