Normally non fiction and in particular tomes dedicated to one subject have normally bored me to death, I have problems with keeping focused on one topic at a time. To that I have never really been a fan of books that look at and dissect films, however having said that, after reading Jez Conolly and David Owain Bates excellent entry in the Devil's Advocates series of books that look at classic horror films, I am now a convert.
Dead of Night was one of those films that if you asked me I couldn't tell you if I had watched it or not from the title alone. It was released a mere matter of days after the end of World War II. It was the prototype portmanteau horror film and featured some of the finest directors and writers to work in British films.
For those of you who don't know, in Dead of Night, architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) arrives at a country house party where he reveals to the assembled guests that he has seen them all in a dream. He appears to have no prior personal knowledge of them but he is able to predict spontaneous events in the house before they unfold. The other guests attempt to test Craig's foresight, while entertaining each other with various tales of uncanny or supernatural events that they experienced or were told about. These include a racing car driver's premonition of a fatal bus crash; a light-hearted tale of two obsessed golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other's ghost (cut from the initial USA release); a ghostly encounter during a children's Christmas party (another tale cut from the initial USA release); a haunted antique mirror; and the story of an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believes his amoral dummy is truly alive. The framing story is then capped by a twist ending.
This really is an archetypal film (not least that it has an architect in it) and Conolly and Bates have honoured the importance of this film with with a beautifully researched, passionately presented and captivating read that delves into the darkest corners of British film making to present a book that never fails to be entertaining.
Before delving into the film proper, they set the scene wonderfully with a "road map" to the film which sets the scene by referencing some of the themes and plot devices used by the film and contextualising them postulative thoughts on the country at the time. It also gives us an informative history of the film and its relationship with film TV and DVD.
It then moves on into a fascinating detailed look at each of the stories, including the interlocking story that bookends the film. From reading this book it is clear that the writers have a huge love of not just this film, but of British filmmaking as a whole. The passion that they both share is evident in every single sentence of this book. It was a joy to read such a detailed and informative deconstruction of a film. This is an intelligent well researched book that looks past the basic plot of the film and shows us how this film tapped into the zeitgeist of the time. Unlike some books of this nature, the links to cultural themes never feel like they are clutching at straws for something to say, and end up being very enlightening. Dead of Night is a must read for all fans of supernatural cinema.