Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) has been called out to this house in the country for a job opportunity by the owner, Eliot Foley (Roland Culver), but as he draws up in his car and takes a look at the property, he has a powerful sense of deja vu. So strong is this feeling that he allows Foley to guide him into the place and meet his guests as if in a daze, for he knows somehow he has met these people before, and as he is sat down he snaps out of it to tell everyone of his recurring dream. Unfortunately, he cannot recall the precise details, but has occasional flashes of what might have been a nightmare, though the psychiatrist Dr Van Straaten (Frederick Valk) seeks to reassure him...
But mere logic and politeness will not dispel the overwhelming strength of a true nightmare, in this, one of the most famous of British horror movies and one which audiences continually return to, mainly thanks to its texture as time goes on of a classic literary yarn, such is its air of vintage creepiness and charm. You could imagine those authors of the most celebrated of ghost stories endorsing what the team from Ealing Studios did with the material, which was derived from works of such notables as E.F. Benson and H.G. Wells, and delivered by four directors in slight but noticeable variations, though Charles Crichton's palate cleanser of a jokey golf tale was likely the odd man out.
The assembled partygoers relate their own experiences of the supernatural and the good doctor explains them away - the comedy section starring beloved double act of the day Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne was effectively invented by Foley as a release of tension from the increasingly unnerving accounts of the others. Dead of Night could be regarded as rather creaky these days, yet if you've ever delighted in an old Edwardian spooky short story or something more recent or from a little before, then you're going to get on very well with this, not least thanks to the professionalism of the cast and crew, the former largely speaking in impossibly posh R.P. accents, aside from the Germanic doctor who is presumably a Sigmund Freud stand-in.
For anyone who has wanted to take shrinks or sceptics down a peg or two for airily waving away any event less than convincing to them but very convincing to you, such as seeing a ghost, for example, this offered a particularly violent rebuttal as it played out to a delirious climax which has a punchline simple, obvious and eerily satisfying all at the same time. Before that, the individual segments started with one guest telling of his recovery from a racing car accident and seeing a chilling vision of a hearse driver outside his hospital window; the pay-off has become familiar as an urban myth, but director Basil Dearden gave it a deadpan, matter of fact unease capitalised on with the linking narrative of the informal gathering the worried architect is finding more and more uncomfortable.
Next up was the Christmas party where teenage Sally Ann Howes recounts last Yuletide where she was playing sardines when she ended up in a secret room with a solemn little boy, this drawn from an actual murder case of Victorian times for extra chills. Though brief, this holds up against the more substantial business to come as Googie Withers tells of a mirror she bought for her fiancé in which he could see a different room behind him when he looked into it. Again, a simple idea but very pleasing for how well it was presented. Then it was the golfing story, and at last we had the piece de resistance where the doctor told his own tale where he was investigating the case of a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) whose dummy appeared to have a strange hold over him. This was the most influential part, remade and reimagined from Magic to Child's Play to Dead Silence and so on, and superbly directed by Alberto Cavalcanti for maximum disquiet, though really any horror anthology owed a huge debt to the exemplary work here. And there's always room for one more inside. Excellent music by Georges Auric.