Monday, 8 October 2007

Dead of Night (1945, UK, Alberto Cavalcanti et al)

Dead of Night is a superior horror film from Ealing Studios, best known for its whimsical comedies. Invited to a country house, an architect believes he recognises all of the other guests from a surreal and recurring dream. The other guests then all tell nightmarish tales they have experienced or heard (a racing driver who avoids death, a dead boy seen during a hide and seek game, a man who is possessed by the reflections he sees in a mirror, a jovial tale of golfers fighting over the same woman, and a ventriloquist and his dummy whose personas are inextricably linked).

Rather than using explicit shock tactics to frighten the audience, Dead of Night relies on the power of suggestion to create a genuinely disturbing work. It superbly combines five stories to create its climax, the most celebrated and best being the Haunted Mirror and the Ventriloquist's Dummy. These are psychological segments, showing mental breakdowns as played by increasingly unhinged protagonists. Both tales use themes of possession by supernatural forces, as if to speculate upon the frailty of personality. These are tales to make you think rather than blink, and because those who have these dreams believe them to be so real, it makes you consider the fine line between sanity and insanity, reality and illusion. When these tales interweave, they create a somewhat bizarre and head-spinning denouement, which involves a terrifying shot of the dummy moving off his chair and walking to the architect to strangle him (the dummy is incredibly frightening since you consider it was played by a very short man, so it does look lifelike). The end credits show the " dream" becoming real, with the architect receiving his invitation to the country house, and we know what we've seen will actually occur. Dead of Night is definitely one of the better psychological horrors, and a film the British Film Industry should be proud of, but alas, doesn't make any more.

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