Happy Halloween! I hope everyone has spooky plans on this my favorite holiday. There is an endless array of movies that would be appropriate to review on this dark day, but it so happens I stumbled on a new delight last week that I think appropriately encompasses the spirit of the holiday. Dead of Night is a British-made movie that is essentially a framework for the telling of a handful of short scary stories. Therefore, the movie has four credited directors and four writers associated with it, including H.G. Wells.
Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is an architect who has been summoned to a country hotel for some consultation on renovating the building. Before he even arrives at the estate, he knows the place is familiar, although he has never been to this area of the country. He walks in, takes off his coat, and hangs it up as though he has been there many times. Entering the parlor, he immediately recognizes the five people in the room and knows all about them. He has experienced all this through a recurring dream. Among the guests is a psychologist who thinks it is impossible Walter has dreamed of these actual people and that everything is a coincidence. To show they believe his story, the remaining guests begin to recount eerie stories of their own that suggest other supernatural possibilities.
One guest (Antony Baird) tells how he predicted his own death and thus avoided it. This racecar driver, following a crash on the track, looked out his hospital window one night after his clock has stopped and sees a hearse. The driver says to him: Room for one more. Upon release from the hospital he prepares to board a bus when he sees the same driver, who says, “Room for one more.” The man declines to get on and the bus then crashes killing all aboard. Another man tells a of his friend’s experience with a ghost. Two golf buddies vying for the same woman agree to let chance determine who will marry her, and the loser subsequently walks into a pond on the golf course and dies. He comes back to haunt the friend but comically has trouble returning to the heavens. A young woman (Sally Ann Howes) then tells of an Xmas party she attended where she meets a boy who is afraid of his sister. The girl finds out later that boy had been strangled by his sister decades prior in the home.
The final two stories are the most spooky of the lot. A woman (Googie Withers) says her fiancée/husband had a bizarre experience with a mirror she purchased for him from an antique shop. When he would look into the mirror, the room he saw behind him was not his own. It featured a large antique bed, burning fire and other ornate decorations of a bygone era. At first he could shake the wrong image but eventually it is there all the time and horribly upsetting his disposition. When his fiancée stands beside him, he cannot see her reflection. Even after moving into a home together following their wedding, the problem persists and he confesses he senses something evil from the other world in the mirror. The woman learns from the antique dealer that that original owner strangled his wife, and she nearly succumbs to a similar fate.
Lastly, the psychologist (Frederick Valk) tells a story about a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believe his dummy is alive. The psychologist had been called in to analyze this man’s state of mind after he is charged with murdering another ventriloquist. The story he tells suggests it is instead the dummy that caused the man to shoot another.
Dead of Night masterfully executes its scary stories without any special effects or jump-out-of-your-seat music. The whole duration of this movie I felt on edge and nervous about what was to come and why all these people were in a house together. As mentioned, the story of the mirror and the dummy frightened me the most. I loved how eerie the concept of a mirror reflecting something other than reality can be. I think it is merely the unknown that worries one in this circumstance: What does the mirror want and why is it doing this? Where is that other room and why am I in it? Stories about ventriloquist dummies seem to be a frequent source of horror and I cannot help but think of the “Goosebumps” book “Night of the Living Dummy” that happened to be the only one I could not get through out of fear. Those dolls tend to be unpleasant and unfriendly looking to begin with, so when they seem to speak without anyone around, that certainly is frightening. Redgrave does a great job as a man at his wit’s end afraid of his own doll. I should also note that the framing story has a twist of its own that makes one glad he is not Walter Craig.
Filed under: Horror Tagged: | Antony Baird, Basil Dearden, Cavalcanti, Charles Chrichton, Frederick Valk, Googie Withers, HG Wells, Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Robert Hamer, Sally Ann Howes, Wowza!