#69 Dead of Night

Watched: December 18 2016

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

Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Michael Redgrave, Basil Radford

Year: 1945

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Dead of Night is the first of the horror anthology films on the list, and a good start to this scary and brilliant subgenre.

Architect Walter Craig (Johns) comes to look at a house he has been approached to alter or expand, and experiences a very strong case of déjà vu. It turns out he has had recurring dreams about the house and all the people who are currently there, but he cannot recall the ending of the dream, just that it is not a happy one.

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What horrible fate could possibly befall these respectable looking people? Stay tuned to find out!

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As Craig is trying to remember the details of his dream, the other guests take turns telling of their own experiences with the supernatural or uncanny. You know, to lighten the mood. The stories vary in length and seriousness, but some of them are very unsettling indeed.

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Ventriloquist-centred plots will always creep us out

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Among the guests’ tales we find a creepy ghost story involving children and murder (always a good combination) as well as a game of Sardines; a race car driver who’s saved from certain (?) death several times by the appearance of a strange man; a scary haunted mirror (a subject which we always find unnerving – childhood literature trauma might be to blame); a silly, silly ghost story involving two very competitive (and self-centered) golfers and the girl they’re both in love with (who by the way has no personality of her own and somehow agrees to marry whoever wins a golf game… Have some self respect, lady!); as well as the aforementioned ventriloquist tale starring Michael Redgrave of The Lady Vanishes-fame.

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Other nightmare fuel is also available for those not particularly freaked out by dummies

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Four different directors helmed the various segments, and they vary a lot in tone and style, with Cavalcanti’s two segments our personal favourites. We’re both partial to horror anthologies, and we cannot wait for the upcoming ones, such as #230 Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), #359 Asylum (1972), #367 Tales From the Crypt (1972), #553 Creepshow (1982) and #582 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) to name but a few (numbers are liable to change as Mr Wright tends to alter his list now and then..). If you’re one of us (one of us!) we heartily recommend Dead of Night. Its circular plot is interesting, there are great performances, some good comic relief and it is genuinely scary at times. And we do eventually find out the ending of Craig’s nightmare… A new favourite for sure.

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Just make sure you NEVER buy an antique mirror. Trust us.

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What we learned: stay the fuck away from ventriloquist dummies! (Unless it’s the one from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who’s quite naughty but not really evil.)

Next time: Detour (1945)

#33 The Invisible Man

Watched: September 9 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Una O’Connor

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 11min

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A man (Rains) is walking through a snow storm. He has 1/2 mile left to go to civilization. Cut to the Lion’s Head pub, a local pub for local people – there’s nothing for our man there! Nevertheless, the stranger enters and demands a room and privacy. Inn keeper Jenny Hall (O’Connor) is so done with his shit even before he is installed in his new rooms.

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“A ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ never hurt anyone, mister! Coming in here with your demands and your bandages and your snow and you didn’t even shut the front door. Men!”

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Meanwhile, the stranger’s girlfriend Flora (Stuart) is worried about him being missing and confides in his colleague Dr Kemp (Harrigan), who promptly hits on her. Classy.

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“Out of sight, out of mind, eh? Eh?”

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The stranger, who we learn is scientist Jack Griffin, has managed to turn himself invisible and is working on a cure whilst also spiralling into madness brought on by one of the drugs in the invisibility cocktail. When the Halls finally move to evict their disruptive tenant, he throws a fit and shows off just how much of a bastard he is, assaulting the landlady and going on a bit of a spree.

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I mean, look at that adorable face! Who would possibly hurt her?

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After wreaking havoc on the small village, Griffin goes to see Kemp to enlist his help in creating an antidote and taking over the world. Not necessarily in that order. From that moment on things take a turn for the worse, and murder and mayhem ensue.

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“We’ll begin with a reign of terror” – actual line from the movie

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Despite being a horror film, this is as funny as it is scary. There’s some very entertaining slapstick (how could there not be, with a naked, invisible man with no boundries running around?), and some amazing secondary characters. Griffin himself is a megalomaniac, but it seems he has become that way after turning invisible, possibly because he is no longer confronted with himself in the mirror, or because he can now get away with pretty much anything. Or because of the “monocane” he’s injected himself with. No matter the reason, he’s kind of hilarious when he’s not running around killing people.

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“If I don’t even have a head, how can I be responsible for my actions?”

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This film has amazing performances, great humour and very impressive special effects and we recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.

What we learned: Don’t meddle with things man is not supposed to know. Don’t do drugs of which you don’t know the full effects. Una O’Connor is amazing.

Next time: Dames (1934)

#22 The Island of Lost Souls

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Based on H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), The Island of Lost Souls opens with shipwrecked Edward Parker (Arlen) being rescued by a floating zoo. After an altercation with the captain he is unceremoniously tossed off the ship to a remote island owned and operated by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Laughton) where Parker runs into several scary humanoid creatures. This being the 1930s though, everyone is very polite about the whole thing and he is invited to stay the night in Moreau’s house.

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“Oh, they’re harmless. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I have this huge fence outside my house.”

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The creatures in the jungle are the experiments of the good doctor, who we learn was driven from London when one of his experiments escaped. They are mutated and surgically altered animals kept at bay through “religious” doctrine, enforced by “The Sayer of the Law” (Lugosi). Moreau then decides to introduce his only female creation, the Panther Woman Lota (Burke – credited only as “the Panther Woman”), to Parker and see if she’ll seduce him. Because that what fathers do with their daughters.

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“Sure, I may be engaged, but if she’s not really human, am I really cheating?”

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Like Frankenstein, Moreau has a pesky little God complex which will (of course) be his undoing, and like his German counterpart, he will learn that if you create life and mistreat your creation, you gonna get fucked. Meanwhile, the audience are treated to such simple philosophical questions as “what makes a soul?” and “what makes humanity?”

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Again we put it to you to guess who the real monster is

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This film is awesome – easily the best adaptation we have seen of Wells’ novel (which we haven’t read, but we’ve seen three film versions, so we like to pretend we have). It’s beautifully shot and has some great performances. The only thing missing is a song- and dance-number but, fortunately for us, The Mighty Boosh took care of that. Enjoy!

What we learned: Oh so much! Ships make people slaphappy; Bela Lugosi is awesome even in small roles; don’t play God and mess with nature unless you want to be killed horribly; watching Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls back to back before bedtime will give you weird dreams.

Next time: Love Me Tonight (1932)