fri 23/02/2024

DVD: Dead Of Night | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Dead Of Night

DVD: Dead Of Night

A newly restored edition of the classic British horror

Michael Redgrave with Hugo the ventriloquist's dummy

Ealing Studios was known for comedy, but when it released Dead of Night in 1945, it unleashed on movie-goers the classic template of portmanteau horror for decades to come.

The film comprises six tales – five supernatural stories and a framing narrative in which architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones) arrives at a country house, only to find he recognises not only the house and its rooms but everyone in it, as figures from half-remembered nightmares that slowly, inexorably come to life as each one embarks on a tale of the uncanny.

This nightmarish, circular framing device is part of what gives Dead Of Night its enduring, deliciously eerie power. Oh, and it inspired Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory of the universe. Some of the tales – the hearse driver calling out “room for one more”; the mirror haunted by another room’s reflection (starring a wonderfully worldly Googie Withers); and Michael Redgrave’s astounding turn as the ventriloquist tormented by a mannequin seething with a malevolent life force of its own – remain evocative and potent examples of supernatural storytelling. Each of them contains sequences – the slow advance upon a pair of hospital curtains as a radio ditty falls to eerie silence in the hearse story, the nest of attic rooms in the Christmas story, the cawing voice of the mannequin Hugo (surely the model for Naked Lunch’s Talking Asshole routine) that almost assume – like the devilish Hugo – an uncanny life of their own.

This edition has been digitally restored by the BFI and the picture is superior – extras include a gallery of comparisons – but the soundtrack, always of poor quality in previous releases due to the loss of the film’s original negative, oscillates at times from shrill to smothered on top of an orchestra of hiss. There’s also a basic, uninteresting 75-minute talking-head doco, with John Landis and Reece Shearsmith among the commenters.

Dead Of Night unleashed on movie-goers the classic template of portmanteau horror for decades to come

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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