Dead of Night
(1945, Dir. by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer.)
Why It's Here:
Revolutionizing the horror anthology long before even The Twilight Zone, Ealing Studios' production of Dead of Night might as well be something that is told around a campfire. In a way, it is - thanks to a perfectly drawn wrap-around tale that bridges the gaps between three tales of terror (and one goofy ghost story that provides a late film bit of comic relief). The film's reliance on the age old desire to tell "scary" stories keeps it from feeling out of date - the same principle that helps things like The Twilight Zone and those awesome Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books we loved as kids - even if it is more than 65 years old.
The Moment That Changes Everything:
I adore Dead of Night as a whole, and have for a long time. But, if we're being completely honest I don't know if the film would have gotten that far if it weren't for the wonderful Ventriloquist's Dummy segment near the end of the film. Again, this is an age-old horror standard - dolls = scariness - but thanks to some wonderful direction and a great Michael Redgrave performance, it meets our fearful expectations and then some.
It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
It's impossible to find something of its era that's quite like it and quite good, so let's just jump all the way forward to the 2007 horror anthology Trick 'r Treat. Creepshow is most likely a better anthology horror flick, but Trick 'r Treat's central theme of old legends and spook stories coming together is more in tune with Dead of Night's personality.
What It Means To Me:
When i start comparing something to The Twilight Zone and the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books, that's a big deal. Dead of Night gets a special place in my heart because it's completely interested in tapping into fears of the unknown, something that surprisingly few horror tales do anymore. It's not a monster film, it doesn't need blood and gore to make a point - it just wants to make our skin crawl a bit. It meets that goal whenever I watch it.