Monday, October 10, 2011

British horror

TCM is continuing its look at the horror genre this evening with a bunch of films from the 1940s. This includes one of the great horror films to come out of Britain: Dead of Night, at 11:00 PM.

Mervyn Johns (father of Glynis) plays Walter Craig, an architect who at the start of the movie wakes up from a nightmare. He's got an appointment to meet somebody at an old country house for a consultation, and despite being unsettled by the nightmare, goes out to the country. He's quickly going to be more unsettled by what he finds out in the country. He sees the people at the country house and realizes he's got a sense of déjà vu: I know I've seen all of you somewhere, he tells them. This is more or less the framing story to hang around the various characters, who respond to our architect with their own tales which range from slightly disconcerting déjà vu to out-and-out horror of the 1940s type. There's nothing too gory here

As for the other characters' stories, there are five of them:

First up is a story about a children's party, where one of the children sees another child whom nobody else sees, and who isn't like the rest of the children;
Next is a tale about an odd mirror that enables one man to see things other people can't;
That's followed by a story of a hearse from which a voice emanates telling a man, "There's room for one more";
Two golfers fight over the same woman in the fourth story; and
in the last episode, a ventriloquist gets more than he bargained for from his dummy.

The fourth story stars the same two actors who played Caldicott and Chalmers in The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich, although they're playing characters with other names here. The last piece has Michael Redgrave as a man who makes the ventriloquist's dummy talk. That having been said, there's something more to Dead of Night than just the five anthology stories, as the framing story turns out to be a real story in its own right too. The architect finds as each of the other characters tells their stories that things that he saw in his nightmare are actually coming to pass. Or is he only imagining things?

Dead of Night works extremely well both because of the stories in the anthology, and the excellent framing story. Of the five anthology stories, most people will probably enjoy the ventriloquist story the best; it's one that looks as though it could have been reused for a Twilight Zone episode. A lot of other reviewers don't care for the Caldicott and Chalmers portion, but I didn't have any of the problems with it that other people seem to have. As for the framing story, it pays off well in the end. Dead of Night fits in quite well with the Val Lewton movies of the 1940s in that there's little gory here, and a good deal of the horror is more in the mind. But Dead of Night might be even better than a movie like Cat People.

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