Tag Archives: dreams

Dead of Night (1945)

Dead of Night 1945
Dead of Night (1945)

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 24 February 2014

Distributor: Studiocanal

Directors: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer

Writers: John Baines, Angus MacPhail, T.E.B. Clarke

Based on stories by: H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, John Baines, Angus MacPhail

Cast: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver

UK 1945

103 mins

The history of horror has often been written up by people who don’t have a sense of humour. In some ways the commentary on this special edition DVD and Blu-ray release of Dead of Night (1945) strives to remedy this fact, but also falls into the same earnest, po-faced reverence. The inclusion of John Landis’s talking head notwithstanding, a familiar coterie of limey Brit pundits do tend to harp on about the film as though it’s the second coming, even though it has been canonised as a cult home-grown classic for well over a decade now, and even makes it to number 11 on Scorsese’s top 10 list of horror favourites.

Long before Ealing created their 1950s comedie humaine, studio top cheese Michael Balcon had intended to diversify the studio’s genre output. Though there are laughs here, some intentional, others not, what’s really horrific and terrifying is the British stiff upper lip, a patriotic condition suspicious of the occult and in denial of subtext and ambiguity – the mind is merely a puzzle that can be satisfactorily decoded. Mervyn Johns plays the slaphead everyman, an architect invited down to an isolated cottage, a pilgrim’s farmhouse in Kent, for the weekend with assembled guests to swap stories about their brushes with death. There’s even a Viennese psychologist at hand, to accommodate the then new and voguish fad for The Interpretation of Dreams, a little bit Freud, a little bit Jung… ‘Mother what did you do with that bottle of schnapps we got for Dr Van Stratten?’ This bridging device umbrellas a quintet of ghost stories – a child death, a haunted mirror, a grim reaper bus conductor – which, while now familiar and even clichéd, originated here.

Ealing Studios had apparently rejected the hierarchical structure of the cottage British Film Industry – over several pints in the Red Lion pub, leftist ideologies favoured a more communal and socialist environment, though the notion of the Auteur was far too suspect and continental. Ironically, Cavalcanti’s name looms largest, as the helmer of two of the five episodes – the English eccentricities have always been more acutely observed by European refugees. The most imitated story is the final one, with Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist possessed by his demonic dummy, prone to misanthropic Tourrete-style public outbursts, slowly taking control of his master’s voice, a device that recurs in everything from The Twilight Zone to Bride of Chucky.

Stanley Pavey’s lighting is noir-ish, and visual consistency is provided by cameraman Douglas Slocombe. Overall, it’s a cyclical narrative that ends where it begins, and the dreams-within-a-dream portmanteau suggests that it’s all the imagination of our hapless protagonist, an architect of his own mind. The scariest element of the film might be that there’s no mention of the war, though the claustrophobia of the English countryside is fully realised. In his intro to the golfing story, the comedic stop gap, Roland Culver observes ‘…Jolly unpleasant when you come slap up against the supernatural’. For the bulk of the stories, the emotional levelness of the national character unsettles the most – ‘Do you take milk and sugar’ rarely sounded so unnerving, as if a quick snifter or ‘one for the road’ can keep the silly, wretched ghosts in their place.

Robert Chilcott



Format: Cinema

Dates: 14 September 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Guy Maddin

Writer: George Toles, Guy Maddin

Cast: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Kevin McDonald

Canada 2011

94 mins

Full disclosure: I produced Guy Maddin’s first three feature films, lived with him as a roommate (I was Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger - Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple sprang miraculously to life on the top two floors of a ramshackle old house on Winnipeg’s McMillan Avenue), continue to love him as one of my dearest friends and consider his brilliant screenwriting partner George Toles to be nothing less than my surrogate big brother.

Most importantly, I am one of Maddin’s biggest fans and refuse to believe I am not able to objectively review his work. Objectively, then, allow me to declare that I loved Keyhole.

What’s not to love?

Blending Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama and odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, it is, like all Maddin’s work, best designed to experience as a dream on film. Like Terence Davies, Maddin is one of the few living filmmakers who understands the poetic properties of cinema, and this, frankly, is to be cherished as much as any perfectly wrought narrative.

This is not to say narrative does NOT exist in Maddin’s work. If you really must, dig deep and you will find it. That, however, wouldn’t be very much fun. One has a better time with Maddin’s pictures just letting them HAPPEN to you.

The elements concocted in Keyhole to allow for full experiential mind-fucking involve the insanely named gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric as you’ve never seen him before - playing straight, yet feeling like he belongs to another cinematic era), who drags his kids (one dead, but miraculously sprung to life, the other seemingly alive, but not remembered by his dad) into a haunted house surrounded by guns-a-blazing.

Populated with a variety of tough guys and babe-o-licious molls, Ulysses is faced with ghosts of both the living and the dead, including his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini - gorgeous as always and imbued with all the necessary qualities to render melodrama with joy and humanity), her frequently nude father (the brilliant Louis Negin - perhaps one of the world’s greatest living character actors, who frankly should be cast in every movie ever made), chained to his bed, uttering the richly ripe George Toles dialogue, and Udo Kier (the greatest fucking actor in the world), whose appearance in this movie is so inspired I’ll let you discover for yourself the greatness of both the role and Udo himself.

Keyhole is, without a doubt, one of the most perversely funny movies I’ve seen in ages and includes Maddin’s trademark visual tapestry of the most alternately gorgeous and insanely inspired kind. For movie geeks, literary freaks and Greek tragedy-o-philes, the movie is blessed with added treats to gobble down voraciously.

Like all of Maddin’s work, it’s not all fun and games. Beneath the surface of its mad inspiration lurks a melancholy and thematic richness. For me, what’s so important and moving about the film is its literal and thematic exploration of a space. Strongly evoking that sense of how our lives are inextricably linked to so many places (or a place) and how they in turn are populated with things - inanimate objects that become more animate once we project our memories upon them - or how said places inspire reminiscence of said objects which, in turn, inspire further memories, Keyhole is as profound and sad as it’s a crazed laugh riot.

Of all the reviews about the movie that I bothered to read, I was shocked that NOBODY - NOT ONE FUCKING CRITIC - picked up on the overwhelming theme of PLACE and the SPIRIT of all those THINGS that live and breathe in our minds. It was the first thing to weigh heavily upon me when I first saw the movie. It has seldom been approached in the movies - and, for my money - NO MORE POIGNANTLY AND BRILLIANTLY than rendered by Maddin, Toles and their visionary young producer Jody Shapiro.

All the ghosts of the living and the dead (to paraphrase Joyce), the animate and inanimate, the real and the imagined, these are the things that haunt us to our graves, and perhaps beyond. And they all populate the strange, magical and haunting world of Keyhole - a world most of us, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, live in.

We are all ghosts and are, in turn, haunted by them.

Greg Klymkiw