Dead of Night (1945)
Synopsis: A group of six friends gathers together one afternoon in a cottage in the English country side. Walter Craig (Mervyn Jones) shows up to consult with the owner about restoring the aging abode, but is taken about when he realizes he’s met all the guests before – in a recurring dream. He can’t recall details of the dream, but he feels a terrible foreboding that it ends in horror. His claims of clairvoyance spur a discussion amongst the group about the probability of the paranormal, with everyone, including the skeptical Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk), recalling their own personal experiences with things they can’t explain.
Killer Scene: Seeing as Dead of Night is an anthology film made up of five separate stories within one larger framework, there are many memorable and sufficiently frightening images worth mentioning. However, the sequence that stands head and shoulders above the rest has to be the film’s climax in which Walter Craig, experiencing a pastiche nightmare involving images from all the previously told tales, finds himself face-to-face with Hugo, a ventriloquist dummy that opens its eyes, addresses Walter then rises to walk over and strangle Walter as a group of evil-looking onlookers cackle evilly.
Violence: The body count for the film tops out at two – one by strangulation and one by suicide by drowning – and there are a grand total of three physical blows, though one is a slap across the face of a dummy. None of them are gory – it was the 1940′s after all.
Sex: Though the young Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes) is attractive in a girl nextdoor sort of way, this film is about as sexy as a Quaker meeting.
Scares: Completely devoid of jump scares, Dead of Night provides sufficiently creepiness through its ominous atmosphere and some truly frightening images.
Final Thoughts: Before Trick ‘r Treat, before Creepshow, before any other horror anthology you’ve probably ever seen, Dead of Night set the standard for how horror anthologies should properly play out. What allows it to work despite no blood, no sex and no jump scares is the skillful writing that builds the foreboding dread with its intelligent structure. The first tale, about a race car driver’s vision that allows him to avoid his own demise in bus accident, is a benevolent paranormal occurrence. But as they go along, the tales get more and more ill-fated and evil until the film’s self-prophecying and borderline nihilistic conclusion. Also, no matter how many times I see it, stories involving talking dummies never ceases to give me the heebie jeebies.