30 for 31: “DEAD OF NIGHT” (1977)Columns,Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Rebekah McKendry
Like many great discoveries throughout history, I stumbled upon DEAD OF NIGHT completely by accident. I was actually trying to hunt down a copy of Simon Hunter’s DEAD OF NIGHT from 1999, and knowing how rare and expensive that film could be, I headed to my favorite video store in hopes of renting it instead of having to plunk down over $50 for a copy. I asked the owner (who is pretty much a living version of Internet Movie Database), if they had DEAD OF NIGHT (1999), and to my surprise, they had hundreds of movie called “Dead of Night”!
None were what I was looking for, but he said they had one in their system that did not have a date or director listed. It could be it! He brought out an obviously bootlegged unmarked box with a disc inside that just said “Dead of Night,” written in black sharpie. The movie had never been rented by a customer before, and he had no idea what it was. Ahhh, mysterious unlabeled movie! I’m a sucker for mysteries.
Two hours later, I was home and viewing this unlabeled DVD. As soon as the opening credits rolled, I knew it was not the 1999 Simon Hunter film I had been looking for. Instead, I saw Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson’s name flash across the screen with a writing credit. OK. I’ll keep watching.
Directed by Dan Curtis (who is perhaps best known for creating the popular TV vampire soap DARK SHADOWS), DEAD OF NIGHT (1977) is a made-for-TV anthology following up on the success of Curtis’s prior work, TRILOGY OF TERROR (the one with Karen Black and the creepy Zuni doll). First airing on ABC in 1977, DEAD OF NIGHT features three separate stories presented in an anthology format. Written by Richard Matheson but based on a story by Jack Finney, the first segment (entitled “Second Chance”) features Ed Begley Jr. and though it is a great story, it feels bit watered down for horror fans, more like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or even AMAZING STORIES. The second segment (entitled “No Such Thing as a Vampire”) is more geared to horror fans, focusing on blood-sucking undead and offering a great twist at the end.
“No Such Thing” is more intense than the prior segment, but in DEAD OF NIGHT (1977), “Bobby” is king. This segment honestly scared the hell out of me and gave me goose bumps, which very few films do. Having never heard anything about this before, I was completely unaware of the twists, turns, and terror that lurk inside this short portion.
For me, DEAD OF NIGHT is everything that Halloween should be: a nice evening accented with a heart-stopping scare. “Bobby” is like having your best friend’s Dad jump out from behind a tree screaming “BOO” just as you are walking up to their house, where an activity you have done countless times before becomes scarier and subjective on All Hallows’ Eve. And even inside the most banal and seeming harmless movement, you possess a sense of energized anticipation knowing that a startling fright could arise at any minute. DEAD OF NIGHT (1977) was released to DVD by Dark Sky in 2009 and features tons of extras and deleted scenes. Watch out for “Bobby”!