Dead of Night, the classic 1945 British film that epitomizes the horror anthology in cinema, is given an in-depth study courtesy of the Devil’s Advocates book series. Each volume in the series examines a particular movie within the genre. It is somewhat surprising to note that while Dead of Night has been discussed in several books surveying horror films, this is the first publication that focuses entirely on it. Co-authors Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates deliver fascinating anecdotes, fun trivia, historical perspective, and insight into the visual aspects of the film. As with any scholarly discourse, elements of a thesis may not be convincing. Conolly and Bates make Freudian associations that stretch credulity: in one instance, for example, a character’s nose is designated as phallic.
The authors also remark that the film’s release occurred “a matter of days after the end of the Second World War,” and draw an analogy between Britain’s mindset of the time and the recurring nightmare experienced by the picture’s protagonist: “Dead of Night is a film about false waking, or perhaps more accurately the struggle to ‘come round.’ Taken as an indicator of the national state of mind, British cinema audiences in 1945 were just rubbing their eyes and beginning to recover a collective consciousness in the weeks and months after the cessation of war, seeking as they were to wake up from and move beyond the living nightmare of the last six years.” It’s hard to embrace the premise. The feature was filmed before the war’s end, and the suggestion of a postwar mentality isn’t applicable.
Structurally, the book devotes a chapter to each tale in the portmanteau, including the framing story. There’s a defense of the much maligned “Golfing Story,” and of course, Michael Redgrave’s tour de force performance in “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” is dissected with appropriate admiration and detail. In addition to photographs from the flick, there are reproduced drawings of select set designs that nicely provide a different sort of visuals. The 119-page, digest-sized volume contains extras that are engaging.
The film’s influence is far-reaching, and the authors are keen to point out how much studios such as Amicus, and television shows like The Twilight Zone, owe to the theme and style of Dead of Night. Revisiting a cinematic masterpiece is a joy. Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates enthusiastically encourage us to experience the déjà vu drive with Walter Craig to Pilgrim’s Farm and meet (again and again) the people of his dreams.