This black and white classic is considered the grandfather of British anthology films, even serving as an influence to Rod Sterling - the creator of The Twilight Zone that ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. In past reviews you've seen me mention Amicus Productions; a British film company that released various anthologies throughout the 1960's and early '70's and even they felt the effects. So what is an anthology? Well, it's a film sometimes referred to as a portmanteau, compendium, or omnibus in which several short stories share a unified theme. Dead of Night is widely recognized for having laid the groundwork behind this concept on the big screen.
An architect by the name of Walter Craig is summoned to a country farm house to discuss a new project on behalf of his client. When he arrives he is greeted by a room full of guests in which he claims he's met before but only in a dream. A doctor by the name of Van Straaten attempts to scientifically explain this strange dream-to-reality phenomenon and how it is possible for Craig to foresee events before they happen. In the midst of diagnosing the issue several guests entertain Craig with odd or unsettling tales that they've either experienced or heard about.
This film is broken down into 5 different segments - all of which vary in the intensity of their delivery. Since this was produced in 1945 one could excuse the mild tone of some of the tales involved but despite the more innocent outlook on horror in the '40's, they could have been more memorable. After all, certain films in the silent era still have an impact today! Easily the most disturbing story in Dead of Night is about a dummy and the mad ventriloquist who controls him. The amount of times this idea has been replicated is intriguing. The earliest film rendition of this idea is 1929's The Great Gabbo - you can go even further and recognize that the Great Gabbo was parodied by The Simpsons back in the '90's. I know of one Tales From the Crypt episode that borrowed from this theme that starred Bobcat Goldthwait. In addition, there were two The Twilight Zone episodes that followed it closely. If you really want to get obscure, there was a short entitled The Dummy that originally aired on USA's Night Flight back in 1981 - not really a play-for-play copy of what you see in Dead of Night, but certainly influenced nonetheless.
A great deal of anthology films exercise a twist ending and Dead of Night is no exception. It's a satisfactory way to close the film and it should be considered a point of interest. It's true that this film was there in the early days of film-making. Sadly, the tales lacked consistency, whether intentional or not, and remains a big flaw among many anthologies.