Dead of night


U.K.| 1945. Black and white. 102 min.

Prominent in most top tens of both British horror films and Ealing Studios considerable output, Dead of Night has grown in stature over the years, not least due to its influence on subsequent ‘anthology’ chillers in which a number of short stories are related by a diverse group of narrators.
An architect (Mervyn Johns) is invited to a country house, where he meets a motley group of guests, all of whom he recognises from a recurrent dream. With the exception of a pragmatic psychologist, they are sympathetic and seek to reassure him that he’s not going mad by chipping in with their own experiences of the supernatural.
Four of Ealing’s premier directors contributed to the film, making it feel genuinely representative of the studio’s famously communal working methods. Basil Dearden directs a tantalisingly brief episode recalled by a racing driver, but more importantly also handles the linking narrative which gives the film much of its haunting power. By contrast, Charles Crichton’s golfing yarn, based on a story by H.G. Wells, is the most lightweight segment, best viewed as comic relief between the film’s two most sinister episodes: Robert Hamer’s ‘The Haunted Mirror’ and Alberto Cavalcanti’s ‘The Ventriloquist’s Dummy’.
In the former, Googie Withers unwittingly buys her fiance a mirror that mysteriously reflects a room other than the one he’s in, bringing him to the brink of insanity. The final sequence, starring Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist who seems scarcely to be in control of his domineering dummy, carries less thematic resonance than Hamer’s, but remains a triumph of unsettling atmosphere, and cranks up the suspense before we’re propelled into the film’s surreal and unforgettable conclusion.

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