“Dead of Night” is a 1945 British film that consists of a group of characters thrown together in a home and each tells a supernatural story. Then these characters turn out to be the subject of another character’s dream. And finally, the whole story turns out to be part of an endless recursive dream nightmare, a dream within a dream, within a dream like the images produced by two mirrors facing each other. The only actor I recognized was Mervyn Johns who played Bob Cratchit in the 1951 movie Scrooge.
The stories include a young girl meeting the ghost of a boy who was murdered a century ago in the old house where the girl is visiting. Another story involves a race car driver who while recovering from a crash has a vision of a hearse driver inviting him into the coffin. Later he sees the same man as a bus conductor inviting him to board the bus. He backs away and as he watches the bus drive off and crashes killing everyone aboard. A third story involves a bedroom mirror possessed by a murderous spirit. The fourth story is a comical golf ghost story. And the final story is about an evil living ventriloquist dummy.
Back in the underlying scene the character who recognizes the other characters from his dream commits a murder and then somehow finds himself inside the five stories we have just witnessed in a mish-mash of the stories until finally he awakes in his own bedroom. His wife consoles him for having another nightmare. He then receives a phone call that sends him to the house where the earlier story takes place. And the whole thing circles round to the introductory scene.
Despite the theatricality of some of the scenes the movie works. Of course, it’s all ridiculous but the atmosphere of the movie is claustrophobic enough to produce the requisite discomfort in the audience that makes a ghost story work. Admittedly the golf story is a bit of a distraction from this mood but there are enough creepy moments and characters to make this movie a success. I’ll have to say that the fact that the cast look like ordinary people and lack the movie star good looks of an American production actually goes a long way to aiding the illusion we are inside the story with them.
Like many British films from the middle of the 20th century the story had to depend on a good script and competent actors instead of expensive sets and special effects to immerse the viewers in the story. And because of that this movie still works as well today as it did back then. And it stands up after repeated viewing. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The British love a good ghost story and this one has several. Dead of Night probably won’t work for those who depend on comic book special effects to tell a supernatural story. But if you have an imagination you may like this one.