Ealing Studios assembled four of their finest directors to film five tales of supernatural creepiness, and in the process created what remains the finest horror portmanteau of them all. Architect Mervyn Johns, haunted by a recurring nightmare, visits a country house, the inhabitants of which regale him with stories of their own nightmarish experiences – a premonition of death, a child from the past, a posessed mirror and a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) possessed by the malevolent spirit of his dummy. Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney, but the execution is flawless, and even after sixty-plus years this film retains the power to frighten. The various directors work wonders – that old dark house is a den of claustrophobia, and a simple slow track into a closed hospital ward curtain is imbued with unnameable dread. So effortlessly brilliant was this film, it unwittingly laid down several ground rules most subsequent horror anthologies have followed (or tried to) ever since. There’s the excellent linking narration, which does more than segue from one story to another, but gets various characters featured in the stories to talk to each other, even quibble over the likelihood of the tales, and gives a shape to the episodic structure by building to a brilliantly gothic climax in itself (‘Oh doctor, why did you have to break your glasses?’) Secondly, it injects some pace into the rigid framework, starting off with a five-minute palate-cleanser featuring an ominous hearse driver (‘Room for one more inside, sir!’), and building up to the longer Michael Redgrave segment at the end. Sadly, it also introduced the concept of the mid-film ‘comic relief’ story, with a pair of Charters and Caldicott-like golfing duffers getting mixed up with wagers, hauntings and supernatural hand gestures. It’s not a bad story really, and effectively lightens the mood before that ventriloquist’s dummy brings it crashing down again, but it set a dangerous precedent.
Creamguide's Pick of the Day
Mick McManus died this week, alas, and remember him this way with another outing for this absolutely brilliant documentary from just before Christmas about British wrestling at its earthiest. There are some hilarious bits in it, like Johnny Kincaid being told he had to pretend he was from Barbados even though he’d never been there, Klondike Kate reminiscing about the fishwives throwing foot-and-mouth-disease injections at her, an interviewee saying “excuse my language” after he’d said the obscene word “bum” and the fantastically good value Max “brother of Shirley” Crabtree, the big kahuna in the “sport” in its imperial phase, explaining how they came up with the concept of Big Daddy after Shirley complained to him that “me whole career’s gone to cock!”. Great stuff.
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Points of View
- In 'Grand Prix ', Tom says: "I always like the random shot of Jim Clark, named no less, halfway through. It’s like they think “Hey, we’ve got to have Jim in it,..."
- In 'McCloud', Applemask says: "Chief?"
- In 'Mann’s Best Friends', Applemask says: "Was the main character called “Ian Mann”?"
- In 'Man About the House', Applemask says: "“What’s on the box? Man About the House with Paula Wilcox”."
- In 'Make ‘Em Laugh', Applemask says: "Hey, fuck you, voiceover man, it was Harold who did the real work, and you know it, you pussy!"