Films That Haunt Me (Halloween Edition): DEAD OF NIGHT

Happy 2nd of October! Continuing on the theme of the month, I present the first of our Halloween-themed Films That Haunt Me.

When we think of classic horror from the 30’s and 40’s, we tend to recall the Universal monsters or Val Lewton’s psychological thrillers. My personal favorite from that era is a far cry from any of these offerings. Ahead of its time, brilliantly written, and ultimately, surprisingly terrifying, today we discuss DEAD OF NIGHT.

Dead-of-Night-1945

This is perhaps one of the earliest anthology films, and it’s clear how it set the standard for the ones to come. It is structured around a house full of people, gathered for an undisclosed purpose, telling stories of their encounters with the supernatural – all to soothe the fears of a man who repeatedly dreams that he murders someone. Each story mounts in deadliness and terror, until the line between fiction and reality is blurred, then obliterated.

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It’s tragic that this film isn’t more readily available. Once you’ve seen it, you recognize how heavily it’s influenced everything else in the genre – from the Twilight Zone to Creepshow to any psychological-surreal horror out there. And it was made decades before most of its tropes were made standard. There’s creepy dreams, undead plot twists, one hell of an evil dummy, and a tremendously unsettling ending. I had a vague idea of what the film was when I sat down to watch it, and I did not expect it to frighten me so much. Subsequent viewings have not lessened that effect.

deadofnight

What makes this film truly remarkable for me is the circumstance under which it was created. A British studio struggling to survive after World War II decides to make a horror film, a genre seen as sinful trash back in that day. What they end up creating is something so ambiguous and psychological, predating that subgenre of horror by perhaps twenty years, and changing the genre forever. That is something remarkable to me.

dead-of-night-2

As for the relation to October, this film captures the traditional spirit beautifully – an old dark house, telling scary stories, doubting the line between real and unreal, et cetera. The individual tales are ingenious, but the arching story is what really evokes the creepy atmosphere. This film holds up amazingly well, considering its age, and is perfect for a quiet night when the wind is moaning. Watch out – it might start circling your dreams, too.

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