After creating “Dark Shadows,” TV’s first supernatural soap opera in the late 1960s, producer-director Dan Curtis became a specialist in the macabre for most of the following decade. Producing and or directing various haunting and gothic efforts for both the small and big screen, Curtis found one of his biggest prime time successes with TRILOGY OF TERROR, a 1975 anthology embodying short stories by Richard Matheson. First airing on the NBC network in 1977, DEAD OF NIGHT re-teams Curtis and Matheson for another multi-story endeavor, and as in the case of TRILOGY OF TERROR, they saved the best for last.
First off is “Second Chance” which features a very young Ed Begley Jr. as Frank, a college student whose hobby is restoring classic cars. For $100, Frank buys a 1926 Jordan automobile, restoring it to its original quality. One night while taking it out for a drive, he is transported back to 1926, but the prized car is quickly stolen by an overzealous driver. He eventually makes his way back home, waking up in the present. Some time later, he is given another vintage automobile to restore by his girlfriend’s grandfather and is able to solve the mystery of his brief time-travel excursion. While this tale doesn’t have a scare in it and plays it safe (resembling an episode of the 1980s series “Amazing Stories"), it’s still intriguing enough for 20-minutes or so and Begley (who also narrates in character) is a likable lead. Look for 1970s drive-in queen Christina Hart (THE STEWARDESSES, JOHNNY FIRECLOUD) as Frank’s love interest. This is the only segment not originated from one of Matheson’s original stories, as it’s based on a short story by Jack Finney.
“No Such Thing as a Vampire” has Dr. Gheria (Patrick Macnee, “The Avengers”) worried about his suffering wife (Anjanette Comer, THE BABY), apparently the victim of a vampire’s bite. With all the servants of the mansion, except for the jittery Karel (Elisha Cook, Jr., BLACULA) quitting, Gheria calls in an old friend (Horst Buchholtz, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) to examine her. Attempting to do a period horror segment on a “movie of the week” budget, this one doesn’t offer much of a twist on vampire lore, but it does present a vampire tale with a twist. Comer (who spends the entire time in bed) and Buchholtz are pretty much wasted, but Elisha Cook is very amusing as the nervous butler who is coerced into playing vampire hunter.
The last and longest segment, “Bobby”, has the late Joan Hackett (WILL PENNY), living in a beach house with a husband away on business. The mother is grieving the death of her son Bobby (Lee H. Montgomery, star of BEN and Curtis’ 1976 theatrical feature, BURNT OFFERINGS) who recently drowned, and she’s experimenting with the black arts in a desperate attempt to bring him back. One stormy night, Bobby comes knocking on the door, shivering from the cold rain and explaining that he never really drowned, but that a couple found him water-drenched, and that up until now, he suffered from memory loss and forgot who he was. At first, all seems fine as mother and son are reunited, but Bobby’s behavior becomes very peculiar and the night soon brings far more terror than joy. Effectively directed and well acted by only two performers in a single locale, “Bobby” is a fright-filled gem, and even though Matheson’s story somewhat relies on the familiar “Monkey’s Paw” theme, it’s a gratifying segment -- with a truly terrific final shock -- that’s in a class with "Amelia" from TRILOGY OF TERROR. As a whole, DEAD OF NIGHT runs a brisk, enjoyable 73 minutes, and it’s admittedly the last segment that makes it all worthwhile.
As a “Bonus Second Feature”, Dark Sky has included “A Darkness at Blaisedon” (52 minutes), a pilot for a failed Curtis-produced series (also titled “Dead of Night”) which aired on ABC in 1969. After inheriting a crumbling old house with a malevolent apparition, a young woman (Marj Dusay) calls upon Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Matthews, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and his sidekick Sajid (Cal Bellini), two paranormal investigators who agree to spend the night in the house. When they arrive, they try to solve a mystery involving the house’s original owner, conducting a séance and discovering a ring that possesses the wearer to do wrong. Shot in New York on videotape during the “Dark Shadows” heyday, “A Darkness at Blaisedon” is somewhat mundane and talky (with a few sparse scares), but it would’ve been interesting to see what former matinee idol Mathews could have done with his own series. “Dark Shadows” cast members Thayer David and Louis Edmonds also appear.
DEAD OF NIGHT holds up well on DVD, presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Colors are stable, and even though some of the night-time scenes are a tad too dark, detail is satisfactory throughout. Some source blemishes (particularly some horizontal abrasions during the “vampire” segment) show up, but it's nothing at all too distracting. The mono audio presents a good mix, with no noticeable blemishes. The “Darkness at Blaisedon” pilot was shot entirely on videotape (except for some opening 16mm footage shot in the streets of New York), so the technical attributes are on par with a “Dark Shadows” episode circa 1969.
Extras include over 15 minutes of deleted scenes, cutting room floor stuff and some bloopers. The extra footage is from “Vampire” and mostly has some lengthier bits with Macnee’s character interacting with the other performers (some of the scenes have no sound, so subtitles have been provided). Here you’ll also find different variations of the onscreen introduction (with some narration by Dan Curtis himself) as well as several amusing flubs involving a hearse and Elisha Cook’s mishandling of a mallet. It’s also interesting to note that the clapboard appearing in some of this raw footage shows a date of “November ‘73” which means that at least some of DEAD OF NIGHT was shot almost four years before it eventually aired (and before TRILOGY OF TERROR to boot). “Robert Cobert’s Music Score Highlights” lets you listen to 36 tracks of the composer’s haunting compositions, and rounding the extras is a photo gallery which features stills from both DEAD OF NIGHT and the 1969 pilot. (George R. Reis)
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