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Classic Terror – DEAD OF NIGHT

DEAD OF NIGHT is the mother of all omnibus films, and a fun fright fest perfect for Halloween.

You could watch anything this Halloween – from slasher flicks to terrifying Japanese movies about frail women with long bangs, to films about malevolent entities to space invasion pictures about killer klowns… but why not take it back this Halloween – waaaay back, to 1945’s Dead of Night, a movie directed by 4 directors (Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer, and Alberto Cavalcanti) with a wraparound story more exciting and frightening than any the omnibus format ever produced, which plays like a feature length The Twilight Zone a full 14 years before Rod Serling put his show on the air. The tale of an architect (Mervyn Johns) who arrives at a country farmhouse he’s never been to with a strong sense of déjà vu defined and established so many horror tropes and conventions that to watch it is to go to the root of the genre. But it’s more than just a history lesson – it’s a suspenseful and tension filled experience. The architect’s uneasy belief that everything happening has happened in a recurring dream intrigues the group, setting in motion a discussion of their individual brushes with the paranormal. These stories take turns expertly building tension and providing relief, with some creepy (the ventriloquist dummy), some out-rightly ridiculous (the ghost golfer), and some just plain frightening (the mirror into another reality). At the heart of the movie is our identification with the architect’s dread, so that when he declares that all he remembers is that everything will soon turn horribly terrifying, we – like him – are at the mercy of this impending terror. Which of course is when the film really picks up. I can’t stress enough how far ahead of its time this movie is. As we reach the unavoidable culmination of the architect’s fears, the film launches into an exhilarating, vicarious thrill ride through his frightened mind state. It’s a wonderfully shot, intelligently designed film from the minds of H.G. Wells and the folks at Ealing Studios, who were at one point synonymous with British comedy (The Man in the White Suit, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Ladykillers), and you owe it to yourself to see it this Halloween – I’ve even started you off by posting the first 8 minutes!

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