Cult Movie: Ealing Studios' 'perfect portmanteau', Dead of Night

Hugo is a nasty little ventriloquist's dummy who makes his master (Michael Redgrave) do all kinds of evil things
Ralph McLean

Dead Of Night

REGULAR readers of this column will know I'm partial to the short sharp thrills of a well made horror anthology film. Maybe it's a nostalgia thing – I grew up watching such low rent gems as Dr Terror's House Of Horrors and Tales From The Crypt, after all – or maybe it's my ever growing intolerance for modern movies that drag on endlessly, taking hours to do what a good B movie could in an hour-and-a-half.

Either way I love a good old portmanteau picture. Which brings me nicely to this week's film, the daddy of every horror anthology ever made, Dead Of Night.

Released in 1946 by that bastion of cosy little British post-war comedies, Ealing Studios, and freshly reissued on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber this month, it's a black and white beauty that stands proud as the perfect portmanteau.

The linking sequence – and there's always a clever linking sequence in these things – has Mervyn Johns as a nervy architect whose recurring dream involves him driving to a big old house in the country where he feels compelled to murder the people he finds there.

One day, he wakes up to find that he has been invited to just such a house. As he arrives at the Victorian mansion and meets the other guests milling about in the front room, he gets an awful feeling that his worst nightmare is about to become reality. As they sit down to discuss their dreams, everything starts to unravel.

Story one is directed by Basil Dearden and features a racing driver tormented by a vision of an undertaker who rolls up to him in a hearse and shouts "Just room for one more inside". A foreboding and moody piece it makes for a fabulous scene-setter for the thrills to come.

Next up is The Christmas Story, which sees a young girl relate a tale of ghostly goings on where she finds a tiny boy crying in a strange room. When she goes to comfort him she makes a horrifying discovery.

The third story sets two sporting rivals, played by British comedy duo Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, against each other in a battle for a ladies hand that goes to the grave and beyond. Directed by Charles Crichton, this tale is the weakest on offer, but at least provides relief from the full-blown horror to come.

The Haunted Mirror, from director Robert Hamer, is a brilliant and decidedly eerie supernatural tale about an old mirror which drags the young couple who purchase it back into the bloody past of one of its previous owners.

Best of all, though, is the closing story of Hugo, the nasty little ventriloquist's dummy who comes to life and makes his master, played by Michael Redgrave, do all kinds of evil things.

With a terrifying ending where all the stories come together like the ultimate bad dream, Dead Of Night is a masterpiece of horror movie-making and the greatest anthology film ever.

Trust me, I know these things.

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