Reviews

Dead Of Night

5

Watch with your ventriloquist's dummy

One dark and stormy night in the late ’40s, some terribly clever cosmologists went to see a frightening horror film made by a studio now more commonly associated with whimsical middle-class comedies. “It’s completely circular!” one scientist exclaimed, noting that the plot – in which an architect is trapped in an endless nightmare – had no beginning or end.

That movie then directly inspired the boffins’ new model of the universe’s origins, which enjoyed a fair bit of popularity, before being blown out of the water by the ‘Big Bang’ theory.

So while Ealing’s 1945 portmanteau Dead Of Night might not actually have unpacked the mysteries of the cosmos, it certainly had a major influence on that other wonder of light and motion: cinema. Specifically, the horror anthology, with successive studios (notably Amicus) borrowing the template laid down by Ealing’s dark masterpiece.

Dead Of Night was a gamble, an attempt to dodge a damaging ‘H’ (for ‘Horror’) certificate, with a tasteful compendium of exceedingly English ghost stories. The phantom children, haunted mirrors and a palpable sense of psychic dislocation were evidently informed by wartime trauma, and all delivered in some tear-ably re-feigned ac-cents (“Aim nort fraightened!” babbles a spooked Sally Ann Howes).

But it was cunning, too, because there’s some genuinely skin-crawling stuff tucked away: some ghastly business with a ventriloquist’s dummy, and one of the creepiest invitations from a bus conductor ever. Blu-ray player feeling neglected? Pop this newly restored classic into it: after all, there’s room for one more inside...

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