DEAD OF NIGHT
The films origin lies in the peculiar genus of the British ghost story. Dead of Night comes with a genial post-War middle class comfortableness it was made by Ealing Studios, who went on to make a series of classic comedies in the immediate post-War years. This is particularly evident in the golfing story, which is cut from some versions of the film the reason being that it is clearly more humorous in tone and has the air of a jolly jape rather than the eerie spookiness of the other stories. The same sense of blasé middle-class comfortableness infects the rest of the film and to some extent the film is about infecting that coziness with a sense of dis-ease.
The first two stories The Hearse Driver and The Christmas Story are the slightest. Both hinge around a single surprise and that is the whole of the story. The British ghost story was always founded on the provision a single shock at the end of the story and horror writing has evolved to something different since then. That said, the twist endings in these first two segments both work effectively, although the scenes in Christmas Story of Sally Ann Howes singing to the boy are mawkish. While many prefer The Ventriloquist's Dummy, I tend to think of The Haunted Mirror as the finest of the segments. It has a beautifully dark pull to it. The images of Ralph Michael being slowly, obsessively drawn into what the mirror shows and his fear at no longer being able to change the image reflected in the mirror back to what it should show, are excellent.
As said, The Golfing Story is the most different in tone, being clearly comic, and is usually looked down on as the weakest of the five stories. It does have a droll jollity to it that proves rather likable. The segment almost serves as a parody of the light fantasy afterlife films like Topper (1937) and Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) that were very much in vogue in Hollywood at the time.
The Ventriloquist's Dummy is also an effective episode, although perhaps one whose merit has been overrated. It has hard to judge it accurately after having seen other films on the subject like Devil Doll (1964), Magic (1978), Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984), Dead Silence (2007), Annabelle (2014) and Goosebumps (2015), not to mention Childs Play (1988) and sequels, which have reduced the possessed doll/ventriloquists dummy theme to the commonplace. Michael Redgraves performance is awfully fey and twitchy, played on a fever pitch of imminent nervous breakdown. There are certainly good scenes with the dummy biting Redgrave and unexpectedly talking to Hartley Power. And of course, the segments twist ending is memorable.
The film comes with an intriguing wraparound story, one that is much stronger than most anthology films. An eerie sense of predestination hangs over the piece and the twist ending shows the entire thing to have been another dream. If one keeps watching as the credits roll, one can see that the place Mervyn Johns is going off to turns out to be an exact replay of the first shots of him arriving at the house at the start of the film, bringing the predestination/dream in a neat full circle.
Clip from The Ventriloquist's Dummy here:-