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(aka "Dead of Night: Exorcism" or "Dead of Night: Return Flight" or "Dead of Night: A Woman Sobbing")

 

directed by Don Taylor, Robert Holmes
UK 1972

 

The British Film Institute once again mines the BBC vaults for more television genre obscurities and comes up with the three surviving episodes of the seven story anthology DEAD OF NIGHT - not to be confused with Dan Curtis' 1977 TV movie anthology follow-up to A TRILOGY OF TERROR - from 1972. While GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS definitively adapted M.R. James' Victorian chills (with the exception of a Charles Dickens adaptation and the original "The Ice House" by John Bowen who penned one of the episodes of this series), DEAD OF NIGHT's contemporary hauntings came with a sense of social commentary on moral injustices as well as the alienation of individuals judged beyond the prime of their lives.

In "The Exorcism", a Christmas dinner for two couples - PR man Edmund (Edward Petherbridge of the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS episode "The Ash Tree") and his wife (Anna Cropper, PLAY FOR TODAY's "Robin Redbreast") and their guests writer Dan (Clive Swift of the GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS episodes "The Stalls of Barchester" and "A Warning to the Curious") and his wife Margaret (Sylvia Kay, WAKE IN FRIGHT) - in an eighteenth century cottage completely made over with all of the modern creature comforts goes lopsided when the wine turns to blood, the clocks stop, the phones die, the power goes out, and skeletons appear and disappear in the beds. Realizing they are trapped in the cottage, the four try to reason that they are suffering from some mass hallucination, but it soon becomes apparent that the quartet have been chosen by some force reaching across the centuries for retribution. Written and directed by Don Taylor (who would later helm two episodes of Nigel Kneale's anthology BEASTS), "The Exorcism" was originally written as a radio play and sometimes suffers with its characters describing offscreen sights and not always knowing where to place themselves (or the camera not knowing when to cut) during protracted frantic dialogues; but Cropper wonderfully executes the lengthy and moving possession monologue while the other three principals are delightfully arrogant without being caricatures.

In "Return Flight", charter pilot Captain Hamish Rolph (Peter Barkworth, WHERE EAGLES DARE) comes under investigation for a report he filed about being buzzed by another plane undetected on the radar. The Germans dispute his claim and an investigator (Artro Morris, THE WITCHES) via Hamish's best friend and boss (Bernard Brown, PLENTY) probes the captain's emotional state following the death of his wife. As Hamish begins to recall more about the experience, he begins to wonder if he imagined it as well, or if he might have had an encounter with literal phantom aircraft from the war. The actuality of Hamish's supernatural encounter takes a back seat to a psychological sketch of an RAF officer once too young to fight in the great war and now too old to be retrained to fly jumbo jets; and whose wife of twenty years had been previously married to an RAF pilot killed in battle (after all "wartime things were the big romance").

The series ended on a despairing note with "A Woman Sobbing" by John Bowen (PLAY FOR TODAY's "Robin Redbreast", "The Ice House" from GHOST STORIES FOR CHRISTMAS), the story of unhappy housewife Jane Pullar (Anna Massey, PEEPING TOM) who hears nightly the sobbing of a woman in the attic of her country house. A woman in her thirties is "prone to depression" and Jane is already taking tranquilizers, but she comes to believe that the house is haunted (although she admits that it is just as likely that she is going mad). Her husband's (Ronald Hines, SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON) good-intentioned hiring of a Swedish au-pair (Yokki Rhodes, COMMUTER HUSBANDS) to help Jane take care of the children and keep her company instead makes her feel more marginalized. Is Jane really being haunted or is the sobbing she hears her own? Buoyed by an excellent performance by Massey as a housewife whose opinions are considered "statistically insignificant" by her husband, who realizes that (other than her haunting) she's really a "very ordinary woman", and willing to attempt a likely unsuccessful exorcism because it's at least "something to try" before she surrenders herself to mental health care and more pharmaceuticals. It's fitting that this is both the last of the available episodes as well as the last episode in broadcast order.

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 5 November 1972 - 17 December 1972 9 (UK TV)

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DVD Review: British Film Institute - Region 2 - PAL

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

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Distribution

British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 149:50
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.34 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: British Film Institute

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Episodes:
• - 1.1 'Exorcism' (4:3; 49:42)
• - 1.2 'Return Flight' (50:08)
• - 1.7 'A Woman Sobbing' (50:00)
• Missing Episodes Still Galleries:
• - 1.3 'Bedtime'
• - 1.4 'Death Cancels All Debts'
• 'Test Card F' - for calibration of picture and sound
• Booklet featuring essays on the show and individual episodes by Lisa Kerrigan and biographies for
• producer Innes Lloyd, script editor Louis Marks, writer/director Don Taylor, writer Robert Colin
• Holmes, and writer John Bowen
• DVD-ROM: screenplays (.pdf) for all seven episodes

DVD Release Date: October 28th, 2013
Amaray

Chapters 12

 

Comments

The British Film Institute's dual-layer DVD features the surviving three episodes of this short series which were sourced from their original tape masters (the other four episodes seemed to have been wiped for reuse of the tape stock). The usual faults of seventies video production are inherent in the original recording. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio is in good condition and the optional English subtitles are sometimes helpful with the accents. Extras include scant still galleries for two of the lost episodes, but also the complete PDF teleplays for all seven episodes as a DVD-ROM extra. A liner notes booklet features short essays on the three surviving episodes as well as bios for key personnel (writer John Bowen is interviewed on the BFI discs of ROBIN REDBREAST.

  - Eric Cotenas

 


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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

British Film Institute

Region 2 - PAL

 




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