While Dead of Night has its problems — notably that only its framing story and two of the internal stories are all that good — it retains its position as the ne plus ultra of horror anthologies. That’s in part due to the film containing Robert Hamer’s “The Haunted Mirror” segment and Alberto Cavalcanti’s “The Ventriloquist,” which are the stand-out stories. “The Ventriloquist” is generally considered the best, but I lean toward “The Haunted Mirror” myself. That said, what really makes the film work for me is the framing story directed by Basil Dearden. It’s not just that it’s the most detailed of the stories — focusing on an architect (Mervyn Johns) living out his recurring nightmare — but it does something I’ve seen no other anthology film do by incorporating his story into the other stories in a phantasmagorical nightmare at the end of the film. In fact, it is this section of the film that contains not only the most shudders, but the biggest shudder of them all. Everything else pales in comparison — and yet this needs those other stories in order to exist at all.
Yes, Cavalcanti’s “Christmas Party” is a pretty simple — albeit stylish — doodle of a ghost story, and Dearden’s “Hearse Driver” is, at best negligible. The weakest of the lot is Charles Crichton’s “Golfing Story,” a darkly comic intrusion that probably seemed like a good idea — especially in Britain — at the time. You may remember Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as the cricket-obsessed passengers in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). Well, those characters were so popular in Britain that they appeared in three more films. The characters here have different names, but they’re still Radford and Wayne and they’re still doing the same basic shtick. Their value was probably clear at home, but abroad their sequence is both puzzling and not terribly funny — though the ending is surprisingly amoral. But the parts of the film that work are pretty sublime.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Dead of Night Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.