Dead of Night (1945) – Review

Eailng Studios, at the conclusion of World War II, was not best known for its forays into the world of horror. In fact, this practice by the studio was extremely rare. With the banning of horror films in general during the war, the opportunity for some of the Studio’s more familiar stars to take advantage of this new found creative freedom appeared to be too good an opportunity to ignore, and Ealing produced the portmanteu anthology of horror tales featured here.

If you’re of a certain age, you will no doubt be reminded of this approach in some of the fiction available in your youth, should you have been like me, prone to scouring market stalls as an avaricious consumer of literature at the time. Forty or even fifty years ago, short story horror collections, novellas grouped by grisly type essentially, were commonplace and like Dead of Night, had a distinctly Edwardian approach to social sensibilities. Ealing’s decision here for crisp, specific scripting may have rubbed up against some of the actors performances, making them seem more affected and even uncomfortable on occasion, but despite this, Dead of Night still retains a lofty and enviable position of #35 on Timeout’s list of the greatest horror movies ever made.

Focusing on the weekend visit of an architect to a remote farmhouse in order to make plans for an extension to the buildings, the assembled party at the property meet for afternoon tea when our architect arrives. The guests vary quite widely and there is no attempt to explain all of their reasons for being there, only that they are. As soon as our architest gets out of his car, he has a foreboding sense of deja-vu, certain that he has been to the farmhouse before, in his dreams. When he tells the assembled group of this, they remark about how odd it is, chastise him with admittedly good humour and then begin to account their own tales of strange and unexplainable things that they too have experienced at some point in their very different lives.

The film follows these tales and so the film begins in earnest, retuning back to this tea party to have have these incidents quickly and curtly analysed by one of the guests, who also just happens to be a psychiatrist, with a cynical persuasion, despite his own experiences which come towards the end of the film.

Five separate tales vary in quality and at least one of these feels entirely out of place, being H G Wells Golfing Story, which though not poorly performed and having a paranormal bent, does feel like a fifth wheel with its comedic approach, when all of the other stories and the set up itself all prefer a more traditional forebidding quality.

Personally, the highlight for me is the story regarding a mysterious mirror that is given as a present from a bride-to-be to soon-to-be husband. After a time, the husband begins to see himself in the reflection, occupying an entirely different room. Googie Withers’ performance is probably the best of all on offer with Michael Redgrave’s descent into madness at the hands of his ventriloquist dummy as close second.

Overall, a very enjoyable collection of stories, though most definitely of its time and place. The performances themselves haven’t aged in the least, but may look a little stiff to a modern day audience. Pitched at ‘Adults Only’ at the time, there would be no reason not to give this a PG rating today. Creepy and a little eerie, but compared to the output of today’s modern film-makers, this is a harmless but precious aside.

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