Charles Crichton, Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden & Robert Hamer
This classic portmanteau from Britain’s legendary Ealing Studios is justifiably one of the most revered and successful horror anthologies ever made. Composed around a group of strangers, mysteriously gathered at a country estate where each reveals their chilling tale of the supernatural, it features appearances by many of the best British actors of its day, including Mervyn Johns, Ralph Michael, Basil Radford and Michael Redgrave. Featuring four directors and four writers, each responsible for one of the individual flashbacks that are loosely worked together with immense psychological sophistication, Dead of Night is one of just a handful of ‘true’ British horror films of British cinema’s first half-century, paving the way for the AMICUS and HAMMER horror cycles a decade later.
The tales begin, and circle around, architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns, Went The Day Well, The Halfway House), invited to the country mansion of a wealthy patron (Roland Culver, Thunderball, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). On arrival, the assembled guests each tell him of their ghostly experiences. A racing car driver is given a warning of death, a young girl meets a boy who was murdered 100 years ago, a woman’s husband is possessed by an evil mirror, a man’s friend is haunted by the spirit of his golfing partner and a psychologist encounters a ventriloquist whose dummy has a mind of its own. Weaving through these stories is Walter’s dread, for he realised on arriving he knows the house, knows the host and knows the other guests even though he has never seen any of them before. He knows them in his nightmare, a nightmare he has had over and over. One of the guests, Dr. van Straaten (Frederick Valk), is a psychoanalyst who has a reasonable explanation for all the stories. But as they are told and as Walter’s premonitions of events at the mansion materialise, van Straaten’s rationales become shakier. Even after the last of the terrifying tales are told, does one final nightmare await them all? The answer lies in a psychedelic climax centring on the terrified Walter Craig.
Dead of Night was a truly collaborative venture, including many of the figures who dominated Ealing’s output during and after the War. Directors Charles Crichton and Robert Hamer, writer T.E.B. Clarke and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe represent the popular Ealing comedies. Basil Dearden would pioneer the postwar ‘social problem’ film and veteran Alberto Cavalcanti had already made his mark with Went the Day Well? (1943) and was a hugely influential figure at Ealing.
Music composed by Georges Auric
Cinematography by Stanley Pavey & Douglas Slocombe
The Digital Film restoration was funded by STUDIOCANAL in collaboration with the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (awarding funds from the National Lottery).