If you grew up in the late 60’s or early 70’s chances are you spent an evening with a Dan Curtis production. Responsible for the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows and bringing Richard Matheson’s supernatural hunting newspaper reporter Kolchak to the small screen in the telefilms The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, he also brought the horror anthology flick Trilogy of Terror to living rooms all-around America. It’s with these efforts you could easily call him the “Rod Serling of the 1970’s” and that’d be an accurate assumption when you first pop this into your DVD player.
Starting with narration and an introduction much like you’d expect to see in Serling’s revolutionary The Twilight Zone, Dead of Night is an anthology of three stories written by the legendary, and frequent Curtis collaborator, Matheson (“I Am Legend”, “The Shrinking Man”) and actually shares a lot of the flaws as the aforementioned Trilogy of Terror. Like that 1975 production the first two tales here really aren’t anything special. And like Trilogy’s “Amelia” finale, this film’s closer “Bobby” completely makes this worth seeing at least once.
Things open up with the nostalgia filled story, “Second Chance”, which stars Ed Begley. Jr. as a college student who buys an old 1920’s antique car from a farmer and finds that after restoring it to its past glory he can use it to return through time to that decade. It’s a completely tame tale that’s filled with lots of introspective narration and a mild message about not changing past events. It’s more about re-capturing your youth than anything fantastical or horror themed when Begley, Jr. finds out he crossed paths with his girlfriend’s grandfather during one of his journeys into the past.
The middle tale, “No Such Thing as a Vampire” isn’t a bad little tale that mixes Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” with the gothic style of Hammer films. When a woman wakes up with bite marks on her neck they call in local doctor Peter (Patrick Macnee) who doesn’t believe her story. But he has other intentions and has no problems using her best friend Michael (Horst Buchholz) to help his cause. I really liked the malicious twist this story sports and the imagery of our bite victim sitting there with a bleeding neck and a tear running down her face is definitely one that stands-out as it’s both creepy and shows her helplessness.
But the real gem in this collection is definitely the last story, “Bobby”. Taking its inspiration from W.W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw” this stars Joan Hackett as Helena, a woman who is having a hard time dealing with the death of her young son. In fact, she’s even resorted to witchcraft to try and bring him back. Looks like her latest ritual is a success as the scratching at the door turns out to be Bobby (Lee H. Montgomery) who’s back but not quite acting right. This leads to a game of hide and seek during a lightning storm where Helena learns she shouldn’t have messed with the unknown. This is the longest tale of the trio and Curtis does a very good job of building a mood of dread here which is thrown into “ape shit crazy” territory when Bobby starts stalking his mother around the house spouting threats while armed with a sledgehammer. It’s the purest horror moment here and it works pretty damn well with Montgomery coming across quite menacing. And it must have made an impression on the audience too as it would end-up being redone twenty years later in Curtis’ Trilogy of Terror II.
While Dead of Night doesn’t reach the heights of prior Curtis helmed television efforts fans of his work will definitely want to pick this up. It’s great to see Dark Sky Films bringing more obscure stuff like this to DVD and it’s the main reason I respect them as they’re always delivering drive-in goodness to the masses. (Chris Hartley, 4/15/09)
Directed By: Dan Curtis.
Written By: Richard Matheson.
Starring: Ed Begley, Jr., Patrick Macnee, Joan Hackett, Lee H. Montgomery.
Dark Sky - January 27, 2009
Picture Ratio: Full Frame.
Picture Quality: The transfer here isn't perfect with some specking and some soft looking moments but it's still perfectly acceptable and sports fine colour considering it's a made-for-television movie that's over thirty years old.
Extras: We get a still gallery, the same gallery with Robert Cobert's score playing in the background and deleted scenes from "No Such Thing as a Vampire" that adds more talkiness to the story.
However, the real gem of this set is the inclusion of "A Darkness at Blaisedon", the hour long pilot for a Dead of Night televison series that never happened. It's your basic story of psychic investigators called in to check out a haunted mansion and doesn't really offer up that much. The transfer here is pretty rough, as it was shot live-on-tape, but it's a great addition for fans of Curtis.
Visit Dark Sky Films for more info.