Taking its cue from the now legendary anthology horrors made by British movie studios Hammer and Amicus, Dan Curtis’s Dead Of Night is an American made-for-television special from 1977 that serves up three unrelated vignettes based on the writings of Richard Matheson (author of the novel I Am Legend, which Hollywood has never managed to get right).
The first installment, “Second Chance,” is a non-horror tale that focuses on vintage car buff Frank (Ed Begley, Jr), who buys a 1926 Jordan Playboy from an old farmer with the intent of restoring it. The farmer tells Frank (who also narrates the tale) how the original owner of the car was killed back in ‘26 (along with his girlfriend — and the car) when they unsuccessfully tried to beat a train to the tracks. After restoring the vintage automobile back to its former glory, Frank takes it out for a spin one night — and is astonished to find himself transported back in time. Based on a story by Jack Finney (whose work “Sleep No More” would later inspire the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers movies).
Next up is Patrick Macnee (minus the bowler) as Dr. Gheria in “No Such Thing As A Vampire,” a period piece wherein an entire European village is all kinds of panicky when word gets out about the mysterious bites on the neck of Dr. Gheria’s wife (Anjanette Comer). Refusing to believe such nonsense that the bites are the work of an undead fiend, Dr. Gheria enlists the aid of his colleague Michael (Horst Buchholz) to come and help. Veteran actor Elisha Cook, Jr. is also on hand as Macnee’s faithful manservant Karel — who also happens to be an experienced vampire hunter (now that in itself would’ve made a kick-ass series — Elisha Cook, Jr., Vampire Slayer! — pure gold, baby).
The last segment (and the longest) is the famous “Bobby” story that still manages to give viewers nightmares. Borrowing from the classic tale, “The Monkey’s Paw,” “Bobby” is a two-person tale starring Joan Hackett as a mother obsessed with bringing her dead son Bobby (Lee H. Montgomery) back from the world beyond. The same tale was resurrected again in Curtis’s 1996 TV anthology, Trilogy Of Terror II.
Dark Sky Films brings the much-requested Dead Of Night to DVD for the first time, sporting a standard television format 1.33:1 ratio that has some rather muted colors along with its fair share of flaws (which are forgivable — this was late '70s TV, after all). Otherwise, the transfer is splendid. The English mono stereo mix comes through just fine, and closed captioning is available.
Going out of their way for this one, Dark Sky has dug up a selection of rarities for special features, including the 1969 pilot for a failed horror series (also entitled Dead Of Night). The episode (“A Darkness At Blaisedon”) involves psychic investigators (back when they were just known as hippies) checking out a haunted house. Marj Dusay and Kerwin Matthews are among the episode’s stars.
Additional extras on this release include some deleted footage from “No Such Thing As A Vampire”; an extended opening (as well as some alternate voiceover cuts); and highlights of Robert Cobert’s music score.
Although Dan Curtis has since left us (he passed away in 2006), it’s nice to see that his stories are still in demand (Dark Sky’s sister company, MPI, has been releasing Dark Shadows on disc for years now), and Dead Of Night, however minor it may be to some of you, definitely deserves a little recognition. Now, if only someone would release House Of The Dark Shadows and Night Of The Dark Shadows movies on DVD…