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Film / Dead of Night

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Dead of Night is a 1945 Ealing Studios horror Anthology Film, with a cast including Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes, and Michael Redgrave.

In the Framing Story, an architect named Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a country house to consult on renovations. Craig meets a group of people in the house and tells them that he has met them all in a dream, in which everyone was horribly murdered. This leads other guests to recount their own supernatural experiences, including a premonition of disaster and a crazed ventriloquist. Finally, Craig says he has a horrible feeling that the killer in his dream was himself, and begins to butcher them. He then wakes up from the nightmare, drives off... and arrives at the same country house. The film ends as it began, in a supposedly infinite loop.

The film's segments, each from a different writer and director:

  • "The Hearse Driver" (directed by Basil Dearden). Hugh the race car driver, recuperating in the hospital after a wreck, looks out his window and sees a strange vision.
  • "The Christmas Party" (directed by Alberto Cavalcanti). Sally, a teenaged girl, shares the story of a ghost she saw at a Christmas party for kids.
  • "The Haunted Mirror" (directed by Robert Hamer): Joan Cortland tells about the antique mirror that she bought for her husband, and the strange reflection he saw in it.
  • "The Golfer's Story" (directed by Charles Crichton): Foley, who owns the house, tells a story about two of his golfing buddies and the weird events that followed after they became romantic rivals.
  • "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" (directed by Alberto Cavalcanti): Dr. Van Stratten recalls a case he worked on, concerning one Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave), a ventriloquist who has an unhealthy relationship with his dummy.
  • plus the "Linking Narrative" (directed by Basil Dearden)

Not to be confused with the 2011 Dylan Dog movie or the gamebook. Or the 1977 TV anthology movie written by Richard Matheson.

Dead of Night provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anthology Film: The movie is actually an omnibus, or anthology of stories, tied together with a central narrative.
  • Cain and Abel: An example based on real life. Sally encounters the ghost of Francis Kent who was murdered by his older half-sister Constance.
  • Clothing Combat: Peter attempts to strangle Joan with his scarf. During the film's nightmarish climax, Walter does strangle Dr. Van Straaten with his tie.
  • Compete for the Maiden's Hand: In "The Golfing Story", Parratt and Potter are in the love with the same woman, who cannot choose between them, so they play a round of golf for her hand, with the winner earning the right to marry her.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The "The Haunted Mirror" segment.
  • Dead Hat Shot: When Potter commits suicide by water trap, his flat cap is left floating on the surface of the lake.
  • Demonic Dummy: Hugo...
  • Dream Within a Dream / "Groundhog Day" Loop: The end is the beginning is the end.
  • Driven to Suicide: In "The Golfing Story", Potter commits suicide by water hazard after losing Mary to Parratt in a game of golf: a game in which Parratt cheated.
  • Dutch Angle: Used extensively during the nightmarish climax.
  • Expy: Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford appear as the comic duo Charters and Caldicott, the characters they'd been playing in several films dating back to 1938 and The Lady Vanishes—except that due to contract dispute they were no longer able to call the characters "Charters" and "Caldicott". So in this movie they play a functionally identical comic pair named Parratt and Potter.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: In "The Golfing Story", cheating at golf is considered the most heinous sin a man can commit. So serious that Potter returns from the dead to punish Parratt for it.
  • Flashback Within a Flashback: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" has Dr. Van Straaten tell the story of his consultation in the Maxwell Frere case. In his flashback Van Straaten reads the statement of witness Sylvester Kee...and the bulk of the story then unfolds from Kee's narrative as a second flashback.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Perhaps downplayed, but in "The Hearse Driver", the narrator's then-nurse is his current wife.
  • Framing Device: Walter Craig's narrative.
  • Haunted House Historian: The antique dealer providing us with the back story of the haunted mirror.
  • Impairment Shot: Hugh the race-car driver wakes up in the hospital after a crash; a blurred picture comes into focus as Joyce the nurse.
  • Laughing Mad: Maxwell, who is coming completely unglued, laughs maniacally as he shoots Kee.
  • Love Triangle: In "The Golfing Story", Potter and Parratt are both in love with Mary, who loves each of them equally. They eventually agree to break the deadlock by playing a round of golf: the winner to receive Mary's hand in marriage. Mary enthusiastically agrees to this proposal.
  • Magical Gesture: Didn't work out for the angel. But for the old man.
  • Mind Screw: The circular nature of the narrative makes it unclear just what is reality and what isn't. Is Craig stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which he continually visits the country house? Maybe, but if the Framing Device in the country house is "reality", that doesn't explain how he cycles through all the stories that were told in a hallucinatory, dreamlike manner before waking up in his bed. So if the Framing Device is a dream, then he must actually be having the same dream over and over again...which would make it an infinite Dream Within a Dream nest as he continually "wakes up" and then the story starts again.
  • Mirror Universe: In "The Haunted Mirror", an antique mirror reveals the room it was once in.
  • Nested Story: The five subplots.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: The whole story.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: Walter Craig is called to a country house for work purposes. He realizes he knows all those assembled because they appear in a recurring dream he has and predicts what will happen to those assembled (including his killing them). Each guest recounts a bizarre and spooky story to distract him and entertain each other — but all of Craig's foretold events occur. He begins murdering those in the assembled group and then runs afoul of the characters in the stories he has heard, one of whom begins strangling him. He wakes up to a phone call, summoning him to a country home for work purposes, thereby starting the nightmare over.
  • Played for Laughs: "Golfing Story" is not at all scary.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: The ventriloquist Frere's surname is pronounced "Freya". We wouldn't have a clue how it's spelt if it weren't spelt out in Kee's statement.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: In "Hearse Driver", a young man is in hospital, and is reading a book late in the evening, then sees a stir at the curtains, and notices the clock has jumped from 9:45 to 4:15. He gets up to open them, and sees sun shining brightly. He looks out and sees a hearse driver say ""just room for one inside, Sir." He shuts the curtain, it is 9:50, as it should be. When he leaves he is about to catch a tram. The tram driver looks just like the hearse driver and says "just room for one inside, Sir." He shudders and runs off the tram, only to see it dive off its tracks with everyone on it going to their doom.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The "Christmas Party" ghost story is loosely based on a real life murder mystery. In 1860, Francis Saville Kent (aged nearly four years old) was murdered. His sixteen-year-old half-sister Constance later confessed to the crime.
  • Round Robin: Six segments done by four directors.
  • Split Personality: The ventriloquist/Hugo.
    • Eventually results in Split-Personality Takeover, as the last time we see Maxwell, he is speaking in Hugo's voice (without moving his lips, of course).
  • Suicide by Sea: After losing the golf game for Mary's hand, Larry Potter slowly and solemnly walks into the lake on the golf course until the waters close over his head.
  • Those Two Guys: Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who play George and Larry in the "Golfing Story" sequence, appeared together in several other films of the '30s and '40s, including The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich.
  • Time Title: Since the bulk of the movie takes place in a dream at night.
  • Undead Child: There is one at "The Christmas Party". Or is there?
  • Ventriloquism: In "The Ventriloquist's Dummy", Michael Redgrave plays a disturbed ventriloquist.