Sunday, September 16, 2007
#21: Dead of Night (Simon Hunter, 1999)
In Dead of Night's country of origin, Great Britain, and most others, this film is called Lighthouse. In the U.S., the distributors decided the title would confuse us dumb Americans. We might think the whole movie was about a lighthouse! Who'd want to see that, hyuk hyuk? As it turns out, the whole movie is not about a lighthouse, but there is a lighthouse in it. What it is about is a ship transporting prisoners to an island prison, including unstoppable, sadistic serial killer Leo Rook. Rook escapes from the ship, takes a lifeboat to a nearby lighthouse, murders everyone there, and puts out the light. The prison ship crashes into some rocks, and from then on, the prisoners, wardens, and a psychologist band together to attempt to escape from the cuckoo-bananas killing machine stalking them. It's basically a generic slasher movie in a novel setting.
I had a sinking feeling when the movie started. Hunter, in his directorial debut, tries to fool you into thinking he's some kind of artsy-fartsy artiste, but he fails. The sub-par stylistic overkill is way too student film, including a cheap b/w intro, sideways angles, a camera that appears to be rocking from side to side like a boat, and an annoying scroll of words at the bottom of the screen, accompanied by typewriter clacking sounds. This is a pet peeve of mine anyway. If films are doing their job visually, they shouldn't have to tell you with words on the screen that they are set in London in such-and-such a year, but this film goes beyond that. At one point, the words on the bottom of the screen tell you that it's 4:07 p.m. Who gives a fuck? Why should I give a shit?
Fortunately, Hunter largely dispenses with the annoying film-school tricks after the film's mostly worthless first half hour, and Dead of Night turns into a highly suspenseful, though fairly routine, slasher flick. Characterization is nil, and the leads are mostly boring, but Christopher Adamson, as Leo Rook, is a great villain. He's a physically imposing, evil-looking man, and he makes an excellent serial killer. I love how his motivation for killing everyone in his path is never explained. This may be due to the script's laziness, but whatever. Less is usually more when it comes to behavioral explanations in art and entertainment.
There are three scenes of sustained suspense in the film's second half that are the best things in it, particularly the bathroom scene. I won't say anymore in case you want to rent it. This is probably the weakest film on the list so far, but if you have a soft spot for horror movies, and I obviously do, it's worth a look if you can trudge through the first half hour.
Just look at this guy. Don't let him machete your head off!