TV movies used to have a lot of ‘oomf’ and thought put into them. Granted, not all of them were award winning dramas, but there was a reason so many boomed from the late 60s to the early eighties. Trilogy of Terror, the Night Galley pilot, Home for the Holidays and many more are still sought after by made for TV lunacy fans. Released in 1977 as an anthology of mystery, imagination and terror, this bundle of three short stories failed to start up a series or buzz talk, but managed to become a treasure to seek out by those grown up kiddies that remembered the frights that danced in front of their then innocent young eyes. Are you ready for Dead of Night?
The first story, “Second Chance”, follows a 20-something year-old Frank (Ed Begley Jr.) who purchases a rundown vehicle that last ran in 1926. Fixing it up he drives it down what used to be the old highway and winds himself up back fifty years to the night where its occupants had been killed. The second story “No Such Thing as a Vampire” takes place in Romania at the close of the 19th century, where rich mistress Alexis (Anjanette Comer) finds herself the victim of a two fanged bloody neck biter. Her husband (Patrick Macnee), a doctor, tries to ignore the fantastical accusations of mythical monsters, but the further her condition pursues the more everybody around the mansion begins to buy into the Dracula story. The third and final segment, called “Bobby”, exposes a distraught mother (Joan Hackett) who feels everlasting sadness months after the drowning of her son. When dabbling in black magic, she manages to bring Bobby (Lee H. Montgomery) back to life, but his mentality seems that of a much darker tone.
The problem with finding a phenomenal short story in an anthology, is that it is often tied in with weaker throwaway efforts. And while being diverse is a good thing, when you enter a film called Dead of Night, you’re hoping at least some horror elements will make it to each and every tale. Such is not the case with “Second Chance”, an interesting time travel idea that is sadly swamped in hokey narration and a less than satisfactory finale. Slow and devoid of any thrills, it’s the right idea with the wrong execution in the wrong jumble of movies. I can appreciate a sci-fi fantasy any day, but when it’s predictable and the outcome slides off as ‘blah’ you don’t feel like bothering any more with the rest of the feature. Hence why putting “Second Chance” first is a bad idea for TV watchers of ‘77, who would probably have flicked the remote if something better was on.
Luckily, our second story does things a little better, though not without a few goof-ups. “No Such Thing as a Vampire” appears to try and trick its viewer, but shows its hand a bit too soon. Patrick Macnee’s performance is the best of the cast, but regrettably does little to show the viewer his relationship with wife Alexis. Gothic atmosphere and a fun flick of the subtle vampire touches save this from being a repeat of the previous story. Music is also gorgeously set in pieces and there’s enough tension to keep the show rolling for the twenty minute duration. It’s only flashing red light discrepancy would be the lack of shock or punch in the gut at the end. Still, it’s worth a look.
And here we come to “Bobby”, which is perhaps the most high, excellent, creepiest and dare I say, perfect horror short I’ve ever seen. Even at a ripe movie watching age where I claim to have seen no true ‘scary’ horror films, I manage to be astounded and having to swallow my words to the back of my throat. Haunting and terrifying is Bobby, who returns to his mother’s house in the middle of a rain storm, crying out for her to bring him inside. It doesn’t dawn on her that the spell she cast with the help of the evil book was the cause of this miracle, she just hurries him inside. There the accusations begin where Bobby continues to ask mother if she was nice to him. She acts all nice, but this doesn’t keep Bobby’s anger tame. Now running around in a dark two story beach house with nobody else around, Bobby plays a deadly game of hide and go seek with mother, and it couldn’t be more suspenseful.
You feel a knot in your stomach every time Hackett’s character is sought out by the now crazed and taunting Bobby, carrying a large knife and even a sledgehammer. The direction of every little scene is brought to life and then some with the thunderous roar of the rain storm; the constant voice of a dangerous child’s laughter ringing throughout the shadows of the house. Two of the scariest TV cinema moments, in my opinion, come direct from “Bobby”, which include a telephone gag with a heavy voiced mimicking receiver, and a finale which comes straight from the depths of the most horribly creative evil minds. And this is why “Bobby” is last, because of its staying power that will make sure, despite the weak first two entries, that you remember Dead of Night for as long as you peer at the hidden face of another in the darkness. Easily one of the top five best ‘killer in the house’ films ever made.
70s television horror’s strict guidelines for what can be shown graphically doesn’t rain on the parade of Dead of Night, or at least “Bobby”, because it is a feature that relies on the suspense and unknown rather than blood and guts. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Usually one part of a movie can’t override the majority of the rest, but this is one case where it indeed does make everything dismissible. Just because “Second Chance” is a waste of time and “No Such Thing as a Vampire” misses its mark, Dead of Night is still a must-have for your collection thanks to the brilliance of the final scary heart racer. And now thanks to Dark Sky Films, the movie has seen a new life, available on a DVD with content fullscreen visuals and able sound. Deleted scenes for the vampire segment, gallery, music highlights, and even the 1969 TV film A Darkness at Blaisedon round out this release. Perfect for Halloween time. If you want to skip the first story, go ahead, but you may want to try it just so that when time comes for Bobby’s screen time, you’ll be caught off guard so much your head will fucking spin. Buy it!