This Halloween, and every Halloween, I try to watch a few portmanteau horror anthologies. Dead Of Night by Dan Curtis bares little resemblance to the Ealing film of the same name from three decades before, beyond the fact that they both offer little segments of horror and mystery for the viewer to enjoy. With only three stories and no wraparound it sets itself apart from many other anthologies, but thankfully the film still works thanks in a large part to the potency of its final piece.
It’s always interesting to me when an anthology film, ostensibly one in the horror genre, starts out with a segment which seems in no way related to horror. This is barely a Twilight Zone episode – one without an overly shocking twist or creep factor, but one which is still charming and watchable in its own right. Starring Ed Begley Jr as a car fanatic who picks up an old car to restore. The car has a bit of history, having been crashed 50 years earlier in a double death tragedy. Taking it out for its first spin, he finds himself somehow transported back to 1926 to learn the truth of the tragedy and maybe call upon some old relatives. It’s a strange, wistful tale which feels a little out of place but is still fun.
The second segment, is full blown Gothic Hammer goodness – creaking old mansions, butlers, sick busty women, and vampires. While this one does indeed have a macabre twist, you can see it a mile away if you’ve seen any horror movies of the last thirty years. It’s one of those segments which reminds me why I fell in love with Horror in the first place – even though it’s outdated and silly and not at all scary, it treats the material, and the vampire seriously – as this truly powerful and deadly threat rather than the lovelorn or easily slain anti-heroes we think of nowadays. It’s a piece which would be perfectly chilling and unforgettable for kids just dipping their toes into the genre. Plus you get Patrick McNee and Horst Bulchoz.
The final segment ‘Bobby’ is one of the most famous segments in all of anthology horror. Written by the great Richard Matheson, it’s the story of a grieving mother trying to raise her son from the dead using the dark arts. With little more than an exasperated sounding husband on the phone, it’s all about Joan Hackett and her attempts to resurrect her dead child. It’s a great performance, a chilling story, and one shot with literal thunderous aplomb – a stormy night becoming increasingly terrifying as Bobby teases his appearance, and proceeds to demand a game of hide and seek. It employs a lot of tricks to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and it remains an effective and nasty tale.
Dead Of Night is a nifty little anthology to kick off your Halloween viewing, and a great introduction for younger viewers. Just snuggle up on the sofa and scar them for life, setting out with a gentle opener then racking up the tension until the final moments. Horror films aren’t made in this style any more – gore and swearing and sex free, but still scary enough that anyone can get a kick out of it and easily shared with younger family members who will get the thrill of the genre and hopefully want to explore further. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the nostalgia factor even if the genre has progressed to deeper scares in the years since, but should still appreciate the dedication Curtis had for the craft.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Dead Of Night!